This article is an excerpt from the “2020 Mandate for Leadership: A Clear Vision for the Next Administration.” It looks back at policy decisions made by the Trump administration over the past four years. You can purchase your copy of “Mandate 2020” here.
For decades, the United States has participated in, funded, and influenced the policies and decisions of dozens of international organizations to promote U.S. interests. Many of these organizations are useful (although many also have flaws that require correcting).
Some international organizations, however, are functionally unimportant or advance counterproductive policies and therefore do not merit U.S. membership, participation, or funding.
In short, each international organization has its own virtues and problems and contributes differently to U.S. strategic, economic, and political interests.
The U.S. should participate where membership benefits U.S. interests, cease participation when the costs outweigh the benefits, and always press for reforms to improve performance, efficiency, and accountability.
The Trump administration has incorporated this approach into its foreign policy. As noted by the 2017 National Security Strategy:
Authoritarian actors have long recognized the power of multilateral bodies and have used them to advance their interests and limit the freedom of their own citizens. If the United States cedes leadership of these bodies to adversaries, opportunities to shape developments that are positive for the United States will be lost.
All institutions are not equal, however. The United States will prioritize its efforts in those organizations that serve American interests, to ensure that they are strengthened and supportive of the United States, our allies, and our partners.
Where existing institutions and rules need modernizing, the United States will lead to update them. At the same time, it should be clear that the United States will not cede sovereignty to those that claim authority over American citizens and are in conflict with our constitutional framework.
The Trump administration has embraced this strategy and has ended U.S. support for a number of flawed or harmful treaties and organizations while continuing U.S. leadership in those deemed useful in advancing American interests. For instance:
- The U.S. has withdrawn from the fatally flawed Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that allowed Iran to “keep an archive of its past nuclear weapons work, enrich uranium, and develop ballistic missiles.” Leaving the Iran deal allowed the U.S. to reassert economic sanctions and press for a new deal that would actually end Iran’s nuclear program.
- The U.S. announced that it would leave the Paris Agreement in 2020. The Paris Agreement would do virtually nothing to address the issue of climate change but would press the U.S. to adopt actions that would impose significant economic costs on every American.
- Similarly, the administration “unsigned” the profoundly flawed Arms Trade Treaty in April 2019.
The administration also withdrew from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in December 2018 and the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2018. Both organizations are seriously flawed.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization granted full membership to the Palestinians in 2011, requiring a congressionally mandated cutoff of U.S. funding.
The Human Rights Council likewise has exhibited anti-Israel bias and has been hamstrung by human rights violators like China that routinely win election to the body and use their positions to block criticism of themselves and other governments that abuse their citizens.
In addition, the administration:
- Suspended funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which assists Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, because of the disproportionate level of U.S. financial support and the many flaws that have plagued the U.N. agency for decades, including contributing to Palestinian extremism.
- Led a fundamental review of U.N. peacekeeping operations that resulted in significant savings for U.S. taxpayers.
- Reinstated the Mexico City policy that requires any organization to certify that it does not promote abortion as a method of family planning in order to receive U.S. funds and ended U.S. funding for the U.N. Population Fund.
- Enforced a 25% cap on U.S. contributions to peacekeeping, knowing that U.S. arrears are a key incentive for other nations to agree to lower U.S. peacekeeping assessments.
- Rejected illegitimate claims of jurisdiction over U.S. troops and officials by the International Criminal Court, which the U.S. has never joined.
Congress has been less active. Principally, Congress has focused on appropriating funds and continuing a number of legislative requirements for reports on contributions to international organizations and U.N. voting and for certification by the secretary of state that various policies, such as whistleblower protections and measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers, are in place and enforced.
Notably, however, it has not supported the Trump administration’s budget requests to reduce funding for U.N. organizations and has maintained funding levels in recent years.
With respect to international financial organizations, the administration has strongly criticized the World Trade Organization in particular as part of its trade dispute with China.
There are legitimate questions about China’s compliance with the terms of its World Trade Organization accession in 2001, and the organization’s enforcement mechanisms in general have proven to be inadequate in compelling observance of the letter and spirit of World Trade Organization agreements.
In an effort to spur reform, the administration has withheld approval of replacement jurists for the World Trade Organization’s appellate body, a move that is likely to bring the organization’s enforcement activities to a standstill.
The administration has been less critical of the two most important international financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Congress’s last significant action on the International Monetary Fund was to approve additional resources in return for reinstating the Exceptional Access Framework rule that prohibits new International Monetary Fund lending to countries with unsustainable debts and no realistic plans to repay those debts.
The abandonment of that framework in 2010 at the beginning of the Greek debt crisis cleared the way for a fresh round of questionable loans that bolstered European banks but left Greece even more in debt and still in need of debt restructuring and fundamental economic and political reforms.
The administration has also been a supporter of the World Bank. Even before securing support for the new World Bank president, American David Malpass, the U.S. supported a large capital increase and secured support for a Women’s Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative.