Nikki Haley, Trump's pick for UN ambassador, pushes back against entire defunding of UN in hearings

Gov. Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s candidate for United Nations ambassador. Photo by: Camlin Moore

Nikki Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s candidate for United Nations ambassador, called Wednesday for a review of the intergovernmental organization and how U.S. funding could be better “leveraged” for maximum impact and political strategy.

Trump has made threats against the U.N., tweeting that “things will be different after Jan. 20” and Republican politicians have put forward bills that would reduce funding, or defund the U.N. entirely, dependent on the reversal of a December 2016 U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

But Haley, the governor of South Carolina, split with Trump — and other prominent Republican leaders — during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by repeatedly saying that she does not back a “slash and burn” approach to defunding the U.N.

“I do not think we need to pull funding from the U.N. I don’t believe in slash and burn. It wasn’t anything I considered as governor, it is not something I would suggest as ambassador or anything I would suggest to you for Congress,” Haley said in response to a question from Connecticut Senator Christopher Murphy. “What is important is we look at every organization and see if it is working for us, see if it is something we want to be a part of and I will report back to the president-elect. I know that he had made comments about the U.N., but those are not my feelings.”

At 44, Haley is first female governor of her state, and the second Indian American governor in the U.S. At the end of the four-hour session, Senate Foreign Relations Committee co-chair Senator Bob Corker said the bilateral group was impressed with her instincts and he was “certain” she would be confirmed for the job.

Development experts react to Nikki Haley's appointment as US ambassador to UN

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday his selection of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations. The choice will shake up U.S. policy at the U.N. and for international development, but perhaps not in the ways that were expected.

Haley, meanwhile, stressed a need to look closely at individual U.N. bodies and agencies. She singled out the work of the U.N. Security Council, the U.N.’s peacekeeping operations, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, which she noted passed 62 resolutions condemning Israel over the past 10 years. While the U.S. is a member of the high-level human rights body, it withdrew its participation under President George W. Bush. The council condemned Israel more times than the rest of the world’s countries combined from 2006 through 2015, according to watchdog group U.N. Watch.

“The Human Rights Council is one [agency] in particular, where we need to question, what is the goal when they allow Cuba and China to serve on it? I do think it can be leveraged. It’s something I look forward to exploring further,” she said.

Haley’s goal, she said, is to create an “international body that better serves the interests of the American people.”

Versions of this idea, working with what she referred to as “American values” first in mind, recurred throughout Haley’s relatively brief and straightforward hearing, which brushed over the U.N.’s humanitarian work in broad strokes.

Haley, who has no professional foreign policy experience, fielded questions on women’s health, U.N. peacekeeping operations and climate change. She affirmed her commitment to women’s health and contraceptives, but did not touch on a potential “Global Gag Order,” the lifting of U.S. support for programs and organizations that directly offer or are linked to abortions.

“I am strongly pro-life and will always be pro-life, and so to me, education and contraceptives are important to those countries so they know they don’t get put into a situation where we have to sacrifice a life in a process,” Haley said in response to a question by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

Haley hedged on climate change and the Paris climate deal, which the U.S. and China ratified in 2016. She used similar language as Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, saying “climate change should always be on the table and it should always be one of the situations we would look at.” But Haley did not commit firmly to working to enforce the Paris agreement on the condition it could hurt business opportunities, as she explained.

And she used questions about the 2010 Haiti cholera epidemic, which the U.N. took responsibility for last year, to explain why the U.S. should not shoulder so much of the peacekeeping financial burden.

“What happened in Haiti is nothing short of devastating. It is why I think it is so important the contributing countries take responsibility and take actions against those violators that are doing anything to harm the people they are supposed to be protecting,” she said.

“And you would argue for increased financial commitment from the countries around the world so that that funding can go into Haiti in order to help with their sanitation system?” questioned Senator Murphy.

“Those violating countries around the world need to be held accountable and they need to have that responsibility of resolving the problem,” she said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to release its decision for both Tillerson, who had his hearing last week, and Haley on Monday.

Stay tuned to Devex for more news and analysis of what the Trump administration will mean for global development. Read more coverage here and subscribe to The Development Newswire.

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About the author

  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.