After World War II, leaders of the time gathered with one goal: never letting that mess happen again. To this end, the United Nations was formed in 1945 with the purposes of maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations between nations and achieving international cooperation, according to the charter. In January, however, Alabama representative Mike Rogers introduced a bill to stop United States involvement in the UN.
The reasoning behind this bill is simple. As TU political science professor Dr. Gaurav Kampani explained, some find that the UN costs the government too much for what it’s worth, and that it should not be the United States’ burden to bear. Indeed, last year, the United States was the top financial contributor to the UN, having provided around 29 percent of the organization’s $7.87 billion peacekeeping budget. China gave the second highest amount at 10.3 percent.
If the United States were to stop contributing as much money, the hope is that other countries would then step up and contribute more than they have been. In the past, bills have been proposed to reduce funding but remain in the organization, yet none of them have passed. Representative Rogers has been proposing the same bill, titled the “American Sovereignty Restoration Act,” since 1997. Those who oppose leaving the UN fear that Rogers’ bill could in fact go forward with the government’s newly explicit “America First” mantra.
Of course, it’s also more convenient for politicians to spend money on things that result in clearly visible benefits. The average constituent probably isn’t going to be following UN actions, and if they are, they might actually be angry, as Trump was, that the UN Security Council just voted in December to declare Israel’s settlements illegal. Sarah Palin also called for President Trump to withdraw from the UN, saying that the United Nations is actually where “injustice is rewarded.”
Nevertheless, just because the good of the UN is not immediately obvious to Americans doesn’t necessarily mean it is a useless organization: the value of the UN lies precisely in what it has the potential to prevent. William Schabas, international expert on human rights law, has argued extensively that “the world is a far, far safer place today than it was before the United Nations was established.” Dr. Kampani added that the cost of what we give to the UN pays for security. For example, he said, the money that we give the International Monetary Fund is to try to prevent another Great Depression; the money we give to the UN is to prevent refugee crises and terrorism by aiding peacekeeping efforts.
Dr. Jeffrey Hockett, also a political science professor at TU, argued that reducing refugee crises has practical value beyond its obvious moral imperative. He linked the rise of “aggressive forms of right wing populism” with refugee influx, as was evident with the election of our current president. In the meantime, he said, refugees will only continue to increase “as a result of environmental disasters associated with climate change.” If the UN doesn’t have the funding to help mitigate crises because the US decided to stop contributing, our country would suffer along with the others.
American membership in the UN also protects our service members, explained Dr. Hockett. While the UN fulfills the role of a world government, its international humanitarian law considers torture a war crime. If US government officials are concerned that this would prevent the United States from torturing, they should note that torture, besides being morally despicable, has been deemed inefficient by a plethora of medics and social scientists.
If the notion of helping refugees and stopping torture seems too wimpy for you, keep in mind that if the United States were to leave the UN, the UN Security Council would then be dominated by those countries which have been deemed, at best, our competitors, and at worst, our enemies: China and Russia. Dr. Kampani said that US withdrawal would be akin to destroying the institution and our international legitimacy along with it. He said this country has been investing in the UN since 1945, and if we were to leave a gap for other countries to fill, they might indeed start paying more, but also gain more influence than us.
Ultimately, Dr. Kampani compared the United Nations to a neighborhood council: if you wanted to organize a trash pick-up service, you could just call a meeting rather than have to call on everyone individually. This substantially reduces the transaction costs of organizing world movements, which is ever more important considering the rate of globalization. You might think it’s a better idea for you to forgo your turn patrolling the neighborhood to just stay at home with your gun, but then your neighbor’s stuff gets stolen and they can’t pay you back for that one time you lent them money to get rid of their tent worms.
Both professors agree that concerned students should call their congressional representatives and encourage them to vote against the bill.