The US cuts their funding to the World Health Organisation


With one of the key global powers turning inward, globalisation could be Covid-19’s ultimate victim

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Image by The White House

By Eleanor Longman-Rood

The historic Rose Garden in the West Wing of the White House has witnessed administrations come and go. American designer, Rachel Lambert Melton, wrote that the garden fulfilled John F Kennedy’s ambition with its changing seasonal patterns representing the constant changing nature of current affairs. Last Friday allowed this poetic rhetoric to ring true, with President Trump announcing in the renowned garden that he was halting funding to the World Health Organisation and cutting ties with the international body. In the midst of the worst global health crisis the world has seen for decades, his foreign policy now outlined that nationalism championed transnational cooperation.

During his announcement stating that he was withdrawing funding from the WHO, he accused the agency of protecting China as the damage of the virus escalated. He continued to express discontent at the lack of attention given to the reforms he put forward, which he claimed would have aided the world’s fight against Coronavirus. Under these circumstances, Trump believed that the hundreds of billions of dollars that the US contributed yearly to the organisation could be better directed elsewhere.

According to Statista, as of 31 March earlier this year, the US had donated $115.8 billion to the international body, just over double what the second highest contributor of China was able to supply. Yet, the existence of the WHO does not survive on finances alone. Nations provide resources, information and not to mention a sense of legitimacy to the cause that is inferred by key nations’ continued support. The US’s farewell will hardly cause the death of the WHO, but it will undoubtedly provide a sting at a time they need it the least.

Trump’s critics have called the act a classic and distasteful attempt at misdirection. America is in turmoil, and the statement endeavoured to create a distraction to divert public attention from the domestic issues the nation is facing. Yet, with Coronavirus claiming more lives in the US than any other country, with New York forced to dig mass graves to keep up with the amount of victims, this was a tall order to place on a single announcement alone. Headlines and news reports have not been consumed by the President’s recent withdrawal from the WHO, but with the now nationwide protests against the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officer, Derek Chauvin.

Even Trump’s recent executive order that targets social media outlets has gained more traction. In a great act of irony, this was introduced to encourage the presence of free speech. A similar sentiment was present in Trump’s address in the Rose Garden, as he inferred the withdrawal of funding was part of a quest to offer total transparency to the American public that the organisation was not providing. Yet, critics of the administration find it difficult to find the correlation between offering this transparency, while simultaneously clamping down on social media platforms. As censorship and globalisation, naturally, struggle to mutually coexist, a concerning trend seems to be appearing.

The US withdrawal from the WHO signifies the waving of goodbye to globalisation. Globalisation had been taking pains for the past decade following the Sino-American trade war, the replacement of NAFTA by the USMCA and Brexit, but the recent health crisis appears to be placing the final nail in the coffin. Since January, a surge of disruption to regularity has slowly crept westward with The Economist reporting that world goods trade may shrink by up to 30 per cent by the end of the year.

Globalisation refers to, amongst other things, the spread of people, goods and services across the globe. But, it also includes the spread of ideas and information in its definition. This factor is not so easily quantified, nor so easily destroyed as with the ever growing help of social media and other internet platforms, ideas and information cannot simply be halted at borders. Perhaps then, a new form of globalisation emerges with a greater reliance on the presence of ideology. Although, with Trump clamping down on Twitter in the recent episode of the administration’s ongoing battle against the media, even this is being threatened. The wounds globalisation have received, therefore, are certainly proving fatal.

Contemporary debate suggests the world is now to witness the arrival of a ‘new normal’. It remains unclear what exactly this new normal will look like with the dust yet to settle across the globe. An American style isolationism from the 1920s may follow, while with New Zealand being continuously hailed as an exemplary example of how the crisis should've been handled, perhaps a global shake up to the world hierarchy is also imminent. Either way, a new era is certainly on the horizon. With an upcoming election in November, the American people must think carefully if Trump is the leader they want captaining their nation through it.