By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
A key U.S. congresswoman wants to change how the United States funds the United Nations, which she accuses of becoming a "bully pulpit for third-rate dictators and pariah states."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for the reforms in a news conference this week and introduced the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act. She said new conditions on U.S. funding to the global body are needed as leverage to force reform in its operations.
While the United States is responsible for funding 22% of the United Nations' yearly budget, the vast majority of countries at the General Assembly pay "next to nothing" Ros-Lehtinen said, but still form a majority to adopt budgets while "sticking the U.S. and other big donors with the tab."
Under the proposed legislation, U.S. funding for the United Nations would be cut off unless the organization moved to an across-the-board voluntary contribution system that would allow the United States to selectively fund only the programs it supports.
Currently, most U.N. activities, like the Human Rights Council, which is often criticized for including unsavory regimes in its membership, are paid for through a general all-purpose budget, funded through mandatory contributions from member states. There are some organizations, like UNICEF and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, that are separately funded through voluntary contributions.
Ros-Lehtinen's bill would give the United Nations two years to phase in funding reform before the United States would be required to withhold funding. If the United Nations is not funding at least 80% of its regular budget through voluntary contributions after two years, then the United States would withhold 50% of its non-voluntary annual budget contributions.
The resulting competition among U.N. entities under a voluntary funding system would make them more accountable, she said.
While she said the bill is not designed to "bash" the United Nations or remove the United States as a member, Ros-Lehtinen said change is necessary after the U.S. taxpayer sent $7.7 billion last year to an organization that is "increasingly non-transparent, unaccountable, ineffective," and "biased against the U.S., Israel and other free democracies."
With the Palestinian Authority expected to seek a declaration of statehood when the General Assembly convenes in New York next week, something the United States has warned could dramatically set back negotiations with Israel, the timing is apt for a legislative push for reform, Ros-Lehtinen said.
"The Palestinian leadership's current scheme to attain recognition of a Palestinian state at the U.N. without even recognizing Israel's right to exist has been tried before, and it was stopped only when the U.S. made clear that it wouldn't fund any U.N. entity that went along with it," she said last month in announcing the legislation. "My bill similarly seeks to stop this dangerous scheme in its tracks."
The United States has vowed to veto a resolution supporting Palestinian statehood if it is presented to the Security Council.
The Obama administration is not supportive of Ros-Lehtinen's initiative.
"Cutting by half U.S. funding to the U.N. would seriously undermine our international standing and dangerously weaken the U.N. as an instrument to advance U.S. national security goals," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last month after Ros-Lehtinen announced the bill.
"The draft legislation comes at a particularly dangerous time, particularly when the U.N. is now doing more than ever to advance U.S. key interests," Nuland said. "We've had the toughest sanctions ever on Iran. We've had unprecedented U.N. pressure on North Korea. We've had much more international agreement on a strong nonproliferation regime. We have international cooperation through the U.N. and elsewhere to save lives in Libya."
In addition to administration opposition, Democrats on Capitol Hill say the bill stands no chance of getting through a Democratic-led Senate. While the legislative math may not be there, Ros-Lehtinen, who introduced the bill with 57 co-sponsors, said she willl push forward.
"Most of what we're doing in the House has very little chance of becoming law, no matter what it is. Does that mean we should stop doing things?" she said. "Whether the Senate is going to pass it does not mean that we should not propose a bill that will put a marker down."