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Berman: Ros-Lehtinen’s bill to ‘eviscerate’ U.N. is ‘radical’

In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal to drastically reform the United Nations and cut U.S. contributions to the organization was ill-advised and probably dead on arrival. "I cannot see this legislation becoming law. I think there are some radical proposals ...

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's proposal to drastically reform the United Nations and cut U.S. contributions to the organization was ill-advised and probably dead on arrival.

"I cannot see this legislation becoming law. I think there are some radical proposals here," he said. "I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.'s actions and I share her frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you will still get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good things they are doing."

Ros-Lehtinen's bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn't get 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United States to cut its contribution by 50 percent.

In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) told The Cable that House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal to drastically reform the United Nations and cut U.S. contributions to the organization was ill-advised and probably dead on arrival.

"I cannot see this legislation becoming law. I think there are some radical proposals here," he said. "I understand the frustration with a number of the U.N.’s actions and I share her frustration and anger at many of them. But the U.N. does tremendous amounts of good work. If you wipe out the funding base of the U.N., as her proposal does, you will still get the bad stuff but you will eviscerate the good things they are doing."

Ros-Lehtinen’s bill would shift U.S. contributions to the United Nations to a "voluntary basis," rather than have them follow the compulsory assessed fees system that is in place now. If the United Nations doesn’t get 80 percent of its money from voluntary contributions, the bill would then require the United States to cut its contribution by 50 percent.

The bill would also halt new U.S. contributions to U.N. peacekeeping missions until reforms are implemented, and institute a new regime of reporting requirements and auditing powers for examining U.S. contributions to the United Nations.

The United Nations has been a target of Ros-Lehtinen and the GOP House leadership since they took power early this year. In Ros-Lehtinen’s State Department authorization bill, which was debated last month, her committee voted to cut off foreign assistance to any country that did not support U.S. positions at the United Nations. Berman called the debate over that bill a "series of tantrums."

Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, defended U.S. spending at the U.N. on Wednesday in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

"In short, U.S. engagement with the U.N. has never been more critical or more beneficial to our nation. We cannot turn back the clock to a time when the world was simpler and less interconnected, and multilateral engagement was less essential to core U.S. interests," she said.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Foundation, an NGO that advocates on behalf of the United Nations, has created an entire initiative to fight Ros-Lehtinen’s proposal.

"Last week, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen introduced anti-UN legislation (H.R. 2829) in Congress that would threaten vital funding to the UN and forfeit American leadership at the United Nations. In response to such a drastic measure, the Better World Campaign announced today the launch of Let U.S. Lead (www.LetUSLead.org) in opposition to H.R. 2829," reads a U.N. Foundation press release issued on Thursday.

The Better World Campaign is a project of the Better World Fund, which is affiliated with the U.N. Foundation. Both the fund and the foundation are supported by former CNN head and philanthropist Ted Turner.

"The U.N. is playing a greater role in promoting American interests than ever before and we strongly oppose H.R. 2829, which threatens America’s leadership role at the United Nations and undermines our national security," said Peter Yeo, executive director of the Better World Campaign and vice president for public policy at the U.N. Foundation.

The campaign is an effort to educate the public and encourage opposition to Ros-Lehtinen’s bill. It includes a petition against the bill and provides information on the issues raised in the legislation.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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