United Nations: On the Chopping Block?

The 2016 election has immense consequences for Americans, the United Nations and people worldwide.

I would like to address some of these issues and specifically the looming effects on the United Nations. First given Donald Trump’s limited knowledge about the UN and most international issues, he may be ambivalent or even hostile to the international organization. To compound the problem, there is a hardcore group of Congressional Members who detest, but do not understand, the UN. They will probably pressure a President Trump to get the US out of the UN, although that would damage the US. It is critical that he combat this ideological assault on an institution that is of immense value to US foreign policy.

Photo by Abir Anwar

Photo by Abir Anwar

The US is the most important nation at the UN and benefits more from UN involvement than any other country. Ample evidence shows that the US is the major recipient of UN services, such as peacekeeping that keeps US troops out of harm's way, and is eight times cheaper than if the US military had to intervene, say in Haiti.  The UN is critical to the US as a partner to battle terrorism, combat diseases, assist 65 million refugees, promote democracy and move aircraft, ships, mail and weather information internationally, just to mention a few.

Donald Trump praised the UN in 2005 and said he was a "fan," but in 2016 he indicated that the US disproportionately funded the UN and got nothing out of it, which is totally incorrect.  The US, as the major leader of the international organization and with a Security Council veto, has tremendous control over what happens at the UN.

The UN funds approximately $1.4 billion to the Secretariat and $1.8 billion for peacekeeping, which is a small amount compared to the over $650 billion military budget. When he was New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani conducted a study showing the New York area receives over $3 billion dollars in revenue generated from the UN. The UN was the third largest employer in the area. American businesses make over $700 million in sales to the UN, and American ships and airlines save hundreds of millions of dollars through their cooperation with UN agencies. Imagine if American, United and Delta Airlines had to negotiate bi-lateral agreements with every country where they offered airline service. It would be a regulatory and logistical nightmare, not to mention a huge expense.

Scrapping the Paris Climate Accords was a high priority for Mr. Trump, although he may be slightly waffling on his opposition to climate change. The Earth is feeling the effects of climate change as glaciers melt, oceans rise, desertification occurs and weather patterns change, thus causing more frequent and violent storms.

If Donald Trump attempts to withdraw the US -- while pushing the use of fossil fuels, completing the Keystone XL pipeline and discouraging clean alternative energies such as solar and wind -- the US will contribute immensely to even more global warming, becoming an international pariah and leaving a more devastating carbon footprint. The Pentagon has warned that climate change is one of the most imminent threats because of the physical destruction and social unrest that would occur.

Donald Trump will alienate Muslims worldwide and violate the Geneva Convention if he pursues enhanced torture, seizes oil fields, kills suspected terrorist families and indiscriminately bombs the "shit" out of them. Even moderate Muslims may become radicalized to where they turn to ISIS or other terrorist groups.

Donald Trump suggested that the Iran Nuclear Deal was a disaster and should be repealed. Actually,the nuclear agreement, which was agreed to in July 2015, has successfully held Iran in check and reduced its capability to develop a nuclear weapon. The number one goal of that agreement was to contain Iran, reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and avoid a major Middle East war that undoubtedly would have ensued.

Donald Trump and many Members of Congress have erroneously declared that the Iranians received $150 billion from the US, which is incorrect. Iran received approximately $54 billion of its own financial resources that the US had frozen over the past several decades.

If Donald Trump attempts to impose a trade war with Mexico and China, the already slow international economy will weaken, along with a loss of jobs in the US. His economic plans do not provide many incentives and will not work according to 370 prominent economists who called them dangerous and destructive. The Peterson Institute for International Economics, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated that double-digit tariffs on China and Mexico would reduce international trade, create a recession in the US and eliminate 4.8 million jobs.

NATO, the most successful military alliance that has helped keep the world safe, was depicted as obsolete by Mr. Trump. He is correct that several of the NATO countries should pay more of their fair share; however, he should also remember that the two greatest world wars occurred in Europe with over 80 million people killed and large parts of the continent destroyed.

During a one-hour foreign policy briefing, Mr. Trump queried three times that if the US has nuclear weapons, why not use them. He later opined that since Europe is a large continent and if there were a nuclear exchange, so be it. To compound this dangerous, illogical thinking, he suggested that South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia possibly should be armed with nukes. The lunacy of those comments should be quite evident, given the nuclear winter that would occur, making the Earth uninhabitable and killing billions of people and most forms of life.

If one wants to watch North Korea go ballistic, both literally and figuratively, just give nukes to the South Koreans -- whom the North Koreans do not trust.

The world should work through the UN to reduce the nuclear stockpile before there is a nuclear exchange, be it accidental or on purpose. As unpredictable as Trump is, this should be extremely worrisome for all 7.4 billion people on Earth.

Mr. Trump recently selected South Carolina’s Governor Nikki Haley to be the US ambassador at the UN. Although Ms. Haley, who is a popular governor, may prove to be a brilliant convener and deal maker, she has virtually no foreign policy experience except for eight overseas trade missions to recruit businesses to South Carolina. 

To develop the diplomatic and academic skills to deal with extremely complex international issues, she will have a long and steep learning curve. She will require outstanding advisers, draw upon knowledgeable sources such as the United Nations Association of the USA and  immerse herself quickly in the issues and ambience of Turtle Bay.

Also, she and Donald Trump probably will be at odds with the UN on several issues, such as opposing the Iranian Nuclear Agreement, climate change and placing Syrian refugees. 

She is also on record in South Carolina as opposing equal rights for LGBTQ citizens, cutting funding for HIV anti-AIDS programs, and women’s reproductive health rights, all high priorities at the UN. 

Governor Haley, although she probably agrees with Mr. Al-Hussein, needs to be cognizant that Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has openly criticized Mr. Trump for his outlandish racist attacks in comparing Syrian refugees to ‘rabid dogs,’ calling Mexican migrants ‘rapists,’ referencing ‘swarms’ of migrants, and suggesting banning all Muslims from entering their countries, and interning those already there into camps.

Donald Trump's election, and the election of Antonio Guterres as the ninth Secretary-General of the UN, marks a major milestone in the US and at the UN. This is a unique opportunity for the US and the UN to forge an even closer working relationship to focus on grave international problems such as the 65 million refuges UNHCR is helping, to climate change, to terrorism. Antonio Guterres, who is widely viewed as an extremely knowledgeable and competent administrator, is in an ideal position to lead the UN to be a more effective organization that is grounded in being more accountable and transparent.

Donald Trump, if he takes the time and energy to understand the UN, could play a pivotal role in partnering with Guterres to streamline the UN and make it a more valuable international organization that strengthens its resources and skills on eliminating the scourge of war, promoting economic and social development and enhancing human rights, the three founding principles of the UN in 1945. Both men have brief honeymoon periods, so now is the time to move forward.