US Withdraws from the World Health Organisation

On 7 July 2020, the United States notified the United Nations’ Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, of its withdrawal from the World Health Organisation (WHO), effective on 6 July 2021.  The withdrawal was issued unilaterally by the Executive Branch of the United States, after threats by President Trump to withdraw from the organisation based on his criticism of how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic at its earliest stages.

The Trump Administration released an update on the process on 3 September 2020.  The American government intends to progressively recall its personnel detailed to WHO offices and to reduce its participation in WHO events and meetings.  It also intends to use the 2020 assessed WHO contributions to “partially pay other UN assessments”.

As a matter of US constitutional law, it is unclear whether President Trump has the unilateral authority to withdraw from the WHO.  A similar issue arose when President Trump threatened to withdraw from NAFTA, prior to that treaty’s re-negotiation.  See, e.g., Gunjan Sharma, Can Trump Withdraw From NAFTA without Congress?, Law360, Sept. 2017 (link) (paywall).  Indeed, a number of academics have argued that President Trump requires Congressional approval to withdraw from the WHO.  Another group of 750 public health experts wrote to the Congress urging members of its Committee on Foreign Relations to challenge President Trump’s actions.

Notably, the 12-month period leaves the window open for Joe Biden to overturn the decision if he is elected as President – as he has said he would do.