UN, Christian Leaders Warn Against Steep Cuts to UN, Foreign Aid Funding

By Patrick Goodenough | March 17, 2017 | 12:31 AM EDT

The proposed budget calls for a 28 percent reduction in funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. (Photo: USAID)

(CNSNews.com) – Shaken by confirmation that the new administration of its biggest contributor is proposing sweeping reductions to its funding, the United Nations on Thursday warned that “abrupt funding cuts” could harm long-term reform efforts.

Meanwhile more than 100 Christian leaders – including two participants in President Trump’s inauguration ceremony – appealed to Congress to reject the administration’s proposals for significant cuts to foreign aid.

The proposed FY 2018 budget released Thursday includes a 28 percent reduction in funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – $25.6 billion, or $10.1 billion less than the FY 2017 continuing resolution level.

At a White House briefing, a reporter noted that the U.N. says more than 20 million people in four countries (northern Nigeria, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia) face famine or starvation, and asked whether the proposed cuts to foreign aid and the U.N. would cause suffering to some of the world’s most vulnerable.

Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney gave no quarter, however.

“We’re absolutely reducing funding to the U.N. and to the various foreign aid programs, including those run by the U.N. and other agencies,” he said.

“That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign. The president said specifically, hundreds of times – you covered him – ‘I’m going to spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home.’ And that’s exactly what we’re doing with this budget.”

According to the White House proposal, the 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.”

“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.”

Among the proposals, the amount contributed by the U.S. to the U.N. operating budget will be reduced. The proposal does say by how much, but U.S. taxpayers now account for 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget in “assessed contributions” and provides billions of dollars more each year in “voluntary contributions.” Together the contributions amount to $7-8 billion a year.

The administration also proposes reducing the U.S. assessed contribution for U.N. global peacekeeping missions to 25 percent at most. That’s in line with long-flouted U.S. law setting a 25 percent cap on peacekeeping funding.

Currently the U.S. is assessed 28.57 percent of the peacekeeping budget, with the Obama administration having requested $2.394 billion for FY 2017.

Flags of member states fly in front of the United Nations headquarters building in New York City. The administration's budget calls for a reduction in the U.S. contribution -- now 22 percent -- to the world body's regular operating budgeti. (U.N. Photo by J.C. McIlwaine, File)

Spending ‘is simply not sustainable’

A spokesman for U.N. secretary-general António Guterres said he was “grateful for the support the United States has given to the United Nations over the years as the organization’s largest financial contributor,” and was committed to reforming the U.N. to ensure it is efficient and cost-effective.

“However, abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad-hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” the spokesman added.

“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.”

Speaking in Tokyo about proposals for curtailed resources for his department, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration envisages a reduction in the number of conflicts in which the U.S. will be directly engaged, and expects other countries to step up.

I think clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking in the past – and particularly in this past year – is simply not sustainable,” he told reporters.

“So on a go-forward basis, what the president is asking the State Department to do is, I think, reflective of a couple of expectations: One is that as time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in; and second, that as we become more effective in our aid programs, that we will also be attracting resources from other countries, allies, and other sources as well, to contribute in our development aid and our disaster assistance.”

Tillerson acknowledged the challenges, but said he was “confident that with the input of the men and women of the State Department, we are going to construct a way forward that allows us to be much more effective, much more efficient, and be able to do a lot with fewer dollars.”

More than 100 Christian leaders signed a letter to congressional leaders on Thursday, urging them to “support and protect” the international affairs budget  

“With just 1 percent of our nation’s budget, the International Affairs Budget has helped alleviate the suffering of millions; drastically cutting the number of people living in extreme poverty in half, stopping the spread of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDs and Ebola, and nearly eliminating polio,” the letter states.

“Additionally, it promotes freedom and human rights, protecting religious freedom for millions around the world. As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the ‘shining city upon a hill.’”

Among the signatories were New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez, both of whom read scriptures during Trump’s inauguration ceremony.

Others included National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson, World Vision USA president Rich Stearns and leaders in numerous Catholic, Protestant and evangelical churches.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow