America First, But At What Cost?


“The figures presented would simply make it impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights and humanitarian assistance,” a UN representative commented in response to President Trump’s budget plan for 2018.

Currently, the US contributes 25% and 28%, respectively, of the UN’s operating and peacekeeping budgets. The 28% spent on peacekeeping, amounts to $2.2 billion, which is more than twice the amount the next contributor, China, pays. On May 22, President Trump submitted a projection on 2018 US fiscal year. The report reads that spending on international organizations will be decreased by 31%. Funding for UN peacekeeping will decrease over 50% while other organizations, such as UNICEF, which provides humanitarian aid to children and mothers and UNFPA, which aims to provide safe pregnancies, will be completely deprived of any funding from the US.

The Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Support, Atul Khare, said that “peacekeeping is cost effective.” The current costs for the 16 peacekeeping missions involve deploying 113,000 personnel and supporting 22,000 African Union peacekeepers. Altogether, “the cost of UN peacekeeping to member states today is 17% lower in 2016-17 than it was in 2008-09 when measured as cost per capita of deployed uniformed personnel.” The peacekeeping missions are not only cost effective, but also useful, as shown by the 70 missions that were successfully concluded and “left a legacy of stability in countries spanning from El Salvador to Namibia to East Timor.”

Hence, UN peacekeeping has already significantly improved its efficiencies in spending. Therefore, the decreased funding will force termination of various missions. In fact, the UN has already announced that missions in Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Haiti will be closed. Also at the risk of decreased support, are a number of African countries, including Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are currently in extreme danger of hunger and famine, primarily due to wars.

Trump had said before that the US contributions to UN budgets were “peanuts compared to the important work.” However, mixed opinions were voiced. For instance, the Florida Senator Marco Rubio said that he does not support the “cut to our international affairs budget and diplomatic efforts led by the State Department,” commenting that “these programmes are integral to our national security, and cuts at these levels undermine America’s ability to keep our citizens safe.”

Effectively, the 50% and 31% reduction for UN peacekeeping and international organizations respectively force changes in these institutions, especially those “that work against US foreign policy interests.” It is without question that these shifts in policies will impact various developing countries suffering from conflict or famine.

Min Ji Kim

Undergraduate student studying Biochemistry at University of Oxford