UNITED NATIONS (IPS) — Back in 1998, Senator Jesse Helms, a rightwing Republican from the US state of North Carolina, carried out a virulent one-man hate-campaign against the UN– and its very presence in New York. A fulltime chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee– and a part-time UN basher– Helms publicly complained that [...]

Sunday Times 2

Will Trump threaten a US pullout or de-fund the United Nations?


UNITED NATIONS (IPS) — Back in 1998, Senator Jesse Helms, a rightwing Republican from the US state of North Carolina, carried out a virulent one-man hate-campaign against the UN– and its very presence in New York.

A fulltime chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee– and a part-time UN basher– Helms publicly complained that providing funds to the UN is like “pouring money into a rathole”. Helms wanted the “Glass House by the East River” shipped out of New York — for good. Fast-forward to 2020.

We are now in Trump country, where there is widespread speculation that when the US president addresses the UN general assembly on September 22 — one of the few, or the only head of state, to do so in person in a virtually virus-shutdown world body — he may either threaten to pull out of the UN or warn of possible cuts in financial contributions to the world body.

The cry to “de-fund the police”, triggered by anti-black violence by law enforcement officials in the US, has prompted a new hashtag “de-fund the UN”.

Asked for his comments, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters September 8:  “I have seen the hashtag.”

“I think we prove every day the worth in investing in the United Nations for the betterment of peoples everywhere and the value that it brings, whether it is helping during the pandemic… or what we’re doing all over the world, what we’re doing in our peacekeeping missions, as I’ve just mentioned in South Sudan. So, we do our utmost to prove our worth every day by the work that we do,” said Dujarric.

Any proposed cuts — or attempts to “‘de-fund” the UN — will also likely be a retaliation against the failed US resolution last month in the UN Security Council against the resumption of sanctions on Iran.

Suffering a devastating defeat of almost biblical proportions, the Trump administration was both isolated and humiliated when only one member state, the Dominican Republic, voted with the US in the 15-member UN Security Council, the most powerful body in the UN.

The vote was short of the minimum nine “yes” votes required for adoption — and 11 members, including Western allies such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom abstained, while China and Russia voted against the resolution.

If the de-funding does happen, and since the US pays 22 percent of the UN’s budget, it will be a devastating blow to a world body commemorating its 75th anniversary later this month.


US President Donald Trump claps as he arrives for a campaign rally at MBS International Airport in Freeland, Michigan on September 10, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

As a hard-core unilateralist, Trump has been openly antagonistic towards multilateral institutions.

Since he took office back in January 2017, the Trump administration has either de-funded, withdrawn from, or denigrated several UN agencies and affiliated institutions, including the World Health Organisation, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC), among others.

And according to a report in the New York Times September 4, Trump is very likely to withdraw from the iconic 71-year-old military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — if he wins a second term as president.

The Times quotes former US officials as saying that such a move would be one of the biggest global strategic shifts in generations and a major victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, will the UN be far behind?

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS the Trump administration is a wrecking crew that seeks to undermine if not demolish any international institutions that do not serve Trump’s idiosyncratic whims or, more substantially, don’t serve narrow interests of U.S.-based corporations and the military-industrial complex.

While top leaders of the U.S. government have routinely seen the United Nations as primarily an instrument to be used to advance US geopolitical interests, during the last three-quarters of a century, some have recognised the overlap between humanitarian and nationalistic goals. No longer, he declared.

The Trump regime has operated almost entirely from the basis of narrowly defined self-interest, to the point that it should be understood as the gravest threat not only to the UN but to the world as a whole, said Solomon, author of “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

“When we evaluate international institutions, they should not be conflated. The United Nations and its potential are very far from comparable to NATO.”

The UN — while significantly and by some measures deeply flawed, and badly in need of power restructuring — has laudable aspirations, he argued.

“NATO, on the other hand, is far more of a threat to peace than a defender. Trump’s hostility to the concept of the United Nations is in many ways categorical, whereas his intermittent criticisms of NATO are inconsistent and largely a function of unhinged nationalism”, said Solomon.

Ian Williams, President of the Foreign Press Association in New York and a former President of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), told IPS the UN system is in the sad position where the US acts as if it hates the organisation, but the other members do not love it enough to step into the gap.

Historically, the US prizes the organisation’s dependence on Washington as was shown when the US rebuffed Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme’s proposal to restrict its contributions 15%. Since then the other powers could at anytime have called the US bluff and met the shortfall- after all Ted Turner did, he said.

But it goes beyond finance. The US’s lawless attitude has proved infectious, Williams pointed out.

If the US and its ally Israel can defy resolutions, then why can’t Russia break the rules over Ukraine, or Beijing in the China Sea or India over Kashmir? he asked.

Previous US administrations have been constrained in their public disdain of international law and order because they needed the UN rubber stamp their positions, as indeed Trump tried over the snapback on Iran but the prestige behind that legitimising power is a rapidly devaluing asset, said Williams, and author of “UNtold: The Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War.”

It is perhaps make or break time.

The UN’s figurehead, the Secretary General should invite President Trump to take his braggadocio and depart if he goes too far. If Trump loses in November then the Secretary-General will get some recognition and gratitude from the incoming administration, said Williams.

“If he wins the UN should have contingency plans for continuing without the US, while thanking the archaisms of the UN Charter that leave some counterweight to the unscrupulously expedient Russian and Chinese on the Security Council”.

At the worst, perhaps, realistically the General Assembly should set up and International Residual Mechanism to look after the collective obligations of the UN until such time as the members show signs of resuming their responsibilities effectively, declared Williams

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