Walking the Walk on WHO Withdrawal | Opinion

On Tuesday, the United States formally withdrew from the World Health Organization (WHO), making good on the president's May 29 announcement of terminating the relationship.

Simultaneously, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations has released its 2021 draft foreign aid bill, which if passed, would result in $200 million in renewed funding for the WHO.

This evident contradiction reveals the intense ideological divergence surrounding the withdrawal. With the official U.S. statement of termination having now gone to the United Nations secretary general, it is clear that the appropriations bill will encounter a logistical dead end—can you give money to an organization to which you no longer even belong?

Although the exact timeline of the WHO decision has not been defined, the Trump administration has preemptively cut U.S. ties to the organization. Last year alone, the WHO received $900 million in U.S. funding. Since then, many have cited evidence of WHO corruption and Chinese complicity as grounds for the termination. American funds can be put to better use.

Despite evident problems with the WHO, the decision to back out of the world's largest health body in the midst of still-alarming coronavirus infection rates is easy fodder for criticism. Many see support for the organization as a prerequisite for bringing about an end to the pandemic.

It is in light of such concerns regarding a reduction in U.S. funding that the appropriations bill has been propelled forward. The legislation would increase overall money for U.S. development aid initiatives, in addition to allocating an extra $10 billion in coronavirus assistance.

House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey stated, "This bill rejects the president's go-it-alone approach to foreign policy and instead reaffirms our strong support for international allies, for reproductive health, climate change and multilateral assistance, and for long-term investments in development and democracy."

Far from an altruistic attempt to augment U.S. foreign aid assistance, the bill contains efforts to allocate American money in contravention of U.S. law. For instance, in addition to the WHO, it seeks to give $55.5 million to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This would violate the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which prohibits U.S. financing for organizations (such as the UNFPA) with connections to forced abortion.

If organizations like UNFPA and the WHO violate U.S. priorities, then U.S. funds should be rechanneled through direct foreign aid. Especially as the economic and social effects of the virus take their toll, the fiscal prudence of taking back control of American money is clear.

The reality is that the U.S. can continue to be the world's leader in humanitarian assistance without directing funds through international institutions. As originally noted by President Trump, the defunding of the WHO will allow U.S. money to go to "other worldwide and deserving, urgent global public health needs."

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. has an extensive national infrastructure for the distribution of aid—why go through the WHO, when the U.S. can award assistance itself, thereby increasing its sphere of influence? Evidence that millions of dollars of UN coronavirus funding will be used for abortions in the developing world in violation of American funding policies further justifies the decision to defund. The WHO has spent vast sums on abortion promotion in countries such as Ecuador under the guise of COVID-19 relief, contradicting the U.S. governments' stance on the right to life.

Defunding the WHO comports with last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed the U.S. government's legitimate interest in requiring foreign organizations to comply with U.S. commitments in order to receive funding. Efforts to hold the international system accountable go hand in hand with the Court's ruling that the government need not be "viewpoint-neutral" when dispensing funds in accordance with U.S. interests.

Although significant portions of the appropriations bill should now be dead on arrival, it is likely to make its way through a lengthy legislative process in an attempt to somehow undercut the withdrawal. Those concerned with American foreign aid accountability must remain vigilant to ensure U.S. interests are upheld.

As the U.S. navigates the terms of WHO withdrawal, it should look for opportunities to remain in active dialogue with the U.N system in order to protect American interests. U.S. withdrawal constitutes a major blow, but the influence of the U.N. persists. Spare U.S. taxpayers the burden of supporting dysfunctional systems, but maintain watchful engagement. After all, the WHO will hurt from lack of funds, so there is always the hope of one day seeing much-needed reform.

Elyssa Koren is director of United Nations advocacy for ADF International. Follow her on Twitter @Elyssa_ADFIntl.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.