Republicans and UN

Written by  //  September 2, 2008  //  Foreign Policy, U.S., United Nations  //  No comments

We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

It’s hardly controversial to say that some Republicans sometimes view the UN with deep suspicion. And often, during election season, the UN serves as a useful whipping boy for (typically Republican) candidates trying to curry favor with a small but enthusiastic element of the Republican base.

So, it was rather welcome to see that the portion of the GOP Convention Platform discussing the United Nations, while tough, is far from an anti-UN screed. In fact, parts of it are an out right rejection of far right’s preferred approach to the United Nations.

Historically, some Republicans (and here I am referencing House Republicans in the 1990s) have sought to condition U.S. payment to the UN on UN reform; that is, Republican lawmakers sought to withhold UN funding until the UN adopted American-mandated reforms. Although smart reform as a mechanism for making the UN as efficient as possible and the most capable to fulfill its many important missions, would, without a doubt, be a positive development, tying those reforms to UN dues is a horrible idea.

More recently, there has been a movement afoot to overhaul UN funding to a system of voluntary contributions. During his waning months as UN Ambassador, John Bolton argued forcefully for this approach, under which we would “pay for what we want, instead of paying a bill for what we get.”

Currently, the UN is funded though assessed dues. The United States is the highest dues paying member of the United Nations, paying 22% of the regular budget and 25.5% of the peacekeeping budget. This figure is negotiated by the United States (and other member states) every two years and is reflective of America’s relative economic strength and its position as a veto-wielding member of the Security Council. This comes to a little under $2 billion for peacekeeping and under $500 million for the regular operating budget.

To its great credit, the GOP platform says nothing of voluntary contributions or withholding dues. But it does say this: “At the United Nations, our country will pay a fair, but not disproportionate, share of dues.” This is essentially an endorsement of the current modus operandi and a rejection of voluntary funding systems. And, significantly, it represents a commitment to paying our dues to the United Nations without condition.

Progressives, conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans can also get behind other parts of the GOP platform dealing with the UN. For example, in a reference to the somewhat esoteric discussion over what “regional grouping” Israel should join at the United Nations, the GOP platform welcomes progress on Israel joining the “Western European and Others Group”. (Countries are often nominated by their regional grouping to serve in top UN posts. Though Israel technically belongs in the Asia group, it is denied membership by Arab countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel.) Joining the Western European and Others Group (which includes all of Western Europe and democracies like Australia, the United States and Canada) gives Israel a shot at being represented on UN committees. Supporting Israel here cuts across party lines in the United States.

Also, noticeably absent from the platform language on the United Nations is any proposal for a “league of democracies” to supplant the United Nations. In fact, there is only one passing reference.

The United States participates in various international organizations which can, at times, serve the cause of peace and prosperity, but those organizations must never serve as a substitute for principled American leadership. Nor should our participation in them prevent our joining with other democracies to protect our vital national interests.

If this is part of McCain’s “hidden agenda to kill the UN” then I’d dare say it’s very well hidden.Still, there is more room for progress. The GOP “strongly endorses” the so-called Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal funds from supporting international NGOs or international institutions that provide abortions or discuss abortion as a family planning option. Progressives call this the “global gag rule” because it stifles the ability of NGOs to even mention abortion as an option.

Also, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (which sets rules of the road for international waters and deep sea mineral extraction) takes a hit in the GOP platform. Though President Bush has endorsed it — and though John McCain backed it early on — the platform’s authors express “deep reservations…about the regulatory, legal, and tax regimes inherent in the Law of the Sea Treaty.”

Clearly, there is still a wide gap between where some in the far right currently stand and a more fulsome embrace of the United Nations. But this party platform is a clear indication of the direction of the party as a whole — and the progress toward reconciliation with the United Nations is overwhelmingly positive.

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