Donald Trump's History of Bashing the U.N. and What it Tells Us About His Speech

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley (L) and U.S. President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley at U.N. headquarters in New York on September 18. Trump’s address was, with a few exceptions, relatively measured and aimed at garnering international support for action against North Korea. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will give his first address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. Despite his relatively short political career, he has plenty to say about the intergovernmental organization tasked with maintaining international order. Looking at his past statements about about the body offer a view of what he will be after at the General Assembly.

Read more: Nikki Haley pledges "a new day for the U.N." ahead of Trump's first address

Great areas of contrast with the body are clear: The U.N. has rallied nations to fight climate change—something Trump calls a "hoax"—and late last year passed a resolution viewing Israeli settlements as tainting the peace process with Palestinians—an action Trump said "will make it much harder to negotiate peace."

From 2011 onward, he started making the creed that has become his most frequent: calling for the organization to have its funding cut.


This will be high on Trump's agenda. The U.S. gives roughly $8 billion to the United Nations through mandatory and voluntary payments each year, divided between peacekeeping and other operations.

Trump has criticized the U.N. for spending decisions in both those areas, and has also slammed it for something closer to his heart: its buildings.

A property mogul, Trump in 2012 criticized the marble tiles he will speak in front of at the General Assembly Hall. "The cheap 12 inch sq. marble tiles behind speaker at UN always bothered me," Trump tweeted in October that year. "I will replace with beautiful large marble slabs if they ask me."

During the 2016 campaign for the Republican primaries candidate, he continued his criticism of the New York building, lamenting that the body spent more than a billion dollars to renovate it, when he only spent $320 million to build his own Trump World Tower, located opposite the U.N.'s HQ.

"An ambassador from, I think it was Sweden, called up. 'Mr. Trump can I meet you?' 'Why?'" Trump said, detailing the conversation during a campaign stop in Kiawah, South Carolina, in February 2016. "'I'm on a committee,'" Trump said the ambassador told him. "'We don't understand how you can spend $320 million to build this building—brand-new, beautiful—and yet we're spending a billion dollars to just fix up the United Nations?'

"I said, because of two reasons: corruption and incompetence. It's very simple," Trump said, stating that former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan "didn't care about the cost" of renovations. The renovation story he was referring to was from 2006—the same year he told CNN that taxpayers "should be more outraged by the fact that the United Nations, which has the power to do great things, doesn't do anything. That, to me, bothers me a lot more than their renovation bills."

Global warming

Just days before the 2016 election, Trump told a rally in Florida that his administration "will also cancel billions and billions of dollars in global warming payments to the United Nations.

"Those payments will disappear," he said, "and we will use all of that money to invest in the…environmental infrastructure of our country."

In June, he stated that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, an agreement within the United Nations. (Reports this week suggested that the U.S. may seek to re-engage with the deal at the upcoming meeting, though Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has denied any such change.)

In his government budget proposal for 2018 this spring, Trump stripped out the $3 billion the Obama administration set aside for the Global Climate Change Initiative to help other nations meet their targets agreed under the Paris deal. The U.S. has already given $500 million dollars, and the president is expected to cancel this money entirely.

The Middle East

Climate change is not the first time Trump threatened to cancel U.N. funding. "If the UN unilaterally grants the Palestinians statehood, then the US should cut off all its funding. Actions have consequences," Trump tweeted in 2011. The U.N. voted to recognize a Palestinian state in 2012, making it a nonmember observer at the body.

He again berated the organization over its approach to Israel in December 2016, when the United Nations Security Council voted 14-0 to demand an end to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. "As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," Trump warned in a tweet after the vote.

Trump has consistently criticized the U.N. for a perceived lack of action to solve problems. "The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!" Trump tweeted in December 2016, more than a month after winning the presidency.

In April, he melded further criticism of the body with his customary self-aggrandizement, telling U.N. Security Council ambassadors during a meeting, "I think that the United Nations has tremendous potential—tremendous potential—far greater than what I would say any other candidate in the last 30 years would have even thought to say," but "it hasn't lived up to the potential" and "you just don't see the United Nations, like, solving conflicts."

On Monday, he made more specific threats regarding U.N. work, warning the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a letter that the group isn't tough enough in its monitoring of Iran's nuclear program and that Washington will discard its nuclear deal with Iran and five other countries if the agency doesn't crack down. The IAEA says Iran is complying with the deal.

What he'll say in his speech

Cost-cutting will likely be a big feature. Ahead of his address Tuesday, Trump told a U.N. meeting on reforming the organization that "the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement." He urged Secretary-General António Guterres to cut through the bureaucracy, reform outdated systems and use metrics to evaluate a peacekeeping mission's success.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CNN's State of the Union during an interview Sunday that Trump's speech will mark "a new day at the U.N.

"I think that the pleas he made in terms of trying to see change at the United Nations have been heard, and I think what we'll do is see him respond to that," she said.

"The president is going to say the United Nations can't be effective unless it reforms its bureaucracy and unless it achieves a higher degree of accountability for member states," Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster said bluntly in an interview Sunday with ABC's This Week.

The U.S. has already put some of Trump's aims into motion, sending around declaration on U.N. reforms for member nations to sign. More than 100 nations have signed so far, and Guterres has prepared a package of changes in response.

However, Aaron D. Miller, a former U.S. Middle East diplomat and distinguished fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, advised observers not to get their hopes up for Trump's reform agenda. "Trump endorses UN reform process. Sounds reasonable… Let's not go overboard on a transformed Trump," he tweeted. However, he added that there could yet be surprises, because the General Assembly "is Trump's biggest stage yet."

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