Under the radar in Geneva, but an ominous foreboding of things to come, a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Among the provisions of the bill, it calls for the repeal of United Nations Participation Act of 1945 that would: terminate U.S. membership in the U.N and the closure of the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York; end U.S. assessed or voluntary funding to the U.N. or any organ, specialized agency, commission or other formerly affiliated body of the U.N.; stop U.S. participation in or authorized funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations; repeal U.S. membership and participation in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Environment Program and the World Health Organization and revoke U.S. involvement in United Nations conventions and agreements. If passed by the Congress, the law would go into effect two years after it has been signed.
Not wishing to be a Cassandra - whose negative prophecies were not believed – and not wishing to predict that the bill will actually pass, I note that the bill reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration. A similar bill had also been introduced in 2015 by the same Congressman, Rep. Mike Rogers (Rep-AL). Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (Rep-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the U.N., and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator. Or, as John Bolton, once U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the U.N., the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with U.S. participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the U.N. Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.
I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope. Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.
On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the U.N?