In his latest attempt to shift blame for America’s mishandling of the COVID-19 Virus, President Donald Trump has sought to cut funding to the World Health Organization. While unexpected, this move is part of a dangerous pattern where the Trump Administration reduces funding for many important multilateral organizations, often without obvious reason. What explains this pattern and Trump’s actions?
The Trump administration’s foreign policy has been defined by a rejection of many core tenets of the liberal international order which has presided over global politics since the end of World War Two with the United States as its leader. This has been characterized by a rejection of multilateral treaties such as NAFTA and the implementation of tariffs on historical allies like the European Union.
Yet, the most obvious example of Trump’s rejection of global leadership responsibilities has been the de-funding of multilateral organizations and foreign aid.
- In 2017, President Trump announced he would slash the United State’s budget for American diplomacy and foreign aid by 28%. This included cuts to the United Nations, climate change and cultural exchange programs.
- In 2018, the Trump Administration withheld more than $25 million in funding for U.N. human rights programs – a violation of U.S. treaty obligations to the U.N.
- In 2019, the United States Defense officials declared their intention to cut American funding for NATO by 6%, about $150 million.
- Trump has also threatened to block to the World Trade Organization’s budget which requires unanimous consent to be passed. This was caused by the belief that the WTO’s dispute settlements threatens America’s sovereign rights.
In the face of a global pandemic, Trump has now decided to cut American funding to the World Health Organization at what the United Nations claims is the worst possible time. This 15% reduction in funding for the WHO will likely most impact developing countries, especially in Africa where the organization spends 50% of its funds and who are in a critical period of fighting the virus.
For Trump, these cuts and threats to multinational organizations such as the UN, NATO & the WHO have three main purposes.
- Trump seeks create a foreign scapegoat for his base to rally around and hide his poor decision making – blaming the WHO for the impacts of his delaying virus mitigation efforts.
- The US would have had 80% fewer deaths had he acted two weeks before he did.
- Trump sees multinational organizations as rivals on the international stage which limit his power and can reprimand him for unfair actions such as arbitrary tariffs on foreign countries.
- Trump believes the world is entering a period of great power competition and that he should invest in hard power, as opposed to soft power – characterized by his de-funding of foreign aid and organizations, and historic spending on the military.
These actions clearly show that the United States under Trump is no longer interested in global leadership and development, but rather the maximizing of power (both internal and external) at the expense of multilateral organizations and the roles they play in maintaining a peaceful global order.