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“A Bad Bill for Everyone”

“At a time when the U.S. and United Nations are working together to address the world’s most pressing challenges — from humanitarian needs in the Horn of Africa and Haiti, to political crises and violence in Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan — it’s more important than ever that America maintain its longstanding commitment to global leadership and engagement.” This quote comes from The Better World Campaign’s  “Let US Lead”  petition. The petition is a  place where individuals can go to show their support for the United Nations and their feelings on a new bill (H.R. 2829), recently introduced in Congress, that threatens to cut U.S. funding of the UN.

The bill, introduced by the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and 57 co-sponsors, is being called a “Bad bill for everyone,” by the Economist, while CNN has referred to it as a “temper tantrum,”. To put it simply, the bill threatens to make substantial cuts to UN funding as well as all funding to agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

The piece of legislation, or “United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act,” puts much of the good that the UN does throughout the world – such as feeding children impacted by famine and disease, and taking care of refugees – in serious jeopardy. Likewise, the bill would devastate US leadership within the UN, damage critical US national interests, alienate US allies, and put heavier costs on US taxpayers. If passed this new legislation wouldn’t just be harmful to US interests, but it would cause serious detriment within the UN. Such damage would mostly be due to the fact that since its founding the UN’s biggest contributor has been the US. Currently, the US funds 22% of the UN’s regular budget and more than 27% of its peacekeeping budget. Of the UN’s $22.3 billion budget, the US paid $6.4 billion. Because of the US’s continued high involvement and investment into the UN, its withdrawal of support would severely inhibit the organization’s ability to follow through on its commitments.

So why was this bill even introduced if it has the ability to be so harmful to the UN? First, Ros-Lentinen has been a critic of the UN for a long time. She believes the UN has been continuously plagued by scandal, mismanagement and inaction. Thus, her legislation, if passed, would withhold US funds to the UN if the organization does not change its funding systems so that dues are paid on a voluntary basis rather than an assessed one as it stands now. Specifically, as proposed by the bill the UN would have two years to phase in funding reform before the US withholds funds. After those two years the US would begin by withholding half of its contributions to the UN regular budget if less than 80% of the UN’s budget is not funded voluntarily at that time.

The second issue that Ros-Lehtinen has with the UN is its potential to support a Palestinian statehood proposal. She explained to her colleagues that the purpose of her bill is to also avoid a Palestinian self-declared state which she believes would “short-circuit the negotiating process, and would severely undermine opportunities for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” As a result her bill includes funding cuts to UNRWA, the agency that administers Palestinian refugee camps in the occupied territories and neighboring Arab countries. UNRWA’s budget for the fiscal year 2011 is currently set at $230 million. In this portion of the bill there is currently no condition attached to the cuts, Ros-Lehtinen simply wants to cut off funding to UNRWA.

As the Economist reported, the reality of the situation is that threats of funding cuts will most likely not be a deciding factor as to whether or not Palestinian statehood will be recognized. Rather, a Palestinian statehood proposal will be voted on in the UN’s General Assembly where, as it stands now, the 2/3rds vote in favor of recognition is likely to be met. However, Ghana, India, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Eritrea, France and the Dominican Republic are likely to not change their votes because of the US’s threat to cut off funding to UNICEF – a huge supporter of their states.

In an interview with The Cable on Wednesday, September 7th Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) said that Ros-Lehtinen’s bill was “ill-advised” and “probably dead on arrival.” Berman said he can never see this bill becoming an actual law.

“I think there are some radical proposals here,” Berman said. “I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.’s actions and I share her frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good things they are doing.”

Likewise, the White House has openly spoken negatively about the bill, saying that President Obama and his administration opposes the legislation, and although it is believed within the administration that the UN does need reform, this is not the correct way to go about it. Instead the White House suggests that the U.S. work with the UN to continue to make it stronger and more flexible.

Now more than ever is a grassroots movement supporting the good work of the UN important!    Visit Let US Lead today and tell Congress to oppose H.R. 2829 by signing the petition.  Encourage your friends and family to do the same.  You can also schedule an in-person meeting with your member of Congress during the Columbus Day recess (Oct. 13-30). To receive more information on these issues, contact Roger Nokes at UNA-USA for talking points and meeting materials. This is a great way to really ensure that your voice is being heard during this crucial time for the both the UN and America.

If you want to get more involved on advocacy in the Boston area,  UNA-GB invites you to join us at our Annual Meeting (September 28) where our programs and priorities for the year will be discussed in depth. It is a fantastic opportunity to get connected on these issues and network with other like minded global citizens in the area – register here today!

Become an advocate for the UN in 2011!

Working with a mission to inform, inspire and mobilize Americans to support the principles and vital work of the United Nations, advocacy is one of the works focused on at UNA-USA. It is important for us to engage our citizen rights to encourage our elected officials and our government to be active participants in global diplomacy and peace-building.  The 2011 Advocacy Agenda for the United Nations Association focuses on four core issue areas:

UNA-USA with Better World Campaign are working to coordinate activities in these four areas to maximize the overall advocacy impact in the future, and it is our goal as the Boston chapter to share ways YOU can engage in these campaigns!

UN funding: UNA-USA is working with Better World Campaign to strengthen the U.S. – UN relationship. There recently have been signs that members of the Congress may propose ways to reduce or commitment to the UN. H.R.557, The United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, would shift the funding mechanism for the regular budget of the UN from an assessed to a voluntary basis. The bill has more than 100 co-sponsors and is expected to be brought up for a vote in committee and on the House floor. It is our responsibility that the members of the Congress are encouraged to vote against this bill.

Human Rights: Human rights work is one of the key focus areas of the UN. Under the Obama administration in May 2009, the U.S. was elected to a three-year term on the Council with a full-time US ambassador appointed to the council. With the upcoming mandated review in March 2011, which will examine the Council’s performance over its first five years, members of Congress should be encouraged to play a constructive role in advising the Obama administration about ways in which the Council can be improved.

International Treaties: Prospects are decidedly mixed for United States ratification of several longstanding international treaties in the 112th Congress. The new senate contains many incoming senators who have little knowledge of the treaties that await ratification by the United States but will quickly become aware of the controversial issues surrounding them. The new configuration means that Senate approval treaties will only occur by reaching across party lines.  During the 111th Congress, there were important developments in support of treaty ratification, such as Senate approval of New START. It will be critical to build momentum toward Senate votes on pending treaties in the context of the Obama’s administration’s ongoing commitment to seek US ratification of such treaties.

Millenium Development Goals: Although the September 2010 world summit at United Nations Headquarters reassured governments’ support for meeting the MDGs by 2015, the U.S. commitments may be challenged due to a stringent budget and the global financial crisis. However, extensive recent polling sponsored by the UN Foundation shows that solid majority of the American public supports the MDGs and the role for the U.S. in meeting them. UNA-USA chapters just concluded many successful local UN Day 2010 events which focused on the importance of the MDGs and UN Foundation programs hope to inspire activism in support of the MDGs in local communities and to recruit new UNA-USA members.

You can read the complete Advocacy Agenda here.  Stay updated as we all work together to strengthen the U.S.-UN relationship, and our global diplomacy as a whole.  Real change happens when we choose to act.  We look forward to working together with you this year!

-NaEun