UNITED NATIONS -- Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have criticized the United Nations as "bloated" and "ineffective" and vowed to press for reforms and a reduction in U.S. funding.
At a January 25 meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, members characterized the world body as inefficient and corrupt.
Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leading the drive to slash funding and has introduced a bill to get the UN on a rapid schedule of reforms.
In a statement, Ros-Lehtinen said she planned to introduce a bill that would condition U.S. contributions to the UN on "real, sweeping reform," including changing the UN budget so that member governments can offer to fund only the programs they like.
That way, she said, "U.S. taxpayers can pay for the UN programs and activities that advance our interests and values, and if other countries want different things to be funded, they can pay for it themselves."
Congressional scrutiny of the UN comes as Republicans in Congress are vowing to slash $100 billion in domestic spending this year.
One Republican member of the committee, Dana Rohrabacher of California, said "the UN should be one of [the United States'] prime targets for reducing expenditures in order to bring down this deficit in the next few years."
Historically, U.S. Republicans have been suspicious of the UN's ability to accomplish its goals and stand up to dictators. In the 1990s, the influential head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, succeeded in blocking all U.S. funding for the world body for an extended period of time.
The corruption scandals related to the UN-administered oil-for-food program in Iraq further diminished the world body's reputation in Washington. And for at least part of President George W. Bush's term in the White House, the United States did not participate in the UN Human Rights Council, complaining that the panel had lost credibility when it criticized Israel for human rights abuses related to its treatment of the Palestinians.
Mark Lagon, an adjunct senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, told RFE/RL that efforts to target UN funding are only a small part of the Republicans' overall cut-and-save strategy.
In Washington, Lagon says, the UN suffers from the perception that it is overly bureaucratic and not accountable for the funds it receives from member countries.
"The question being asked by the House Republicans is, 'Are those institutions that have voluntary contributions like the World Food Program more responsive and accountable than their counterpart organizations that have assessed dues, like the Food and Agricultural Organization?' Lagon says. "And there's really good evidence that that is true."
Three Key Questions
In her statement at the committee hearing, which she didn't attend, Ros-Lehtinen said: "U.S. policy on the United Nations should be based on three fundamental questions: 'Are we advancing American interests? Are we upholding American values? Are we being responsible stewards of American taxpayer dollars?' Unfortunately, right now, the answer to all three questions is 'no.'"
Despite that threat, Lagon thinks there's little chance that U.S. funding of the UN will be blocked or even significantly reduced, because the U.S. Senate is still controlled by Democrats, who favor continuing U.S. participation in the world body.
"Democratic control of the Senate will not permit onerous cuts in the UN funding," he says. "The United States supports the overall goals of peacekeeping and fighting atrocities and genocide of the UN, of feeding children and inoculating them around the world."
He predicted that the United States will continue to fund the UN at its present level of commitment -- which is somewhere around $6 billion -- but the questions raised by House Republicans will probably prompt the Obama administration to be more open to discussing UN reform.
For his part, the man who leads the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, said he has worked "very closely" in the past with Ros-Lehtinen and doesn't sound worried about what she and her Republican colleagues might do next.
"I expect that [the] Republican-controlled Congress will continue to cooperate and provide necessary funding and support, political support, and also financial support," Ban said. "And I'm sure and I'm confident that the UN will continue to enjoy such strong support from the new Congress."