April 17th, 2020
Donald Trump’s decision to halt US funding to the World Health Organization over its mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic is just the latest in a long line of spats between the US and the UN and its agencies.
With Donald Trump at the helm, there is now even a possibility that the US could leave the United Nations entirely.
If this were to happen, and remember the US is by far the UN’s biggest funder, where would that leave the UK?
In that eventuality, I believe we would have to make it clear to the UN that if radical reform is not forthcoming; we would follow the Americans out of the door.
As far back as 2005, George W Bush appointed fierce UN critic John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
Such an appointment was to prove controversial precisely because Bolton’s views on the UN were so damning. Bolton once famously declared “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
And in 2018, the US withdrew from the UN Human Rights council, citing bias and hypocrisy in the body. Trump himself has also derided the UN as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time”.
At present, there is nothing to indicate that the US plans to leave the UN any time soon, and the UK’s priority should absolutely be to try and reform the organisation from within, particularly as we hold one of the five permanent seats on the Security Council. But where have we heard “we can better change it from within” before?
The corruption of the WHO by the Chinese Communist Party is merely the tip of the iceberg. The simple fact is that despite its lofty goals, the UN repeatedly fails to live up to the values and standards it was set up to defend.
Not only did the UN shamelessly fail to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, or indeed more recently the bloodbath in Syria, it frequently cannot even bring its own institutions to condemn the governments that carry out such atrocities.
The so-called UN Human Rights Council is a perfect example of this moral myopia. Among the current members elected to its Council are serial human rights abusers such as Eritrea and Bahrain, while other recent members include China, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.
Like many other UN bodies, the HRC is also biased against Israel to the point of absurdity. From 2006 to 2016 for example, the Council officially condemned Israel, a modern western democracy, 68 times: more than the rest of the world combined. China, Russia, Pakistan and Zimbabwe are among the nations which received not one single condemnation during that time.
The one member, one vote system in the UN General Assembly meanwhile means that the despotic and authoritarian countries of the world (of which there are too many) get just as much influence as liberal democracies.
Without the US, such biases and imbalances would only be compounded. The Security Council, which is weak and ineffective at best, would tilt even more towards the dictatorships of Russia and China.
The loss of the US, which currently contributes 22% of its annual budget, would make the UN more reliant on its next biggest contributor, China (12%). In comparison, British contributions make up around 4.5% of UN funding.
If the UN still were to prove itself incapable of reform even after the Americans have left, a British exit could spark an exodus of similar like-minded liberal democracies, leaving the UN as nothing more than a fig leaf for the world’s dictatorships.
In such a scenario, Britain should be at the forefront of crafting new international institutions which seek to foster global cooperation to tackle the pressing issues we face, but without the kind of wastage and moral hypocrisy so exemplified by the UN.
If there’s one thing these past few years of politics have taught us, it’s that nothing, no matter how unprecedented, can be ruled out. There may come a day when the US leaves the UN. I would regret it. But it may come to that.
To ensure a new institution supplants the UN in the same way the UN swept away the failed League of Nations, the UK could once again lead from the front.