In his first national budget plan, released by the White House today, President Donald Trump proposed an aggressively pro-military and security-obsessed agenda that could severely cut funds to the State Department and the United Nations. Numerous other international programs run by various government agencies, which benefit many people around the world, are also being targeted.
These extreme steps show barely a shred of concern for global opinion or for the needs of people in peril outside the US. The message is that citizens of the richest country on earth must come first.
“Our aim is to meet the simple but crucial demand of our citizens — a Government that puts the needs of its own people first,” Trump wrote in his introduction to the document, compiled by the White House Office of Management and Budget. True to all his trademark isolationist and discriminatory rhetoric, Trump boasted that this would be his way of making, as the document says, “America Great Again.” Again?
The budget plan goes to the US Congress next, where it could find more opposition than the president’s team may expect. Congress is mired in a growing revolt against a national health policy that Trump backs, mostly because of its draconian willingness to risk the loss of insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans.
No specific UN programs or agencies are elaborated on in the proposed national budget, leaving it up to both houses of Congress to fill in the blanks. It is widely assumed, however, that members of Congress are likely to target the United Nations Population Fund, the largest global provider of family planning and maternal health care, as well as the UN Human Rights Council.
In her confirmation hearing on Jan. 18, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, said: “We need to go into every part of the organizations of the UN, but one in particular that you can look at is the Human Rights Council, and you really have to question what is the goal of the Human Rights Council when they allow Cuba and China to serve on those.”
On March 16, Haley said in a statement about the Trump budget proposal: “In many areas, the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries.” Yet the payoff, she did not acknowledge, is that the “burden” gives the US enormous control at the UN.
Some officials in Trump’s own team as well as Congressional leaders and scores of military and intelligence officials past and present have questioned such a withdrawal from the world. Speaking in Tokyo on March 16, 2017, before meeting the Japanese foreign minister and the prime minister, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Japanese reporters that he recognized the challenge: “[To] be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis has said publicly: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Certainly, he won’t be short of cash.
Here are provisions in the Trump budget proposal that will most affect US foreign policy and international organizations, with language verbatim:
• The President’s 2018 Budget requests $25.6 billion in base funding for the Department of State and USAID, a $10.1 billion, or 28 percent, reduction from the 2017 annualized CR [continuing resolution, which allows government offices to go on functioning in a budget stalemate].
• Additional steps will be taken to make the State Department and USAID leaner, more efficient and more effective. These steps to reduce foreign assistance free up funding for critical priorities here at home and put America first.
• [t]he Budget seeks to reduce or end direct funding for international organizations whose missions do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests, are duplicative, or are not well-managed. [No specific examples given.]
• Reduces funding to the UN and affiliated agencies, including UN peacekeeping and other inter-national organizations, by setting the expectation that these organizations rein in costs and that the funding burden be shared more fairly among members. The amount the US would contribute to the UN budget would be reduced and the U.S. would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs.
• Eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the President’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.
• Refocuses economic and development assistance to countries of greatest strategic importance to the U.S. and ensures the effectiveness of U.S. taxpayer investments by rightsizing funding across countries and sectors.
• Provides $3.1 billion to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel, currently at an all-time high; ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats and maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.
• Provides sufficient resources on a path to fulfill the $1 billion U.S. pledge to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. . . . Provides sufficient resources to maintain current commitments and all current patient levels on HIV/AIDS treatment under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and maintains funding for malaria programs. The Budget also meets U.S. commitments to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria by providing 33 percent of projected contributions from all donors, consistent with the limit currently in law.
• Allows for significant funding of humanitarian assistance, including food aid, disaster, and refugee program funding. This would focus funding on the highest priority areas while asking the rest of the world to pay their fair share. The Budget eliminates the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance account, a duplicative and stove-piped account, and challenges international and non-governmental relief organizations to become more efficient and effective.
• Reduces funding for the Department of State’s Educational and Cultural Exchange (ECE) Programs. ECE resources would focus on sustaining the flagship Fulbright Program, which forges lasting connections between Americans and emerging leaders around the globe.
• Reduces funding for multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, by approximately $650 million over three years compared to commitments made by the previous administration. Even with the proposed decreases, the U.S. would retain its current status as a top donor while saving taxpayer dollars.
Other US government departments’ international programs are also affected:
• The Department of Agriculture: The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program — supporting child development and food security in low-income, food-deficit countries and primary education for girls globally through donations of American food and technical assistance — is eliminated because, the budget proposal says, it “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity.”
• Health and Human Services: Reduces the National Institutes of Health’s spending relative to the 2017 annualized CR level by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion, and eliminates the Fogarty International Center. . . . The Budget also reforms the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a new $500 million block grant to increase State flexibility and focus on the leading public health challenges specific to each State. [The CDC is a major player worldwide on health information and up-to-date data.]
• The Department of Labor: The budget focuses the Bureau of International Labor Affairs on ensuring that U.S. trade agreements are fair for American workers. . . . It eliminates the Bureau’s largely noncompetitive and unproven grant funding, which would save at least $60 million.
• Defending the Department of Defense: Trump’s rationale for a ballooning military budget:
There is a $54 billion increase in defense spending in 2018 that is offset by targeted reductions elsewhere. . . . We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war, and when called upon to fight, do only one thing: Win.
As for the response from the UN, this statement was released on March 16, 2017, by Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for Secretary-General António Guterres: “The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism but believes that it requires more than military spending.
“There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises.
“The international community is facing enormous global challenges that can only be addressed by a strong and effective multilateral system, of which the United Nations remains the fundamental pillar.”
Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.