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The United States was one of the 51 founding members of the United Nations. The UN headquarters is based in New York and America has long been a global advocate for the UN. However, in recent years, movements within the US have grown against the United Nations. There have even been calls for the United States to withdrawal the UN.
American critics of the United Nations say it is biased against the US and prevents America from pursuing its own interests aggressively. They add that the US contributes too much financially to the UN and gets little in return. But what would actually happen if America did leave the UN? What repercussions would there be on the US, and on the wider world?
The UN Would Have Reduced Funding
The United States leaving the United Nations would have an enormous impact on the UN’s funding. This would be a major repercussion of America exiting the UN.
Twenty-two per cent of the UN’s budget is contributed by the United States. In 2020, the US provided a total of 11 billion dollars to the United Nations. If the United States left the UN, it would leave a large gap in the UN’s budget. This would mean either other nations would need to contribute more financially, or the UN would have to operate on a much-reduced budget.
It is not certain that other nations would increase their contributions to cover the funding provided by the US if it left the UN.
If the budget of the UN was significantly reduced, it would mean it would have less money to operate. This would result in reduced humanitarian and development programming around the world. It would also put limits on other key aspects of the UN’s work – such as protecting world heritage sites, coordinating international travel and communication and working towards better international diplomacy – to name just a few.
Other Nations Would Get More Power
If America left the United Nations, it would result in other countries increasing their power.
The US is one of the most influential countries in the UN. It is a permanent Security Council member and holds a veto on all Security Council resolutions. America is also active in many UN bodies, including the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council, and plays a key role in many UN agencies.
If the US exited the UN, it would leave a large vacuum that other countries would move to fill. American allies in Europe and Asia would no longer have the diplomatic support of the United States at the UN leaving them more exposed diplomatically. More anti-Western countries, such as China and Russia, would lose a key counterbalance within the UN if America left. Israel would also lose a key backer in the UN if the US left the organisation.
The real-world impact of the US leaving the UN is hard to predict. However, it would demonstrate America’s departure from the world stage and would likely see other countries begin to assert their interests more aggressively.
The UN Would Have Reduced Influence
If the US left the United Nations, it would massively reduce the UN’s influence around the world.
The UN gets significant legitimacy from having almost every country in the world as a member. All major powers are UN member states, and many have been part of the UN since its creation in 1945. If the United States left the UN, its legitimacy would be reduced. UN decisions would be less likely to be enforced, countries would feel less obliged to engage with the UN and the global reputation of the United Nations would take a hit.
A major failing of the League of Nations – the predecessor organisation to the UN, was that America was not a member. This reduced its legitimacy enormously and made it easier for countries to disregard it. If America left the United Nations, it is likely it would suffer the same fate as the League of Nations and would no longer hold much clout in international affairs.
America departing the UN would seriously damage its reputation. This would have a major effect on the UN’s work as well as on international diplomacy more widely.
Other Countries May Also Leave
If the United States left the UN, it is highly likely other countries would also leave.
The US has a wide range of alliances with other countries. One way it supports its allies is through the United Nations. As one of the most powerful countries in the UN – with permanent Security Council membership and veto power, the US is able to wield significant influence in international diplomacy to assist its allies. If the US departed the UN, it is likely some US allies, such as Israel, would also leave.
As well as likely triggering the exit of allied countries, a US departure from the UN could cause countries that are less aligned to America to also leave the organisation. An American departure from the UN may mean other countries feel less inclined to remain members and could see it in their advantage to also leave. Countries that are more adversarial to the US could leave to pursue their own strategic interests without the constraints of the UN.
United Nations Online Courses
If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and what would happen if America left, we highly recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations in the World offered by SOAS in London. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the UN and its role in the current global order. SOAS is also one of the top universities in the world for international relations and courses related to the UN. Click the link for more information.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) underpin all of the UN’s work. In order to fully understand the United Nations, and the impact if America exited, you need a basic understanding of the SDG. We think the online short course The Sustainable Development Goals – A Global, Transdisciplinary Vision For The Future offered by the University of Copenhagen is one of the best introductions to the SDG. Follow the link to the course’s page.
The University of Leiden in the Netherlands offers an online short course on The Changing Global Order. It includes a specific look at how shifting international power dynamics are affecting the current global system and the United Nations. For those wanting to understand the challenges the UN faces, this online course is a must. We’ve linked to the course’s page.
The US Would Also Have Reduced Influence Globally
A US departure from the United Nations would reduce America’s global influence.
America is a major world power. One way America retains its status on the world stage is through robust engagement in international diplomacy. If the United States left the UN, it would reduce the role America can play in formulating world decisions. The US sees the United Nations as a key soft power tool, and it would lose the influence it has over many aspects of global affairs if it exited the organisation.
If America left the United Nations, it would still remain a superpower nation. However, it’s global standing, and the regard it is held in by other countries, would be diminished. A US exit from the UN would be seen as America retreating from its international obligations. This would likely mean US allies beginning to seek allegiances elsewhere or exploring new diplomatic channels with other major powers – fearful that an isolationist US may not be as engaged in future global crises.
UN Agencies Would Be Less Effective
An America departure from the United Nations would have a major negative effect on many UN agencies.
The United Nations runs 15 specialised agencies. UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNRWA and UNICEF provide vital humanitarian assistance to people affected by crisis. UNDP coordinates development work and aims to reduce global poverty. There are also UN agencies that work to improve coordination between countries such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Universal Postal Union (UPU). These are all just some examples of specialized UN agencies.
America is highly engaged in many UN agencies. As well as providing vital funding, many UN agencies have key staff members from the US. The US also provides material resources, assists in research conducted by UN agencies and supports UN agencies diplomatically in countries they work.
If America left the United Nations many UN agencies would be negatively affected. It would have a significant impact on their ability to function, especially if other countries were unwilling or unable to meet the gap left by the support of the United States.
The World Would Become More Unpredictable
America leaving the UN would be a major shift in the international order. The world would likely become more unpredictable as a result.
Much of the current global economic and pollical order is a guaranteed by the US. Countries such as Russia and China are rising to dominance and are beginning to challenge the current order. If the United States left the UN is would embolden countries that seek to shift global power to be more in their favour.
Another repercussion of a US exit from the UN would be the retreat by America, and probably other countries, into isolationism. As a result, it’s likely countries would focus more on creating spheres of influence and less of international diplomacy and bilateralism. This would be a major change in international affairs and would be seen by many as the end of the world order established following World War Two. The world would likely become a much more unpredictable place if the US left the United Nations.
If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and what would happen if America left, explore our list of the top UN online courses here.