Trump’s Proposed Foreign Ops Budget Again Targets UN Funding

Patrick Goodenough | March 12, 2019 | 4:25am EDT
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U.N. member states' flags fly outside U.N. headquarters in New York City. (UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

( – For the third consecutive year, the Trump administration has proposed a budget that cuts spending on foreign affairs, including funding for the United Nations – but congressional Democrats are unimpressed.

President Trump’s FY 2020 budget proposal seeks $42.803 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, around $726 million more than requested in the 2019 budget, but significantly below what the U.S. Congress approved for 2019, $54.418 billion.

The State/USAID budget for FY 2018 was $56.386 billion and for FY 2017 was $59.752 billion.

The proposal to Congress says the funding requested for the U.N. and other international organizations aims to fully fund “those organizations critical to our national security but makes cuts or reductions to those whose results are unclear, whose work does not directly affect our national security interests, or for which the funding burden is not fairly shared among members.”

“The [State] Department will continue to work with the international organizations including the U.N. to reduce costs, improve effectiveness, and more fairly share the funding burden.”

At the same time, the proposal says the administration is committed to “promoting U.S. leadership in international organizations as a means of countering actions by countries that do not share U.S. national security interests and values.”

--For the “contributions to international organizations” (CIO) account – which goes towards funding the U.N., U.N.-affiliated agencies and other international organizations – the administration is requesting $1.013 billion for FY 2020. (Actual CIO funding in FY 2018 was $1.467 billion and in FY 2017 was $1.359 billion.)

--For the “contributions for international peacekeeping activities” (CIPA) account – which funds U.S. assessed obligations to U.N. peacekeeping operations – the administration is asking for $1.136 billion in FY 2020. (CIPA funding in FY 2018 was $1.381 billion and in FY 2017 was $1.907 billion.)

--For the U.N. regular budget, the administration is requesting $473.7 million for FY 2020. (Actual funding for the U.N. budget in FY 2018 was $609.9 million and in FY 2017 was $593.2 million.)

‘Not the best use of taxpayer dollars’

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) both called the proposal “dead on arrival” in Congress.

“Even though the Administration doesn’t seem to get the message, it bears repeating: at a time when the United States is facing crises across the globe, investing in diplomacy and development advances American interests, values, and security,” said Engel in a statement.

Leahy said the budget was “not worth the paper it is printed on,” and predicted that it will be rejected by Congress.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he looked forward to reviewing additional details, saying the committee would hold hearings in the coming months and “carefully review the president’s proposal as we work to draft and pass spending bills for FY 2020.”

Briefing at the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that “President Trump has made it clear that U.S. foreign assistance should serve America’s national interest and should support those countries that help us to advance our foreign policy goals.”

Doug Pitkin, director of the department’s Bureau of Budget and Planning, said the proposal includes reductions in some programs which the administration “believes are either a lower priority or perhaps are not the best use of taxpayer dollars.”

“An example of that is continuing to request lower amounts for contributions [to] international organizations than Congress has provided, as an effort to try to drive greater burden-sharing among those organizations.”

Pitkin conceded that there will be “back and forth” with lawmakers over the proposed budget, but said that just because Congress has not taken up some of the proposed reductions in recent years “does not change the administration’s position.”


The Better World Campaign (BWC), a group that “works to foster a strong relationship between the U.S. and the U.N.,” criticized the plan, saying it “greatly underfunds the U.N. regular budget and peacekeeping operations.”

“The proposed budget cuts will make it more difficult for the U.N. to help those who need it most around the world,” said BWC president Peter Yeo. “It will undermine ongoing efforts to implement the ambitious reform agenda that the U.S. has championed. And it will also exacerbate the financial crisis at the U.N.”

BWC called on Congress to reject the proposal.

The 193 U.N. member-states’ contributions to the U.N. regular and peacekeeping budgets are assessed according to their “capacity to pay,” a formula based on factors including population size and gross national income.

Under those assessments, U.S. taxpayers are expected to provide 22 percent of the U.N. regular budget and – in 2019 – 27.89 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget.

Legislation signed by President Clinton in 1994 set a 25 percent cap on the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping, however, and the discrepancy between that cap and the U.N. assessment led to arrears mounting.

Under legislation negotiated in 1999, the U.S. agreed to settle the arrears in return for a U.N. pledge to gradually reduce the assessment, which was then above 30 percent, to 25 percent.

In the meantime, according to the BWC, U.S. arrears stand at around $750 million and, under the FY 2020 proposal, would increase to more than $1 billion next year.

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