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"What would US cuts to the UN look like?"

In President Donald Trump’s most recent budget proposal, there were explicit calls to reduce United States’ funding to several United Nations organizations. While the US is the largest funder of the general UN system, not every affiliated organization benefits from US monetary support to the same extent. In an article recently published by the Brookings Institute, authors John McArthur and Krista Rasmussen discuss the implications for individual UN organizations as well as for the US should the latter significantly reduce its support in the upcoming fiscal year.

In 2014, the last year for which data is available, the US gave nearly $10 billion to the UN system. The five organizations that received the biggest share of US money were the World Food Programme (WFP), UN Peacekeeping Operations (UN PKO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nation’s Secretariat, with the remainder spread across 24 other organizations in varying amounts. Thus, if the US reduced funding to any of these five major organizations, it would enable the country to save the most money.

However, each organization derives a varying percentage of their budgets from the US, so even small changes in how much the US contributes could have a disproportionate effect on their ability to function. For example, both the WFP and the UNHCR receive over 40 percent of their total funding from the US, so any reduction in funding could be destabilizing. Additionally, all five organizations to which the US gives the most rely upon this support for at least 20 percent of their budgets, emphasizing that there is no easy path to significantly reducing spending. Even smaller agencies to which the US gives relatively little can still depend largely upon US support. For example, less than two percent of US spending goes to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but this relatively small dollar amount still constitutes 30 percent of this organization’s budget.

McArthur and Rasmussen argue that the most disastrous route would be for the US to cut funding for the WFP, which would result in international humanitarian and geopolitical crises. Because the US gives a large amount of absolute dollars to the WFP, and this amount also makes up a significant portion of the WFP’s budget, other UN Member States would probably struggle to fill the extensive gap. The only possible replacement source would be an emerging power like China, and losing its status as the leading funder for such prominent UN organizations would not be ideal for the US in terms of global influence. Although it is unclear how the US will proceed, simply reducing monetary support could have unintended and unfavorable consequences for both the country and the UN as a whole.

You can read McArthur and Rasmussen’s article “What would US cuts to the UN look like?”, originally published by The Brookings Institution, here.




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