US may cut UN funding, leave global treaties

Executive orders in the works could deal a huge blow to UN agencies that rely on US support

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would drastically cut funding to the United Nations and other international organisations, as well as begin a review of treaties that could lead to a US withdrawal.

The first of the two orders, drafts of which were obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any UN agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria.

Those criteria include organisations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organisation, or support programmes that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea.

The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organisation that "is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism" or is blamed for the persecution of marginalised groups or any other systematic violation of human rights.

The order calls for then enacting "at least a 40 per cent overall decrease" in remaining US funding towards international organisations.

It establishes a committee to recommend where those funding cuts should be made. It asks the committee to look specifically at US funding for peacekeeping operations, the International Criminal Court, development aid to countries that "oppose important United States policies" and the UN Population Fund, which oversees maternal and reproductive health programmes.

If President Donald Trump signs the order and its provisions are carried out, the cuts could severely curtail the work of UN agencies, which rely on billions of dollars in annual US contributions for missions that include caring for refugees.

The second draft order calls for a review of all current and pending treaties with more than one other nation. It asks for recommendations on which negotiations or treaties the US should leave.

The order says this review applies only to multilateral treaties that are not "directly related to national security, extradition or international trade", but it is unclear what falls outside these restrictions.

For example, the Paris climate agreement or other environmental treaties deal with trade issues but could potentially fall under this order. An explanatory statement that accompanies the draft order mentions two UN treaties for review: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Taken together, the orders suggest that Mr Trump intends to pursue his campaign promises of withdrawing the US from international organisations. He has expressed heavy scepticism about multilateral agreements such as the Paris climate agreement and of the UN.

The draft orders, which are only a few pages each, leave several unanswered questions. For example, it is unclear whether they call for cutting 40 per cent of US contributions to each international agency separately or to the overall US funding budget.

The US is by far the UN's biggest financial contributor, providing 22 per cent of its operating budget and funding 28 per cent of peacekeeping missions, which currently cost US$7.8 billion (S$11.1 billion) annually.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'US may cut UN funding, leave global treaties'. Print Edition | Subscribe