What will happen if President Trump cuts off US aid to Nepal? Impact will be felt in the short run, but we can be better off in the long run.
Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was all over the news in December last year for all the wrong reasons. In her address to the UN, she attacked the organization for “disrespecting” the US for “exercising its right as a sovereign nation.” She also warned that the US would remember the voting day when it’s summoned again to make a generous contribution to the UN.
Unsurprisingly, Haley’s choice of words encapsulated the child-like ‘petulance and hubris’, which the world has come to be accustomed to, which has so far defined President Donald Trump’s administration.
Haley was right that the US has consistently made the largest contribution to the UN in absolute terms though, relatively, it falls far behind. As per the Annual Statistical Report (ASR), total procurement of goods and services for operational activities of the organization accounted for US $17.7 billion in 2016. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), with economy forty-five times less than that of the US, contributed almost five percent of the operational activities as compared to nine percent by the US. With India and China exerting more influence on the UN, the lack of US funding may not be cataclysmic as other countries that aspire to become Security Council members could make up the funding vacuum.
On the contrary, it would be anomalous to see the US, one of the founding members and one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, withdraw from the UN. There has always been opposition to the UN and even its predecessor, the League of Nations, but the opposition hasn’t been as escalated as it is currently. The UK left the EU fearing its sovereignty will be continually compromised—and the view that the UN is a perceived threat to the sovereignty of its member countries has prevailed, especially in the US under Trump’s vision of ‘America First.’
Pulling out of the UN-brokered Paris climate accord showed Trump’s disdain towards America’s global commitments. Some believe pulling out of the Paris accord foreshadows pulling out of the UN altogether. It’s difficult to foresee that given the organization remains one of the most effective tools for promoting America’s interests. Nonetheless, it’s obvious that this isn’t the first time the US has held the organization ransom.
Rhetoric of disrespect
It’s downright ludicrous to accuse the UN of disrespecting the US when history suggests the opposite. In 2003, the US had reduced the organization to an absolute subordinate, when it invaded Iraq against its sanction. Just like Haley, John Bolton, then US Ambassador to the UN, prior to occupying Iraq, had threatened to suspend the US’s contributive payments and even leave the organization.
Abetted by the two-fanged Britton Woods institutions, the US has pretty much gotten free ride and when it hasn’t, it has resorted to child like behavior in bullying and extorting other countries. The US has long history of buying UN votes with money.
In 1991, when Ecuador was a member of the Security Council, it received 20 million SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) from International Monetary Fund, for supporting the invasion of Iraq, while Yemen was threatened with dire consequences which later materialized, for not supporting the invasion. The US Secretary of State had conveyed to the Yemeni ambassador that the vote was going to cost Yemen more than ever!
Haley’s confirmation that the US will be ‘taking names’ for having been ‘singled out’ at the speech and Trump’s subsequent remarks parallel the Secretary of State’s revengeful threat. However, such threats underlie a bigger peril. John Brennan, former CIA chief, who had had feud with Trump, questioned whether leader of the free world should expect blind loyalty and subservience from everyone.
What it means for Nepal
Nepal was one of the 128 countries that voted against Trump’s Jerusalem call. The US is a significant contributor of foreign aid to Nepal. Trump has repeatedly rebuked the Diversity Visa Program that has enabled many Nepalis to establish homes in the US. Mukesh Baral has described the future of minorities in the US under Trump administration, including growing Nepali Diaspora, with a touch of personal eloquence in his essay in this space (see “Brown Nepalis in white America,” Republica, Dec 26).
But how would Nepal suffer if Trump were to cut off US contributions forthwith?
Undoubtedly, its impact would be felt in the short run. But we could be better off in the long run. The two-fanged financial institutions exert formidable influence in Nepal in terms of immediate needs in infrastructure, health, education among others. The earthquakes of 2015 have further exacerbated the immediate needs.
It’s well-documented fact that aid has been a barrier to Nepal’s development and its sustainable economic growth. Few weeks ago, I had briefly stated my claim for ditching the fixed exchange rate between currencies of Nepal and India. I argued that Nepal must progress to embody an economically self-reliant nation-state. Ridding of aid would go a long way towards achieving that. Trump’s stance should motivate Nepali leaders to be less dependent on aid.
Nonetheless, the child-like ‘petulance and hubris’ has been demonstrated by Nepali leaders too. The leaders must rise in order to meet the challenges of tolerance and creativity that are the hallmarks of true leadership. Hopefully, the next five years will see common people’s plea ‘to change the country, not the government.’
If the leaders achieve to establish efficient governmental organizations and strong civil society, maybe our country would look inspiring as well lucrative to Nepalis all over the world. That would stop the vicious cycle of brain-drain. Our country can not only persuade young people to stay back, but also encourage the hundreds of thousands of young Nepali students at foreign colleges to come back, and pursue what they value.
Then we can materialize into ideal nation-state, as Che Guevara had envisaged for Cuba so that when simply at the command of the imperialist, a workplace here won’t be paralyzed.
The author is associated with Harvard Kennedy School’s ‘The Center for Asia