As an organization that works to connect Americans with the work of the United Nations, we get a lot of comments and questions on the UN.
Many of them are misconceptions about the UN, so we want to take a moment to clear up some of the ones we most frequently hear.
FICTION: The UN doesn’t benefit the U.S.
FACT: The UN makes America safer, stronger, and more prosperous.
Broadly speaking, the UN promotes peace and stability in the world, which makes the U.S. safer. The UN helps families and countries move out of poverty, creating more stable communities and new customers and markets for U.S. products. The UN convenes countries to work on challenges that threaten America, but that the U.S. can’t (and shouldn’t have to) work on alone, like terrorism, climate change, and pandemics.
Now, let me give you a few specific examples.
- Our country is safer because the UN’s IAEA inspects nuclear facilities to prevent the use of nuclear materials in weapons.
- UN agencies are helping stabilize countries like Iraq – rebuilding infrastructure, creating job opportunities, restoring services, and more to reduce the chances that extremism will flourish.
- UN peacekeepers – 99.9% of whom are not American – risk their lives to help fragile countries keep the peace. As Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama said, “[UN] peacekeepers help promote stability and help reduce the risks that major U.S. military interventions may be required. Therefore the success of these operations is very much in our national interest.” (It should also be noted that it costs $2.1 million annually to deploy a U.S. serviceperson to a war zone versus $24,500 per peacekeeper.
- On the economic front, the Better World Campaign has found that U.S. businesses generated more than $1 billion in contracts with the UN in 2014 and 2015 alone.
- American businesses also benefit from UN specialized agencies that help set global standards for airline safety, share meteorological data, and facilitate mail exchanges across borders.
- We’re healthier because the World Health Organization coordinates global health security, from preparing for pandemics to stopping outbreaks, and works to stamp out infectious diseases like smallpox (and we’ve nearly eradicated polio!). Countries have come together at the UN to fix the hole in the ozone and fight climate change.
FICTION: The U.S. picks up too much of the tab.
FACT: The UN is a bargain for Americans.
Yes, we are the UN’s biggest donor, but the amount we give the UN makes up only 0.2% (yes, less than 1%) of our federal budget. The U.S. spends about TWICE as much on Valentine’s Day candy and cards as we do on the UN. An American citizen spends more on ONE date night at the movies each year than the per capita cost of U.S. funds to the UN.
By paying our dues on time and in full, other countries are encouraged to do the same – picking up 78% of the tab of UN regular dues.
That’s just looking at the economics. When it comes to work on the ground, we get even more from participating at the UN. Out of over 100,000 peacekeepers, the U.S. provides less than 100 people. And when emergencies strike, from natural disasters to famines to conflicts that force millions to flee their homes, it’s UN agencies that are on the front lines of the response, literally helping shelter, feed, and heal humans in need.
We always need to be working to use taxpayer money as efficiently as possible, including to the UN, but willy-nilly slashing the U.S. budget for the UN will cost us in the long-run. It will undermine the UN’s work to keep us safe, and it won’t make a noticeable dent in reducing the U.S. federal budget.
FICTION: The U.S. doesn’t need the UN. It’s easier if we work alone.
FACT: The United States can’t – and shouldn’t be expected to – solve all of the world’s problems by itself.
The UN brings countries together to share the costs, responsibilities, and people needed to address international issues.
Challenges like violent extremism, human trafficking, climate change, and disease outbreaks affect many countries, and what happens in one part of the world can impact the United States. Global problems need global solutions; other countries can and should help the U.S. tackle them. The UN is the world’s platform to bring countries and sectors together to make progress.
Right now, approximately 20 million people across four countries (Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria) are extremely food insecure and face the prospect of looming famine. Great nations don’t let people starve, but the U.S. alone can’t feed hungry people around the world. By supporting the UN, we can help save lives and take our resources further since UN humanitarian agencies are on the front lines of the response – delivering aid, supporting local responders, and coordinating with governments and partners to increase impact.
FICTION: Most Americans don’t support the UN.
FACT: There is broad support for the UN among Americans.
Polling conducting by a bipartisan research team and released by the Better World Campaign in January 2017 found an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters – 88% – believe it is important for the U.S. to maintain an active role at the UN. In fact, more Americans support a strong U.S.-UN relationship than apple pie, and baseball.
FICTION: The UN doesn’t do much.
FACT: The UN does a TON.
This criticism just doesn’t hold up when you take a look at what the UN actually does. Here is just a sliver:
- Adopting and monitoring sanctions against terrorist groups like ISIS and rogue regimes like North Korea;
- Tracking and reporting human rights violations;
- Maintaining peace and security through 15 current peacekeeping operations;
- Monitoring nuclear materials to prevent their use in weapons;
- Providing humanitarian response – from shelter to medical treatment to food;
- Enabling education for children in emergencies;
- Helping girls stay safe from child marriage and FGM; and
- Coordinating the response and providing technical assistance to stop disease outbreaks like Ebola and Zika.
While important dialogue happens at the UN as countries try to resolve problems through words instead of bombs, the UN is an institution of action.
FICTION: We should only focus on the challenges we have in the U.S.
FACT: We can tackle issues at home AND abroad; in fact, to keep America safe and strong, we must.
Our world is connected, and problems like terrorism, human trafficking, and disease outbreaks that happen in one part of the world often make their way to the United States. To keep America safe and strong, we have to address global challenges.
The good news is that the United States has long been a leader on global issues, and we have the brainpower, the technology, and the resources to make progress on international problems while still addressing domestic needs. We don’t have to choose between addressing problems at home and around the world. It’s a false choice.
And by working with the UN, we foster global goodwill and bring other countries and partners to the table to help us and make our collective work go further.
Take measles for example. Although the U.S. declared the elimination of measles in the country in 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the disease still makes it ways into our borders every year from unvaccinated people who travel to places where measles is more common.
No reasonable person thinks the U.S. should be in charge of eliminating measles around the world, but it’s in our country’s interest – and ability – to protect children around the world from the disease. UN agencies are a leading part of the global coalition to vaccinate children worldwide and end measles. Strong U.S. support has helped this partnership reduce measles deaths by 79% since 2000.
FICTION: The UN is controlled by nations that don’t share our values.
FACT: The United States is one of the UN’s most important leaders.
As the UN’s biggest funder, its host nation, and a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power, the U.S. is a very influential voice at the UN.
While not every other member state shares our values, they certainly don’t control the UN, where every member state has a voice. And simply put: Our voice is stronger when we engage at the UN, including paying our dues on time and in full. If we slash funding and retreat from engaging, we will give other countries – which may not share our values – a chance to fill the vacuum.
FICTION: The UN encroaches on American sovereignty.
FACT: The UN does not encroach on American sovereignty.
According to the UN itself, “The United Nations is neither a State nor a Government.” It is “an organization of independent States.” The UN does not have a standing army, and rumors of “black helicopters” and plans for a global government aren’t true – plain and simple.