(Bloomberg) -- House Republicans pressed Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, about what they called “severe” budget cuts the Trump administration is seeking to the world body that could undermine U.S. national security interests.
“Some of these cuts are massive and just devastating,” Republican Representative Kay Granger of Texas said Tuesday at an appropriations subcommittee hearing where Haley was testifying. “Our leadership is irreplaceable.”
The defense of funding for the United Nations reflected underlying support from Republicans for many of its missions despite their frequent criticism that the international body is too quick to condemn Israel and too tepid in acting against nations such as Iran and North Korea.
While Haley spoke to the subcommittee, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres met with other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, urging them against following through on the White House recommendations and vowing that the UN will make reforms needed to ensure better use of funds. Last month, UN officials said the proposed U.S. cuts would “simply make it impossible” to maintain essential operations.
Haley sidestepped questions about the size of the proposed cuts, focusing instead on her goal of finding “real value” in the slew of UN agencies providing humanitarian aid, demanding clear guideposts for peacekeeping efforts and working to end “obsessive bashing” of Israel . She said the president’s budget “was helpful at putting countries on notice that we are not being taken for granted anymore.”
‘Peace and Stability’
The U.S. is targeting savings of $150 million alone on efforts to scale back the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, Haley said. Larger savings will come from reducing the U.S. contribution to the peacekeeping budget to 25 percent of total costs from 28.5 percent currently, she said.
“If you went to 25 percent you are not harming peace and stability,” Haley said. “I have seen value in the UN, and at the same time the UN has fat around the edges.”
In addition to the peacekeeping operations, the U.S. contributes 22 percent of the UN’s operating budget of $2.7 billion. The share is set by an international agreement established by the UN General Assembly based on the size of the U.S. economy. The U.S. is also the leading provider of aid to other UN bodies through voluntary contributions.
While Democrats have been the most critical of Trump’s proposed budget, Representative Eliot Engel -- the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee -- said “there’s no unlimited funding anymore, so people want to see us get some bang for our buck.”
‘Tainted by the Nonsense’
“The United Nations provides some very valuable services but it’s tainted by the nonsense that so many undemocratic states that are members of the United Nations pull," Engel told reporters.
More cost savings may be found when the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan comes up for renewal later this month, Haley said.
Republican Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky said the Trump administration hasn’t shared detailed plans of how it proposes to enact the UN cuts, which he described as “severe.” Ultimately, Congress has the authority to provide funding above the White House’s recommendations.
“The budget justification does not specify which organizations are funded or at what amount, or what impact these cuts might have on our national interests,” Rogers said. “The subcommittee lacks basic information on the administration’s plan to accomplish this.”
While Democrats largely echoed their Republican colleagues’ concerns about UN funding, the Republican focus on the issue was highlighted by the presence at the subcommittee hearing of Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who said deep cuts at the UN are neither “sustainable or advisable” if the U.S. wants to encourage reforms and sustain its influence.