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Trump Administration Touts A Smaller U.N. Budget (And Takes Credit For It)

The U.N. headquarters in New York City is seen here in 2003.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
The U.N. headquarters in New York City is seen here in 2003.

The Trump administration said Sunday that the United Nations budget has been reduced for the coming year, and it framed any cuts as the product of U.S. negotiation.

"Among a host of other successes, the United States negotiated a reduction of over $285 million off the 2016-2017 final budget," the United States Mission to the U.N. said in a press release. "In addition to these significant cost savings, we reduced the UN's bloated management and support functions, bolstered support for key U.S. priorities throughout the world, and instilled more discipline and accountability throughout the UN system."

A United Nations spokesman confirmed to NPR the reduction in the budget, and said the total U.N. budget for 2018-2019 is $5.396 billion.

But cuts to the U.N. budget are typical: The 2016-2017 budget was roughly $400 million lower than the final appropriations for 2014-2015, which was 2.9 percent lower than the previous biennium's budget.

The U.N. budget is negotiated every two years and is decided by consensus rather than a vote. Wealthier countries that pay the lion's share of the budget — the U.S., Japan, Canada and EU members — routinely push for the budget to be lowered.

The wording of the U.S. mission's announcement, which called it a "historic reduction in spending," led some to misread it as meaning the U.S. was reducing its own contribution by $285 million next year. The extent to which the U.S. contribution would be reduced isn't clear.

"This is all so misleading," tweeted Bathsheba Crocker, who formerly led the State Department bureau that develops U.S. policy in the United Nations. "The US fights hard, together with other countries, every year to cut UN budget & regularly does. This is neither new nor a US 'decision.'"

The Trump administration has consistently criticized the U.N. and its spending.

"The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!" Donald Trump tweeteda month before taking office.

"Just 5 months into our time here, we've cut over half a billion $$$ from the UN peacekeeping budget & we're only getting started," U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tweetedin June.

"The inefficiency and overspending of the United Nations are well known," Haley said in a statement Sunday. "We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked. ... You can be sure we'll continue to look at ways to increase the UN's efficiency‎ while protecting our interests."

The U.S. plays an important role in funding the U.N., as The New York Times reports:

"Under a formula tied to economic size and other measurements established under an article of the United Nations Charter, the United States is responsible for 22 percent of the United Nations operating budget, the largest contribution. It paid about $1.2 billion of the 2016-2017 budget of $5.4 billion.

"The United States also is the largest single financial contributor, at 28.5 percent, to a separate budget for United Nations peacekeeping operations, which totals $6.8 billion in the 2017-2018 budget finalized in June."

Haley's budget announcement came after a week that showcased the United States' increasing isolation from other member nations.

On Dec. 18, Haley vetoed a Security Council resolution — approved by the council's 14 other members — that called on all states to refrain from building diplomatic missions in Jerusalem.

Before the General Assembly voted on a similar resolution later in the week, Haley warned that the U.S. would be "taking names" of those who voted for it. On Thursday, the organization's members overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding resolution rejecting the United States' decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

"Let them vote against us," Trump said at a Cabinet meeting before the vote, The Guardian reports. "We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars ... We're not going to be taken advantage of any longer."

The Trump administration said its decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem recognizes the reality that it is the seat of Israel's government. But Palestinians living there seek part of the city as a capital for a future independent state, and Jerusalem's final status has been a central point of contention in peace talks for decades.

Guatemala has since followed the U.S. lead, announcing Sunday that it will move its embassy to Jerusalem. Neither country has set a timetable for making the move.

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.