Trump's Plan to Reduce UN Spending Is a Step in the Right Direction

United Nations Secretariat, New York City. Flickr/Creative Commons/John Gillespie

Liberal panic in an budget-conservative world.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering two executive orders to “drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations.” A draft titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” was widely circulated among reporters.

The Left’s reaction was, predictably, outrage. As they told it, the executive order and the president “pose an existential threat to the United Nations.”

Such reactions seem overwrought. Certainly they are premature. The posted document was, after all, clearly a draft that contained tracked changes. The final version may be quite different. Indeed, Reuters quoted a senior U.S. administration official, who said that the administration would not issue a review of U.S. funding to the United Nations and other international bodies “at this time.”

Might President Trump issue such an executive order in the future? I hope so—especially if it retains the main features of the posted draft.

That draft states clearly:

The purpose of the accompanying executive order is to ensure better alignment between United States national interests and U.S. monetary support to the United Nations and other international organizations.

To that end, it would set up an “International Funding Accountability Committee” comprised of the secretary of state, the attorney general, the director of national intelligence and the counsel to the president, or their designees. The committee would:

•  Report all U.S. funding going to international organizations and maintain an online database. This report would also explain the U.S. national interests served by the funding.

•  Identify international organizations receiving a disproportionately high level of U.S. financial support and recommend how to address that concern.

•  Recommend strategies for moving international organizations from reliance on mandatory (assessed) funding to voluntary funding.

•  Recommend ways to ensure U.S. funds are used as intended and criteria for determining which organizations merit continued funding.

•  Suggest how to reduce U.S. voluntary funding to international organizations by at least a 40 percent.

•  Explain how U.S. policies are advanced by paying employees of international organizations more than comparable civil servants in the United States, singling out Israel for sanctions, providing development assistance to countries that oppose U.S. policies, and more.

Basically, then, the draft document calls for a high-level committee to compile data and make recommendations about the purposes and efficacy of spending taxpayer money on international organizations. Pretty tame stuff to get outraged about.

In fact, there is a lot to like in this draft.

•  It reinforces congressional demands for more transparency and makes explicit the administration’s intent to comply with U.S. law. Taxpayers have seldom been told how much the U.S. government spends on international organizations. The State Department’s annual report to Congress has been far from comprehensive. Indeed, the Obama administration refused to provide that information for years—until Congress passed a law specifically requiring the information.

The resulting reports—covering fiscal years 2015 and 2016—reveal that U.S. contributions have risen over 36 percent since fiscal year 2010. And even these reports aren’t comprehensive. They note that “not all Executive Branch agencies provided information for inclusion in the report.” Notably absent, for example, is last year’s $500 million payment to the Green Climate Fund.

In addition to reinforcing current reporting requirements, the prospective executive order corrects an oversight by requiring information on contributions to all international organizations, not just those in which the United States participates as a member.

The order also would reinforce current law, which prohibits U.S. funding for international organizations that violate U.S. statutes and sanctions or grant membership to the Palestinians.

•  It sends the message that the administration intends to be a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars. Every administration should assess whether our contributions to international organizations are serving U.S. interests. When the Clinton administration conducted such an assessment in the 1990s, it led it to U.S. withdrawal from the UN Industrial Development Organization. Unfortunately, it’s been years since the United States conducted a comprehensive analysis of this type.