House Republicans Are Drawing a Bright Line on U.N. Reform

COMMENTARY Budget and Spending

House Republicans Are Drawing a Bright Line on U.N. Reform

Jul 27, 2023 6 min read
Brett D. Schaefer

Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow, Margaret Thatcher Center

Brett is the Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs in Heritage’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
A United Nations flag flies at half-mast at the U.N. offices in Geneva on September 9, 2022. ELODIE LE MAOU / AFP / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The United Nations receives the biggest haircut in this bill. U.S. contributions for U.N. peacekeeping were reduced to comply with a U.S. law.

Again and again, the Biden administration rewards broken organizations with U.S. taxpayer money without demanding that they improve or change.

In the cases of such deeply flawed organizations as the U.N. Human Rights Council, UNESCO, UNRWA, and the WHO, funding must be linked to long-overdue reforms.

Liberals don’t like spending cuts, and they especially love spending taxpayers’ money abroad. So when the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs released its funding bill for fiscal year 2024 last month, the responses were predictably hyperbolic.

“Extremely disturbing,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) declared that the bill “shortchanges foreign assistance, abdicates our country’s leadership on the global stage, hinders our ability to address the climate crisis, abandons global security, and harms women around the world.”

If implemented, Chairman Mario Diaz Balart’s (R-Fla.) bill would provide $52.5 billion for the State Department, U.S. foreign assistance programs, international organizations, and related programs. This is lower than the previous year, reflecting the need to get America’s fiscal house in order, but it is hardly an irresponsible cut. It is roughly comparable to spending levels from fiscal years 2015 and 2016, when the notorious isolationist Barack Obama was in the White House.

Liberals are, of course, disappointed in the level of funding. But the real source of their angst is that the bill reflects conservative policy.

One example is the bill’s prohibition on funding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs. DeLauro deplores the ban as the insertion of “politics into our foreign policy.” Of course, the bill is merely a response to President Biden’s Executive Orders. So, who exactly inserted politics into foreign policy?

The bill also substantially cuts back on the huge spike in U.S. funding for international climate change initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund, which is heresy on the left. But, as noted by Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), these programs have been “funneling millions to China,” even as its emissions are growing larger than those of the U.S. and all developed countries combined. Beijing refuses to take timely action to cut emissions, so why should taxpayers fund programs that reward its behavior?

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Similarly, the left opposes the strong pro-life protections applied to U.S. foreign assistance in the bill, including terminating funding to the U.N. Population Fund, which conservatives like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) assert supports abortion.

The United Nations receives the biggest haircut in this bill. U.S. contributions for U.N. peacekeeping were reduced to comply with a U.S. law which rightly sets a 25 percent cap on U.S. contributions. Contributions to international organizations are cut by 82 percent, and voluntary funding to international organizations is eliminated.

U.N. advocates were irate. “By removing funding for the U.N., this bill would cause untold suffering, endanger allies, and create a leadership vacuum at the U.N. that China and Russia would be very happy to fill,” said Peter Yeo, President of the Better World Campaign.

This belated concern on the left about malign influence within the U.N. is welcome. But much like the Biden administration, they are confusing funding with influence. Naively, President Joe Biden re-engaged and provided funding with no strings attached, with the expectation that this would be rewarded with other countries’ support for U.S. policies. As the following examples demonstrate, it was not to be.

Take the U.N. Human Rights Council. Despite acknowledging its deep institutional problems with anti-Israel bias and lack of membership standards, the Biden administration reengaged with the Council without any conditions.

Similarly, the administration reversed the Trump administration decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) and, again, renewed funding without seeking reforms or changes despite the WHO handling the COVID pandemic terribly, ostracizing Taiwan, and excusing Beijing’s opacity and lack of cooperation.

The Biden administration also ramped up funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—a deeply flawed organization whose schools and teachers have been shown to espouse anti-Semitic views.

The Biden administration also recently announced that was seeking to rejoin the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) even though the Palestinians retain full membership in the organization absent a peace with Israel. As Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) stated when they were granted that status, “A U.N. body that acts so irresponsibly—a U.N. body that admits states that do not exist—renders itself unworthy of U.S. taxpayer dollars.”

Notice the pattern? Again and again, the Biden administration rewards broken organizations with U.S. taxpayer money without demanding that they improve or change.

The Biden administration fixates wrongly on having “a seat at the table” in international organizations, convinced that engagement is a good in itself. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that “being there” is not enough, and that unconditional reengagement and even funding do not create spontaneous support for American goals.

The Human Rights Council, for example, remains dominated by anti-democratic human rights abusers. Despite Biden’s reengagement, the U.S. was unable to convince a majority of the Council to support a debate about the U.N. report on China’s human rights crimes in Xinxiang. Nor was the U.S. able to affect the council’s anti-Israel bias, as recently exhibited by the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and in Israel.

With U.S. reengagement, the World Health Organization member states recently voted to condemn Israel, oppose Taiwanese participation as an observer, and elect North Korea to its Executive Board. The WHO has never condemned China for its central role in the COVID pandemic.

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Likewise, despite a Framework Agreement with UNRWA to strengthen “accountability, transparency, and consistency with U.N. principles, including neutrality,” antisemitism in UNRWA schools and textbooks and glorification of terrorism by UNRWA staff remains rampant.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration would reward UNESCO with over $600 million in arrears, which UNESCO will turn around and use with “helpful” input from Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, China, Russia and other members of the UNESCO Executive Board.

All of the above illustrate why the House bill has taken such a tough line on U.N. funding. If the Biden administration will not insist on reforms and changes to advance U.S. interests, then someone must. Frankly, if the Biden administration had given any indication at all that it was seeking to advance U.S. interests and reform of these organizations, perhaps the House would have would been more amenable to funding them.

This piece originally appeared in The Hill on July 12, 2023