The role of the UN has long been a matter of contention and debate in the U.S. Former President Richard Nixon called the UN “obsolete and inadequate.” Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kilpatrick said the process “more closely resembles a mugging" of the United States than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving.”
Trump questions cost of UN
Donald Trump has been critical of the UN, and has questioned the cost to the U.S. in continuing to participate in the UN:
Where do you ever see the United Nations? Do they ever settle anything? It’s just like a political game. The United Nations — I mean the money we spend on the United Nations.
— Donald J. Trump
While serving as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was deeply involved in securing UN agreements concerning women and children. Under President Obama, the U.S. has continued to work through the UN to solve world problems, but the President has also made it clear that the United States will not subject its national interest to the UN.
Obama asserts U.S. right to protect itself
I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known. And I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies — unilaterally and by force — when necessary. But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion — we cannot look backwards.
— President Barack Obama, Addressing the 70th session of the UN General Assembly
Forum for common global concerns
The UN continues to be a valuable forum for discussing problems that are commonplace to the world community such as climate change and human rights. However, when it comes to dealing with conflicts over which the five permanent members of the Security Council (United States, China, France, United Kingdom and Russia) have veto power; the UN has been less effective. The U.S. has used its veto power 79 times when it felt a proposed UN action was not in America’s national interest.
The U.S. pays for 22 percent of the UN budget each year, plus additional support costs for peacekeeping operations. The total is about $3 billion a year. That is more than any of the other 192 member states in the UN pays. In contrast, Japan contributes nearly 11 percent of the budget and Germany pays just over 7 percent. Out of the 193 countries that are UN members, twenty countries account for 85 percent of the funding while the other 173 countries contribute the remaining 15 percent.
The Unites States holds veto power
All member states have one vote in the General Assembly, but most of the power is allocated to the Security Council which has 15 members. Five are the permanent Security Council members with veto power, while the other ten members are temporary members who serve rotating two-year terms.
The U.S. may at times find the UN obstinate and unreasonable, but is unlikely to leave the organization. The cost is relatively small, and there is an undeniable advantage in having a worldwide organization to discuss common global concerns. While the UN as a peacekeeping force has arguably become less important in the past fifteen years since 9/11, the concept of the UN as a global organization is not obsolete.