To Build or Not to Build?

By Vera Dimoplon
Contributing Writer
May 18, 2017

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to United Nations programs are harmful to the UN and the agencies that provide assistance to populations in need around the world. Today the world is going through many challenges, including a global refugee crisis, famine in Somalia and South Sudan, nuclear proliferation, environmental changes, and conflicts in Yemen, Syria, and Ukraine. The US has historically been the world’s leader in addressing global crises, serving as an example to other states by standing strong with the weak, assisting those in need, and extending protection to those who are in danger. The United States has been the biggest contributor to the UN; just in 2016, the US contributed over 28% of the UN peacekeeping budget and 22% of the regular budget. Defunding the UN will cripple its programs and have an immediate effect on environmental programs and humanitarian efforts. Building the Mexican wall would take away resources that could be invested in United Nations programs that both help combat climate change and provide global stability.

President Trump does not believe in climate change, going so far as to call it an “expensive hoax” in the past. In his budget proposal, he suggests that the US should “[Eliminate] the Global Climate Change Initiative and [fulfill] the President’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.” This program assists developing countries in designing strategies to address environmental issues. It provides resources to programs that promote low-emission projects and supports vulnerable societies that would not be able to implement and maintain such projects on their own. Established by 194 states within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it requires collective action where the only way to achieve lowering greenhouse gas emissions is collaboration between advanced economies and societies that will be affected the most if nothing is done. For example, Small Island Developing States, African States and the Least Developed Countries depend on the concerted action by global community through the Green Climate Fund and the US leadership to implement commitments made under the UN Convention on Climate Change. Diverting American resources from these valuable programs to a border wall would undermine the responsibility the United States has to the world.

President Trump has also continuously expressed his concern about the cost of the UN operations and questioned the US commitments to the global community. Among the reasons to cut the US contributions to the UN, Mr. Trump suggested that the international organizations are too costly. He noted that the burden for the UN agencies should be shared fairly among member states, proposing to “[reduce] funding to the UN and affiliated agencies, including UN peacekeeping and other international 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 US would not contribute more than 25 percent for UN peacekeeping costs.” Instead of pulling back from its commitments, the United States should send the message to the international community that it will remain a global leader though continuing its contributions to the UN. It should do so not just because of standing commitments, but because it is a good investment.

The UN was created in part to prevent World War III; it is a ready mechanism to be used in a case of global distress and convene necessary resources at short notice. The UN can be compared to a health insurance plan: you never know when you might need it, yet you invest money in it to assist you in a time of crisis. The UN is always in the process of guiding the world to improvement. Unlike regional organizations like ASEAN, OAS, and NATO whose primary objective is collective security, the UN is the only organization that addresses major global challenges in economic development and sustainability. Through the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN and its agencies fight hunger and poverty, bring clean water to people, work on ways to improve global quality of life, address climate change, and work on building partnerships throughout the international community. Through its peacekeeping operations, the UN strives to support the values that make every community more stable and safe in a way Trump’s wall cannot.

Considering the scope of work UN agencies do on a daily basis, the cost of supporting those agencies is reasonable they deliver humanitarian relief to countries in need, they give vaccinations and immunizations to children who otherwise would not have access to them, and they provide education to people who otherwise would not have a chance to go to school.

If the U.S. has to invest in any project, it should invest in the UN, not in extraneous things like the Mexican border wall. It is unclear how much this wall will cost and who will pay for it. What is clear is that the wall does not seem significant in comparison to the global problems affecting the lives of millions of people. If President Trump is concerned about proving to the rest of the world that the US is still the strongest power, he should abandon the idea of the wall and invest in global partnership through the UN. This wall is a reaction rooted in fear of the current global situation, but the United States cannot make policy decisions out of fear. The U.S. would show more strength to the world by supporting the global community through these difficult times, rather than by building a wall which will only isolate us from the rest of the world. The US must not abandon its commitment to the UN and its leadership role on the world stage. As the world’s sole superpower, the United States has a moral responsibility to contribute to humanitarian aid and should set the example for the international community. Besides, investing in global stability could only be beneficial to the US foreign policy.

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