The United Nations, Donald Trump and Cassandra

Swiss-American political scientist Daniel Warner warns that a new bill recently introduced into the House of Representatives to disengage the United States from the United Nations could be very damaging for International Geneva.

This content was published on January 30, 2017 - 11:00
Daniel Warner,

Under the radar in Geneva, but an ominous foreboding of things to come, a bill was introduced into the US House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Dr. Daniel Warner is a Swiss-American political scientist. He is Assistant Director for International Relations at DCAF, the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. He joined DCAF in 2011 after a long career at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Courtesy

Among the provisions of the bill, it calls for the repeal of the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 that would: terminate US membership in the UN and the closure of the US Mission to the UN in New York; end US assessed or voluntary funding to the UN or any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formerly affiliated body of the UN; stop US participation in or authorized funding for UN peacekeeping operations; repeal US membership and participation in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization and revoke US involvement in United Nations conventions and agreements.

If passed by Congress, the law would go into effect two years after it has been signed.

Not wishing to be a Cassandra - whose negative prophecies were not believed – and not wishing to predict that the bill will actually pass, I note that the bill reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration.

A similar bill was also introduced in 2015 by the same Congressman, Rep. Mike Rogers (Rep. AL). Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (R-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the UN, and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator.

Or, as John Bolton, once US ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the US abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the UN, the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with US participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the UN Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.

I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope.  Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in US foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.

On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the UN?

Trump, the UN and multilateralism

According to an article in the New York Times on January 25External link, the Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would drastically reduce the US’s role in the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as begin a process to review and possibly do away with certain forms of multilateral treaties.

The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing US Funding of International Organizations”, calls for an end to funding for any UN agency or other international body that meets any one of various criteria. These include organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programmes that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea. The draft order also calls to stop funding any organization that “is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or is blamed for the persecution of marginalized groups or any other systematic violation of human rights. The order asks a special committee to review US funding for peacekeeping operations; the International Criminal Court; development aid to countries that “oppose important United States policies”; and the United Nations Population Fund.

The second executive order, “Moratorium on New Multilateral Treaties,” calls for a review of all current and pending treaties with more than one other nation. It asks for recommendations on which negotiations or treaties the United States should leave. The order says this review applies only to multilateral treaties that are not “directly related to national security, extradition or international trade."

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The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 

Opinion series publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. The selection of articles presents a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

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