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FACT SHEET: Advancing U.S. Interests at the United Nations

The Obama Administration has dramatically changed America’s course at the United Nations to advance our interests and values and help forge a more secure and prosperous world. We have repaired frayed relations with countries around the world. We have ended needless American isolation on a range of issues. And as a consequence, we have gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.

What the President calls a “new era of engagement” has led to concrete results at the UN that advance U.S. foreign policy objectives and American security. The dividends of U.S. leadership at the UN are tangible – the stiffest UN sanctions ever against Iran and North Korea, renewed momentum to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials, strong sanctions and an unprecedented mandate to intervene and save lives in Libya, support for the historic and peaceful independence of Southern Sudan, vital UN assistance in Afghanistan and Iraq, vigorous defense of our staunch ally Israel, lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable in the Horn of Africa and initial progress in improving the flawed UN Human Rights Council. In a world of 21st-century threats that pay no heed to borders, rebuilding a strong basis for international cooperation has allowed the United States to work together with others to solve common problems at the United Nations, making the American people more secure.

Nuclear Non-Proliferation

The President’s vision for a world without nuclear weapons includes a realistic path to get there. Several significant milestones on this important Administration priority have taken place at the UN.

UN Security Council Resolution 1887: In September 2009, the United States held the presidency of the UN Security Council, and President Obama chaired an historic Council Summit on nonproliferation and disarmament, culminating in the unanimous passage of Security Council Resolution 1887. This U.S.-drafted resolution reaffirmed the international community’s commitment to the global nonproliferation regime based on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, supported better security for nuclear weapons materials to prevent terrorists from acquiring materials essential to make a bomb, and made clear that all countries need to comply with their international nuclear obligations.

Iran: In June 2010, the United Nations Security Council voted overwhelmingly to put in place the toughest UN sanctions regime ever faced by the Iranian government for its continued failure to live up to its obligations, sending an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. The new sanctions in Resolution 1929 impose restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, its ballistic missile program, and its ability to acquire certain conventional weapons. They put a new framework in place to stop Iranian smuggling and crack down on Iran’s use of banks and financial transactions to fund proliferation. They also target individuals, entities, and institutions -– including those associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps –- that have supported Iran’s nuclear program and prospered from illicit activities at the expense of the Iranian people. The U.S. continues to ensure that these sanctions are vigorously enforced, just as we continue to refine and enforce our own sanctions on Iran alongside those of our friends and allies.

North Korea: In response to North Korea’s announced 2009 nuclear test, the United States secured the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1874, which put in place a tough array of sanctions, including asset freezes, financial sanctions, a broad-based embargo on arms exports and imports, and an unprecedented framework for the inspection of suspect vessels. Since the adoption of Resolution 1874, countries have intercepted and seized tons of contraband cargo. These interdictions show that countries are taking seriously their obligations to enforce these tough new measures. The United States will continue to press on sanctions implementation until there is concrete, verifiable progress on denuclearization.

NPT Review Conference: In May 2010, NPT parties adopted by consensus a Final Document that advances a realistic path towards a world without nuclear weapons. This document includes calls for strengthened verification and compliance, recognizes the New START agreement and the need for deeper reductions of nuclear weapons, and calls for the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the immediate start of talks on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. It also supports efforts to pursue international fuel banks and related mechanisms to broaden access to peaceful nuclear energy without creating new proliferation risks. This major achievement is a vindication of the broad thrust of U.S. efforts to inject new energy and renewed effort into stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

UN Security Council Resolution 1977: In April 2011, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1977, underscoring the vital importance of the Committee established pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1540 by extending its mandate for an additional ten years. The 1540 Committee is charged with assisting UN Member States in the implementation of UNSCR 1540’s obligations to take and enforce effective measures against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their means of delivery, and related materials, important elements in achieving U.S. nonproliferation objectives. The United States is making a $3 million donation to the United Nations trust fund for global and regional disarmament to help the Committee in its implementation efforts.

Bolstering Progress in Afghanistan and Iraq

Afghanistan: Since 2009, the United States has pursued a strategy in Afghanistan that places much greater emphasis on the role of international civilian assistance, while our troops work to secure the country and transition to a mission in support of Afghan security forces taking responsibility for their own security. To support this goal, the United States has worked to ensure that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has the resources and political support to carry out its vital mission to lay the foundation for a sustainable peace and a prosperous future, including providing assistance with security, elections, governance, economic development, and humanitarian assistance. The United States will continue to work to strengthen all aspects of the UN presence in the country so that UNAMA can best complement efforts to support the Government of Afghanistan by the United States and the International Security Assistance Force and better coordinate donor support.

Iraq: The United States and the international community are keeping their commitments to the Government and the people of Iraq, and as the United States is completing the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) continues to play a critical role. The United States strongly supports the work of the UNAMI as it continues to provide important technical assistance to the Government of Iraq, assists displaced persons in Iraq and provides humanitarian assistance. Additionally, the United States played a key role in the passage of three resolutions that mark an important milestone in normalizing Iraqi ties to the international community that were significantly limited when Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. The Security Council, in a special session chaired by Vice President Biden, passed Resolutions 1956, 1957 and 1958 to help return Iraq to the legal and international standing it held prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Promoting American Values

Protecting Civilians in Libya: In March, the United Nations took unprecedented quick and strong action to protect civilians in Libya. Resolution 1973 provided legal authority for the international community to intervene to save lives in Libya. The resolution authorized states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and enforce a no-fly zone, saving countless lives. The Security Council also imposed on the Qadhafi regime and on Libya’s major financial institutions a sweeping regime of financial sanctions and other measures to pressure the Qadhafi regime to end its brutal crackdown on demonstrators. Among other things, Resolutions 1970 and 1973 provided for an arms embargo, a ban on flights by Libyan-operated aircraft and asset freezes and travel bans on Qadhafi and his inner circle. These measures helped to isolate the Qadhafi regime from the international financial system, restricting its ability to fund military operations and to maintain support in Tripoli.

The people of Libya are now taking the initial steps to rebuild their country and transition to an inclusive democracy. There are still many issues to be resolved in the coming days, but the United States is very encouraged by early the steps the TNC has taken. The United States, the United Nations, and our international partners are helping the TNC build a government that reflects the aspirations of the Libyan people. The United States and our partners have worked through the United Nations to unfreeze billions of dollars in order for Libya to get access to their state assets to meet critical humanitarian needs. The United States will continue to work with the TNC to ensure that these funds are disbursed in a transparent, accountable manner. The United States is also providing over $90 million to UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs to address humanitarian needs generated by the crisis in Libya.

Moreover, the Security Council has adopted a new resolution to promote Libya’s recovery from its recent conflict and support its transition to a free society. This resolution mandates a new, three-month UN mission that will assist Libyan efforts to restore security and the rule of law, protect human rights, and undertake an inclusive political dialogue towards establishing a democratic government. It also begins the process of unwinding the UN sanctions that were imposed last spring. Although some measures will remain in place, ensuring that funds previously frozen are released in a transparent and responsible way, the Libyan authorities are now able to pursue a reenergized Libyan economy.

Promoting a Peaceful Transition to South Sudan Independence: On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan celebrated its independence. This action took place following months of intensified diplomatic efforts in the lead up to the historic, peaceful referendum on independence in January. Much of this work was accomplished working within or alongside the United Nations, including last year’s high-level meeting at which President Obama delivered remarks to galvanize international action to ensure a credible and timely referendum.

The United States continues to work closely with the UN and other international partners to support full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. In June, the Security Council created UNISFA, a UN peacekeeping force that will monitor the redeployment of armed forces from the Abyei area and that is authorized to use force to protect civilians and humanitarian workers. In July, the Security Council created UNMISS, a new UN peacekeeping force in the Republic of South Sudan, to consolidate peace and security and to help establish conditions for economic and political development.

The United States continues to work to end genocide and conflict in Darfur, including by supporting the joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), and calling for the Government of Sudan to end aerial bombardments, improve conditions and freedoms on the ground, and allow humanitarian access.

Horn of Africa Famine: With more than 13.3 million people—primarily in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia—in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa, the United Nations is at the forefront of a large-scale international response, and the United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the region, providing over $600 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance to those in need. Much of this funding is funneled through various UN agencies and supports humanitarian assistance to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and other drought affected populations.

Additionally, the United States helped garner international support for the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), including by supporting UN funding to keep international peacekeepers in the country. The United States has been a strong supporter of recent efforts to augment the number of troops deployed in AMISOM, which now has a force of nearly 9,600. Since AMISOM’s deployment in 2007, the United States has obligated more than $258 million in assistance to AMISOM and over $85 million to the Somali transitional government’s National Security Force.

Defending Israel

Standing up for Israel at the UN: The Obama Administration has consistently and forcefully opposed unbalanced and biased actions against Israel in the Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and across the UN system. President Obama has pledged that we will “continue U.S. efforts to combat all international attempts to challenge the legitimacy of Israel — including and especially at the United Nations.”

When an effort was made to insert the Security Council into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it. When the 2009 Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. When the UN General Assembly voted for a commemoration in September 2011 of the original 2001 Durban conference, we voted against it and announced we would not participate. When the Goldstone Report was released, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When anti-Israel resolutions come up at the UN Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, UNESCO, and elsewhere, we consistently oppose them.

Strengthening UN Peacekeeping and Conflict Prevention Efforts

Improving Peacekeeping Effectiveness: In his first visit as President to the United Nations, President Obama hosted the first-ever meeting with the leaders of the top troop-contributing nations to UN peacekeeping operations, underscoring America’s commitment to this vital tool, which allows countries around the world to share the burden for protecting civilians and supporting fragile peace processes in societies emerging from war. The U.S. continues to advance initiatives to strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities, including by seeking to expand the number, capacity, and effectiveness of troop and police contributors, helping secure General Assembly approval for vital peacekeeping reforms, and working with fellow Security Council members to craft more credible and achievable mandates for operations in Haiti, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and several other current operations.

Haiti: After the devastating earthquake of January 2010, which claimed the lives of over 100 UN personnel and the UN Mission’s leadership, the United States worked extremely closely with the UN to help the Government of Haiti ensure security and deliver vital humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti. Tens of thousands of U.S. forces were able to withdraw from Haiti within a few months, as countries from Latin America and around the world moved quickly to share the burden and augment the UN peacekeeping presence. In addition, the total U.S. 2010 and 2011 humanitarian assistance funding provided is $1.2 billion for the earthquake and $75 million for cholera.

Liberia: The United States built an international consensus to maintain a robust UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) peacekeeping operation for an additional 12 months, ensuring continued support for the 2011 elections. Security Council resolution 2008, which was adopted unanimously on September 17, also calls for a technical assessment mission in spring of 2012 to evaluate potential reductions in UNMIL’s authorized strength.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The United States continues to champion improved protection of civilians, especially by demanding an end to the epidemic of rape and gender-based violence. The United States has worked successfully to secure new Security Council sanctions against key leaders of armed groups operating in the DRC, including one individual linked to crimes involving sexual and gender based violence and child soldier recruiting. Additionally, the United States led the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that supported, for the first time, due diligence guidelines for individuals and companies operating in the mineral trade in Eastern Congo and agreed to practice due diligence when considering targeted sanctions.

Ivory Coast: In April, the United States welcomed the end of former President Laurent Gbabgo’s illegitimate claim to power in Ivory Coast, following robust implementation of Security Council Resolution 1975, which demanded that Gbagbo step down as President, imposed sanctions on him and his close associates, reaffirmed the international recognition given to Alassane Ouattara as President of Ivory Coast, and reiterated that the UN Operation in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) could use “all necessary means” in its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of attack. Early in the conflict, the United States worked with partners to renew UNOCI’s mandate and increase its ranks by 2,000 troops, further bolstering the mission’s ability to protect civilians.

The United States supports accountability on all sides for atrocities committed during the electoral crisis, and we will continue to support UN efforts in Ivory Coast as the nation recovers from this crisis. The Ivory Coast has accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and President Ouattara requested that the Prosecutor open an investigation into the most serious crimes committed in during the post-electoral crisis.

Eritrea: In 2009, the United States supported the African Union’s call to sanction Eritrea for that country’s role in destabilizing Somalia and the region and its failure to comply with Security Council Resolution 1862 concerning Eritrea’s border dispute with Djibouti. As a direct result of U.S. and African leadership, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1907 to impose an arms embargo and targeted financial and travel sanctions on Eritrean officials. Eritrea is paying a price for its sponsorship of foreign extremist groups. The Security Council, with the support of the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, continue to review additional measures to respond to Eritrea’s acts to destabilize its neighbors.

Protecting and Empowering Women and Girls

Women, Peace and Security: The United States continues to lead efforts across the UN focused on women’s important roles in preventing, managing, and resolving conflict, as well as ending conflict-related sexual violence. In 2009, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presiding, the United States led the Security Council in unanimously adopting Resolution 1888, which strengthens the international response to sexual violence in conflict by establishing a dedicated UN Special Representative and creating of a team of experts to assist individual governments in strengthening their capacities to address sexual violence in conflicts within their borders.

Building upon this success, during the 2010 U.S. presidency of the Security Council, the United States supported the adoption of Resolution 1960, which expressed deep concern that violence against women and children in situations of armed conflict continues to occur. The resolution also improved reporting mechanisms on gender-based violence in conflict. On the margins of this year’s General Assembly, Secretary of State Clinton will join other women leaders from across the world in spotlighting the importance of women’s political participation in times of peace, conflict, and transition. And in the year to come, the United States will continue to lead efforts to support women’s decision-making in matters of conflict prevention and international security by releasing its National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.

UN Women: The United States was also instrumental in the establishment of a new UN agency called UN Women. This vital new organization combines four separate UN offices into one stronger, streamlined and more efficient entity working in support of women around the world. UN Women will work to elevate women’s issues within the UN system, on the ground in member states, and on the international stage. The United States is working very closely with Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, as the first head of UN Women. In addition, when elections were held for the 41-member Executive Board, the United States secured a seat and supported other countries with strong records on women’s rights, while successfully leading efforts to block Iran’s bid for membership.

Promoting Human Rights

Human Rights Council: At the beginning of the Obama Administration, the United States made the decision to join the Human Rights Council, and that decision has paid real dividends for oppressed people around the world. Though the Council remains flawed, the United States has worked tirelessly to create the political will necessary for the Council to realize its full potential. While much work remains, in particular ending the Council’s excessive focus on Israel, the Council has taken great strides in speaking up for those suffering under the world’s cruelest regimes and focusing on the major human rights abuses worldwide.

In the past two years, the United States has spoken out on serious human rights abuses in Iran, Burma, Sudan, China, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Syria, Yemen, Russia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. With active U.S. leadership, the Council authorized international mandates to closely monitor and address the human rights situations in Iran, Libya, Syria, Ivory Coast, Burma, North Korea, Cambodia and Sudan. With U.S. engagement, Council members also voted to keep Iran and Syria from gaining seats on the Council.

We have also worked cooperatively with governments such as those of Haiti, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan, Guinea and Tunisia, as they experienced crises and sought help from the Council to strengthen their human rights capabilities and help their countries rebuild. For example, last year the United States partnered with the government of Afghanistan to build international support for efforts to prevent attacks on Afghan school children, especially girls, who seek to be educated.

In 2011, the United States has shown leadership that has led to additional concrete results. On Iran, the Council took assertive action to highlight Iran’s deteriorating human rights situation by establishing a Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran. In June, the Human Right’s Council appointed Ahmed Shaheed to serve as Special Rapporteur. He will serve as a voice for all those Iranians who have suffered egregious human rights violations. This is the first new country mandate established since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006.

U.S. leadership has led to two Special Sessions on the situation in Syria, sending President Assad a clear message that the world is watching what he does and that atrocities and human rights violations would not go unnoticed. At the most recent special session, the Council established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate all violations of international human rights law by Syrian Authorities and help the international community address the serious human rights abuses in Syria and ensure that those responsible are held to account.

The United States also played a pivotal role in convening the Council’s Special Session in February 2011 during which the Council condemned the human rights violations and other acts of violence committed by the Government of Libya, and created an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate those violations. Additionally on March 1, 2011 the General Assembly unanimously suspended Libya from the Human Rights Council because of the atrocities the Libyan authorities are committing against its own people. This was the first time that either the Human Rights Council or its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission, suspended any member state for gross violations of human rights.

In March 2011, the Council took an important step away from the deeply problematic concept of defamation of religion by adopting a constructive new resolution that promotes tolerance for all religious beliefs, promotes education and dialogue and is consistent with U.S. laws and universal values. Previous resolutions adopted under the concept of defamation of religion have been used to rationalize laws criminalizing blasphemy, and challenging widely held freedoms of expression and the press, rather than protecting religious freedom and human rights.

In June, the Human Rights Council took historic, bold and assertive action to highlight violence and human rights abuses faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons around the world by passing the first UN resolution solely focused on LGBT persons. The United States co-sponsored, strengthened, and gained support for a South African initiative, which was ultimately joined by countries from every UN geographic region and paves the way for the first UN report on the challenges faced by LGBT people and sustained Council attention to LGBT issues.

Along with our international partners and the NGO community, the United States has made important initial steps toward improving the work of the Council. The United States will run for re-election next year so that we can continue the progress the Council has made over the last two years.

LGBT Rights: In a reversal of the previous Administration’s policy, the United States supported a landmark General Assembly declaration condemning human rights violations based on sexual orientation. The United States also spearheaded an effort that led to a decisive victory in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which voted to grant consultative status to the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC), a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that does invaluable work around the globe to protect basic human rights, combat discrimination, and fight against the scourge of HIV/AIDS. When a committee vote removed a reference in a resolution condemning extrajudicial killings based on sexual orientation, the United States led a successful campaign to reinstate that reference in the final General Assembly resolution. And the United States joined the LGBT core group in New York for the first time.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: On behalf of the President, Ambassador Rice signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights treaty of the 21st century.

DRIP: In another important reversal of the previous Administration’s policy, President Obama announced U.S. support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP).

Health Security: The United States has taken a multi-faceted approach to dealing with infectious diseases, whatever their cause, through fora such as the UN Security Resolution 1540, the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and World Health Organization (WHO). The BWC Review Conference in December offers an important opportunity to revitalize international efforts against these threats, helping to build global capacity to combat infectious disease, and prevent biological weapons proliferation and bioterrorism. This week the United States is signing an agreement with the WHO on “Global Health Security,” affirming their shared commitment to strengthen cooperation on common health security priorities. Improving global capacities to detect, report and respond to infectious diseases quickly and accurately lies at the heart of the WHO’s International Health Regulations. The U.S. is committed to have in place these vital IHR core capacities as soon as 2012.

Reforming the United Nations

UN Arrears: Working with the U.S. Congress, the Administration cleared hundreds of millions in arrears to the United Nations, which accumulated between 2005 and 2008, and is now working to stay current with payments to the Organization.

Budget Discipline: As the largest financial contributor to the UN, ensuring that U.S. funds are spent wisely and not wasted is vital. The United States has worked to contain the growth of the UN budget and consistently pressed the issue of efficiency and accountability in our discussions with the UN, pushing for a focus on results. In 2009, the Administration successfully negotiated an agreement that held constant the share of U.S. assessed contributions to the United Nations.

UN Peacekeeping: In 2011, the United States rallied major financial contributors to thwart an effort by troop-contributing countries to impose a 57% increase in the reimbursement rate for troops in peacekeeping missions, which would have cost the organization well over $700 million annually. The United States was able to insert a new provision to prevent reimbursement for troops who have been repatriated for disciplinary reasons, including violation of the UN zero tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse.

U.S. leadership was instrumental in ensuring adoption of the Global Field Support Strategy, a sweeping reform of how the UN undertakes administrative and logistics support for UN field operations. This initiative will improve the quality, consistency, and efficiency of service delivery by capturing efficiencies within peacekeeping operations and improving the UN’s capacity to support complex field missions.

Oversight and Accountability: The United States advocated and supported adoption of key elements of an accountability framework for the UN. The United States has also blocked attempts to curb the authority and operational independence of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and succeeded in March 2010 in preserving OIOS’ existing mandate and authority, allowing OIOS to fill many long-vacant positions.

The United States has consistently and aggressively supported OIOS to be a strong and independent watchdog so that U.S. taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and UN programs are managed effectively. And, while OIOS has provided valuable recommendations to improve the UN’s effectiveness and served as a deterrent in the area of waste, fraud, and sexual exploitation and abuse, it has fallen short, especially in the area of investigations. The United States has pushed hard for improvements in that function so that OIOS can more vigorously pursue fraud and misconduct. The United States was pleased to see quick action by Carman LaPointe, the Head of OIOS, in filling several leadership positions in that critical office. The United States was successful in ensuring that the position of Director of Investigations, vacant for almost two years, was filled by a qualified candidate who is tasked, among other things, with reigniting the former financial crimes unit of OIOS.

Transparency: The United States has promoted transparency throughout the United Nations system for many years. We have pushed for the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Funds and Programs to take a number of important steps toward public disclosure of all internal audit, oversight and financial reports, and have seen significant progress. For example, Carman LaPointe has announced that she will post internal audits of the UN Secretariat on her website for public viewing starting in January 2012. Additionally, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) gave access to internal audit reports to the Global Fund and other intergovernmental donors. All of these organizations also voted to let governments who fund their programs – like the United States – read audit reports remotely from all over the world, instead of keeping audits under lock and key in New York. This September, leaders at all of these New York based funds and programs announced their support for full public disclosure of internal audits on the internet. Every agency in the UN system is a public institution and should open its doors to public scrutiny.

Human Resources Reform: In December 2010, the United States pushed through reforms that led to harmonization of conditions of service for staff serving in the most difficult locations in the world, eliminating disparities in practices between organizations—including reducing the unreasonably high levels of allowances paid by some organizations—to ensure a balance between fiscal responsibility and ensuring that the organization is able to attract and retain the most qualified staff for service in hardship locations.

The United States also demanded a review of the recent action by the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) to increase the post (cost of living) adjustment for staff in New York, in light of the ongoing pay freeze in the U.S. federal civil service—whose salaries and benefits serve as the basis for those of professional staff at the UN—and the difficult international economic climate.


A Misguided Assault: Why the United Nations Matters

(As prepared remarks)

Thank you, John, for that introduction. Before we begin, I want to recognize the important work that CAP is doing on a range of key national security issues. I want to specifically point out your recent report on U.S. multilateral engagement, which highlighted the importance of this Administration’s engagement at the UN and how it advances U.S. national interests.

And it is great to be joined today by Nancy and Rich, who I’m sure will share their valuable insight and perspectives as two people who have worked on these issues from both Washington and at our UN missions.

I would like to discuss today the tangible benefits that U.S. engagement with the UN provides Americans. I also want to make the case that if we are going to address 21st century challenges, in an effective and financially sound way, the United States must continue to embrace a global leadership role at the United Nations.

Glancing at the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly session, you can get a sense of the scope and diversity of those challenges, and the importance of sustained U.S. engagement.

Next week, during the high-level portion of the UNGA debate, the international community will formulate next steps for assistance to the transition in Libya. Governments will identify how to best address the mounting humanitarian crisis in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa. Senior government representatives, along with UN agencies, civil society, and the private sector, will collaborate on how to address to the urgent global public health challenges posed by non-communicable diseases, or NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, which kill more than 35 million people worldwide each year.

Indeed, this is an exciting time to be working on multilateral issues.

The seismic political transformation taking place across North Africa and the Middle East, though incomplete, holds great promise for a new era in which democratic impulses and human rights are embraced, not suppressed.

New centers of influence in the 21st century are deciding how to shape their foreign policies, and whether they will accept the expanded global responsibility that comes with a greater presence on the world stage.

Economic pressures are forcing many countries to reevaluate their own places in the world, and their roles in the international system.

And in the United States, there remain some here in Washington intent on forcing a U.S. retreat from global leadership, by hindering our participation in the UN system, seemingly unaware of the profoundly altered global landscape. These views stand in sharp contrast to the position held by a bipartisan majority here in Washington and by the vast majority of Americans, which supports U.S. leadership and engagement at the United Nations. These dismissive voices pretend that we just can turn back the clock to a simpler era, when the world was less interconnected and multilateral engagement less essential to core U.S. interests.

Yet today, our economy and security are intertwined with that of the rest of the globe. The benefits of U.S. multilateral engagement to our national security are well-known. In a 21st century world where threats do not stop at borders, the United States cannot tackle many of our most urgent problems alone.

Nuclear proliferation. Climate change. Attacks on freedom and human rights. Terrorism. Transnational crime. Pandemic disease. Armed conflict and instability that, left unchecked, can unleash these and other dangers.

But we know that to respond to these and other threats, U.S. engagement at the United Nations works.

It enhances U.S. national security.

It advances core American values, including human rights.

And it builds and maintains the global networks and systems worldwide, on which our 21st century economy depends.

It works, because as a tool for addressing these common challenges, multilateral engagement lets us share with other countries the financial and political burden of addressing global challenges.

I will be frank: important issues will be addressed at the United Nations whether or not the United States chooses to be actively engaged. So in reality, our choice is between maintaining global leadership at the UN, or ceding it to those who would not act in our interests.

So I would like to briefly walk through several of our most pressing foreign policy challenges, and highlight how multilateral engagement has been crucial to winning the strong cooperation we have needed to address each one.

In Libya, we and our partners worked across the UN system to marshal a robust international response. We won tough Security Council sanctions, an ICC referral of Qadhafi, and when the world’s warning was not heeded, an unprecedented Security Council mandate to intervene to protect civilians, and prevent atrocities. While U.S. diplomats in New York were pursuing that course, their counterparts in Geneva were achieving Human Rights Council condemnation of Qadhafi’s depredations. Libya was suspended from the HRC, and an international commission of inquiry was launched to investigate human rights violations and lay the groundwork for accountability. And next week, in New York the international community will come together to identify how we can best support the next phase of transition in Libya.

The UN also has been instrumental in combating nuclear proliferation. Security Council sanctions on Iran have hampered that regime’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Tough sanctions against North Korea allowed cargo vessels to be inspected and illegal arms shipments seized. To make these sanctions most effective, they need to be global in their scope and implementation, and only the Security Council can make that happen. And two years ago, President Obama chaired a Security Council session that reinvigorated global efforts to stop proliferation of nuclear weapons and the materials to make them.

On this subject, I want to make a broader point quickly about the value of investing in multilateral institutions. We have relied upon the monitoring and expertise of the International Atomic Energy Agency as we have worked to develop coordinated international responses to cases of potential nuclear proliferation. The IAEA has been invaluable in sounding the alarm on illicit nuclear activities in Iran, Syria, and elsewhere, a reminder of the value of investment in these international institutions before we get to the crisis point.

The UN also is key to the international response after we have passed the crisis point, working to prevent further conflict and crisis. I am sure Nancy will talk more about UN peacekeeping missions, but it is important to note just briefly that with roughly 120,000 military, police, and civilian peacekeepers deployed in the field, we are calling upon them more than ever before, even as their roles have become more difficult and complex. Today, it is rare that we deploy unarmed observers to monitor an agreed ceasefire between two sovereign states. Instead, we increasingly are sending peacekeepers to some of the world’s most challenging security situations – Darfur, Congo, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire – with mandates that include protecting civilians, and bringing stability to parts of the world that for too long, have known too little of it.

UN peacekeepers also can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. forces. The bottom line is that UN peacekeepers provide another tool, so that when faced with a threat to civilians, or violent instability that risks engulfing an entire region, we do not have to choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing.

Now, tough sanctions and peacekeeping missions are perhaps the UN’s two best-known tools for addressing threats to international peace and security. But they are far from the only ways our engagement with the UN benefits U.S. national security.

UN political missions in Afghanistan and in Iraq have been crucial partners for the United States. In both countries, the UN – with real risk and danger, and tragic loss of life by UN personnel – has worked with the sovereign Afghan and Iraqi governments to strengthen democratic institutions, and contribute to political stability. They mediate local conflicts, and sometimes are asked to address, on behalf of the international community, issues that, for one reason or another, a single country might be hard-pressed to resolve. We work closely with the UN missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq; without them, U.S. efforts to responsibly draw down our military forces would be far more difficult.

Engagement at the UN is also an important part of our counterterrorism efforts. Security Council sanctions against al Qaeda have, through their universal application, isolated and frozen the assets of terrorists and their supporters. Working through UN bodies like the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, we and our partners are helping to prevent and combat terrorism by building national capacity, and sharing best practices. And at the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, we work to keep Americans safe when they take to the skies.

Beyond these tangible benefits to U.S. national security, our robust engagement across the UN system sends an important message to the world, namely that the United States remains a global leader. We have no intention of abdicating that role, or the responsibilities that come with it.

Global leadership means working in the Security Council to bring together representatives from all corners of the map, including emerging powers, to address the threats and challenges I have mentioned, as well as a host of others.

Global leadership means actively engaging other members of the Human Rights Council, to continue the transformation of that body into one that increasingly can respond effectively to pressing human rights situations, in real time, and with concrete action. I would be happy to discuss the HRC more during the question and answer period, but I will say now just that U.S. leadership has been key to that metamorphosis of the Human Rights Council into a body that can advance universal values that Americans hold dear, and validates this Administration’s decision to reverse course and win a seat on the Council.

It means defending our close ally, Israel, from any efforts to delegitimize or isolate it at the UN. We oppose all attempts to unilaterally use the UN as the venue for addressing final status issues, which must be decided in direct negotiations between the parties. And we have been very clear from the beginning that we think it is a mistake for the Palestinians to seek a unilateral path to statehood at the UN, rather than a negotiated peace, and that we oppose such a unilateral move.

Finally, U.S. leadership means paying our bills in full. President Obama’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full has given us greater influence with allies, partners, and others, and helped us achieve both our policy goals at the UN, as well as much-needed management reform and budget discipline. For too long, our failure to keep current on our UN dues hamstrung our diplomats and hurt our national interest. So we oppose calls to withhold U.S. dues, given the impact doing so would have on U.S. influence and leadership across the UN system.

Of course, the UN can be improved. As careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, this Administration works every day to achieve much-needed UN management reform and budget discipline. But withholding U.S. assessments would set back those efforts, not advance them. And it would undercut our influence at the UN, with long-term implications for our national security, our economy, and our efforts to promote human rights and universal values.

As I have highlighted today, too many U.S. interests require strong multilateral engagement across the UN system for us to simply walk away and cede U.S. leadership at the United Nations. Too many of our most pressing foreign policy challenges require shared multilateral solutions for us to undercut our global influence by withholding our UN dues.

The world has changed markedly since the United Nations was founded in 1945. But if to protect our security against transnational threats, advance our values as an alternative to extremism, and promote international stability to advance our economy, U.S. engagement in the United Nations is more essential than it has ever been. So this Administration remains committed to pursuing constructive multilateral engagement at the United Nations, and to continued U.S. global leadership across the UN system.


Assistant Secretary Brimmer on How Engagement at the United Nations Benefits the United States

Thank you, Dr. Tuman, for that introduction. Thanks also to the School of Liberal Arts, for putting together this event, and to all of you for coming out today. As the lead State Department official overseeing U.S. interaction with the UN system – including UN bodies in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Rome, Nairobi, Paris, and Montreal – it is my privilege to hear from Americans about the challenges you see facing the United States, and to share with you the good work your diplomats are doing every day to advance U.S. foreign policy at the United Nations. With global attention soon turning to New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly, it is a natural time to discuss these issues.

Even after the presidents and prime ministers have left New York later this month, your diplomats there – and at the UN bodies in the cities I just mentioned – will continue their work on a broad range of issues that benefit Americans. Robust U.S. engagement with the United Nations stems from a simple fact: in a 21st century world where threats do not stop at borders, even the United States cannot tackle many of our most urgent problems alone.

We have known for a long time that what happens beyond our borders affects our security and our economy, and that we ignore turmoil abroad at our own peril. Nuclear proliferation threatens the security of us all, regardless of nationality. If not checked, the impact of climate change will be truly global, albeit felt in different ways. Threats to freedom and universal human rights anywhere stain our collective conscience. Terrorism and transnational crime pay no heed to national borders; pandemic disease requires no passport to move quickly from one country to the next. We know that conflict and instability, even when it is half a world away, can unleash these and other dangers.

Americans benefit immensely from globalization and the interconnections it brings with peoples around the globe. Here, in one of the tourism and commerce capitals of the world, you instinctively understand that more than most. Our security and prosperity are inextricably hardwired to the rest of the world but it does not mean that the United States should take on the world’s problems by ourselves. American troops should not police every conflict, and American generosity alone cannot solve every humanitarian crisis or bring relief after every natural disaster. Because these common global challenges call for shared global solutions, we find ourselves more than ever working through the UN to achieve many of our most important foreign policy goals.

On matters of international peace and security, the UN’s role has been central to several top U.S. foreign policy priorities. UN peacekeepers help prevent conflict and protect civilians around the globe, at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. troops. Security Council sanctions on Iran have had a significant effect on that regime, including by hampering its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. UN counterterrorism sanctions have isolated terrorists and frozen their assets and those of their supporters. UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq work to strengthen democracy and mediate local conflicts, meaning that we can draw down our military forces there on schedule.

The UN’s humanitarian agencies also deliver lifesaving aid in many of the world’s worst crises. From Haiti to Somalia, Pakistan to the Congo, the World Food Program and UNICEF are preempting starvation, the World Health Organization is preventing outbreaks of disease through vaccination programs, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is providing comfort to those displaced from their homes. These agencies are only a few of the important UN organizations that are saving lives, providing critical humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations, and contributing to the overall human security on which lasting peace must be built.

The United States also works through the UN system to promote global respect for human rights and universal values. I will discuss in a moment our work at the Human Rights Council, and the advances that body has made as a result of U.S. engagement. We see the UN as an increasingly important forum for bringing the countries of the world together to promote human rights and call out abuses and violations of liberty, equality, and basic human dignity, no matter where they occur.

And UN technical and specialized agencies support the architecture of globalization we have all come to take for granted. From international civil aviation to worldwide postal service, from cross-border telecommunications to global shipping, it is through the long list of UN agencies, many of which you may never have heard of, that the world builds and maintains the links that bring us all together.

Working through the United Nations means we do not have to choose between doing it ourselves, or doing nothing. Instead, we can show global leadership, to bring together allies and partners to achieve our goals. This was true recently in the international response to Libya, where both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council served to channel the international community’s collective response. In this case, these two UN bodies worked to reinforce each other’s actions and maximize international pressure on the Qadhafi regime.

So as the members of the Security Council met to determine that body’s initial response, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was called into special session, where it launched an international commission of inquiry to investigate the reality on the ground, and recommended suspending Libya’s membership. This helped catalyze a unanimous Security Council resolution the next day that imposed tough sanctions against the Qadhafi regime, referred his depredations to the International Criminal Court, and warned him that the world would not stand by as his forces attacked Libyan civilians whose only wrongdoing was their desire for freedom.

When the Qadhafi regime failed to heed this warning, we went back to the Security Council and worked to shape a mandate to protect civilians in Libya. An unprecedented coalition, included the United States, our NATO allies, and Arab nations, launched a military operation to save civilian lives and stop Qadhafi’s forces. And in the course of the past few months, the Transitional National Council has established itself as a credible representative of the Libyan people, such that the United States has recognized the TNC as the legitimate governing authority in Libya. We support the TNC’s work with the international community to prepare for a post-Qadhafi Libya.

Although we have come to expect the UN Security Council to act decisively with regard to threats to international peace and security, the Human Rights Council has not always acted as deftly as it did in Libya. Some critics had asked whether it was much better than the old Commission on Human Rights that it replaced. They argued that too many of the members had dubious human rights records, that the Council spent far too much time unfairly focused on Israel, and that it failed to show it could act quickly and to concretely address pressing human rights situations around the world.

Given these criticisms, it was not without controversy that the Obama Administration announced in 2009 that the United States would run for a seat on the Human Rights Council. Although the previous Administration had kept the Council at arm’s length since its creation, we believed that if the United States wanted the HRC to live up to its mandate to protect and promote the human rights of all mankind, we could not leave it to be dominated by others.

I am pleased to report that the Human Rights Council has fundamentally changed over the past two years as a result of U.S. engagement. Both Iran and Syria backed out of campaigns to get elected after tough diplomacy by the United States and our partners made clear they would lose. Though the Human Rights Council held five special sessions on Israel in the three years before the United States took our seat, there have been none – none – in almost two years. And thanks to leadership by the United States and our partners, the Human Rights Council is showing an increased ability to respond quickly and constructively to serious human rights abuses. That includes launching the international commission of inquiry in Libya, as I mentioned before. It includes working with the interim Tunisian government to ensure respect for human rights during the transition there. And it includes tough resolutions on the human rights situation in Syria, along with an international commission of inquiry to investigate the Assad regime’s continued lethal attacks against peaceful protestors, and provide the foundation for international accountability.

There is far more that we have achieved since joining the Human Rights Council, from promoting freedom of expression and freedom of assembly worldwide, to reinforcing the principle that the rights of LGBT persons are, yes, human rights. I can go into further detail during the question-and-answer period if you would like. And yes, we remain disappointed that the Council continues its bias against Israel, even if it is reduced. But the change that has come over that body since the United States took our seat in 2009 is a testament to the benefits of U.S. engagement at the United Nations.

Our strong diplomatic engagement at the Human Rights Council was not the only path we could have taken. There are critics even today who call for drastic unilateral steps that would undermine the important work we are doing, in a time when our need for shared solutions is growing. These go-it-alone types think the United States pays too much in dues, or allege that the UN is incorrigibly corrupt, or point to instances where the United States disagrees with some symbolic vote or conference held in the UN General Assembly. From that, they argue that the United States would be better off without the United Nations, that we should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, or that we somehow can force the UN to correct some shortcoming by refusing to pay the dues we owe pursuant to treaty obligations.

They could not be more wrong.

For too long, the United States played games with our UN assessments, paying them when we wanted to and withholding them whenever we felt doing so was somehow justified. So sometimes the UN peacekeepers sent out into harm’s way got paid, and sometimes they did not. Not only did this practice wreak havoc on UN budgeting – imagine trying to run a corporation never knowing if your largest investor will up and pull out its stake – it also undermined U.S. credibility, and hurt our ability to get things done at the UN.

But all this has changed since 2009. President Obama’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full has given us more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations. Both in pursuing foreign policy goals and in pressing for UN management reform and budget discipline, our failure to keep current on our UN dues hamstrung our diplomats and hurt our national interest. For too long, our adversaries could change the subject to our arrears when we pressed them on an important policy matter; they no longer can do so.

And what, you ask, is the price for all this? What does this investment in shared security, universal values, and global systems cost the American taxpayer? About one-tenth of one percent of federal spending.

That is because U.S. global leadership at the UN means we pay our fair share of the burden. Not more, not less. Our UN dues amount to roughly twenty-five cents on the dollar. That is right: every dollar we put into the UN system leverages roughly three dollars from the rest of the world toward solutions to our shared challenges. And as careful stewards of taxpayer dollars, this Administration is proud of the management and budget reform initiatives we have worked with the United Nations to create and implement. The United States is second to none in pursuing a more efficient, effective, and transparent UN. These accomplishments may not grab headlines, but they get results. Not only do these efforts save money, they also help ensure that the United Nations is strong enough to bear the burdens we must place upon it in the decades to come.

As I have discussed tonight, U.S. engagement at the United Nations is an essential means of achieving our foreign policy goals and advancing our values. It is an important forum for burden-sharing in tough financial times. And it clearly benefits Americans.

I want to thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today, and I look forward to any questions you may have.


Esther Brimmer: Remarks on Revitalizing the United Nations and Multilateral Cooperation: The Obama Administration’s Progress

Thank you, Ted, for that introduction and for the opportunity to speak here today. Before I begin, I want to recognize the contributions you and your colleagues at Brookings have made on the wide range of multilateral issues across the UN system that we work on every day.

Two years into President Obama’s first term, we see an ever-growing need for effective multilateralism, and recognize its impact on achieving U.S. foreign policy goals. We see it as we work to protect human rights in places like Iran. We see it as we work to ensure that elections in Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sudan are free and fair. We see it as we work to halt nuclear proliferation in Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

Yet despite important progress, we once again are hearing criticisms from a bygone era, which ignore our successes at the UN as well as changes to the global landscape that make effective multilateral engagement more important than ever.

So our discussion today is a perfect opportunity to review the Obama Administration’s multilateral efforts and progress, and look ahead at the challenges we face in the coming year. Today, I’ll highlight how the Administration’s engagement across the UN system has benefited the United States, and how our work to revitalize the United Nations is at the core of our multilateral priorities.

The rationale for heightened U.S. engagement at the UN is clear. In a 21st century world where threats don’t stop at borders, we tackle many of our most urgent problems with cooperation and partnership, and need shared solutions to common problems. But as any veteran of multilateral diplomacy will tell you, the importance of a global response is often matched by the challenge in getting there. It’s not always easy; it’s not always smooth. But U.S. interests benefit from our patient, dogged efforts across the UN system.

This Administration’s engagement at the UN is at the core of our efforts to build a global architecture to address the challenges of the 21st century. We’ve elevated the G-20, to successfully promote economic coordination in response to the world economic crisis. We are renewing U.S. leadership at the OECD, multilateral development banks, and the IMF. And we’re working with important regional organizations in East Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.

Yet the United Nations continues to be the most important global institution, and our robust engagement across the UN system remains essential to achieving U.S. foreign policy goals.

First and foremost, a capable and strong United Nations system advances U.S. national security. Indeed, President Obama’s National Security Strategy prioritizes multilateral engagement precisely because we cannot divorce core national security interests from robust and sustained multilateral engagement. Dangerous nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. International terrorism. Afghanistan. Iraq. Addressing these national security challenges requires cooperation, and our work in the UN system is key to that common response.

So in the Security Council, Ambassador Rice and her team in New York, working with our colleagues at the Department, negotiated the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government, as part of our dual-track strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. By engaging multilaterally within the UN and with its members, we crafted a tough set of sanctions that all states must implement – even those Security Council members that voted against them. Secretary Clinton noted recently that we already are seeing the effect of those sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency, too, has been invaluable in sounding the alarm on Iran’s nuclear activities, and the IAEA’s performance is a reminder of the value of investment in international institutions.

The UN also plays an indispensible role in two countries of enormous importance to the United States: Afghanistan and Iraq. In both, the UN has established important political missions – with real risk and danger, and tragic loss of life by UN personnel – missions that work with the sovereign Afghan and Iraqi governments to strengthen democratic institutions and promote constructive political dialogue. We have close and active partnerships with the UN in both these countries. And without the UN’s work in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. efforts to responsibly draw down our military forces – as the President has committed to doing – would be all the more difficult.

As both this Administration and our predecessors recognized, the United Nations is also an important forum for counterterrorism efforts. Through Security Council sanctions regimes, we have put in place global asset freezes and travel bans on terrorists and their supporters. Such universality is needed for sanctions to be effective, and the UN Security Council uniquely offers that capability. But our broader multilateral engagement on counterterrorism –through the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, or on aviation security at the International Civil Aviation Organization – helps us get there.

Let me turn for a moment to peacekeeping, one of the UN’s most important roles and another area where U.S. engagement directly benefits our national interests. As we all know, UN peace operations no longer only are deployed to separate warring parties. These missions address some of our hardest and most challenging security situations, including Sudan, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Congo, Liberia, and others. They are charged with preventing and ending armed conflicts, protecting civilians, supporting the rule of law, and helping administer elections. To do so, UN personnel are regularly sent into dangerous situations, where states cannot ensure basic security, civilians live under threat of violence, and there is little peace to keep.

But UN peacekeeping missions can mean the difference between stability and violence, and can help transform a fragile ceasefire into lasting peace. And the stability these peacekeeping missions bring directly impacts U.S. national interests. We have learned all too well that an unstable country far away can pose a direct threat to U.S. national security. By working through the United Nations, we help bring security to countries where U.S. military operations aren’t feasible or desirable – at far lower cost to the United States – and where U.S. leadership can leverage important contributions by other states.

These are all areas where we have worked within the UN system on important peace and security issues. But our multilateral engagement has succeeded in part because it has been deep as well as broad. To achieve American objectives and bring to bear the full weight of our international partners, we must mobilize and use our leverage across the entire range of multilateral institutions.

In short, engagement cannot be à la carte.

So we have expanded the number of UN and other multilateral entities where we’re actively and seriously involved, working across the broader United Nations system to support U.S. interests and universal values.

That’s why we work at the IAEA to ensure that a nuclear lab half a world away is secure. That’s why we work at ICAO to build reliable global passenger screening mechanisms. That’s why we fight at the World Intellectual Property Organization to strengthen global copyright protection for innovative U.S. companies that are creating jobs at home. That’s why we’re ensuring that at the World Health Organization, public health officials can work together to respond to the next global pandemic.

We seek cooperation from others on issues of importance to us, so we must remain engaged when those states raise issues of importance to them.

Now, some condemn our broad multilateral engagement because some UN member states are, to borrow terms used recently, “bullies, thugs, and dictators.”

But a key part of our work every day is standing up to adversaries across the UN system. If we can’t persuade them to change their behavior, we out-maneuver them, and we achieve results. We’re tireless, because we have to be. We know the consequences of disengaging. If we cede leadership at the United Nations, other states will rush in to fill that vacuum – and they will not act in our interest.

But engagement across the UN system is more than cooperating with our traditional allies and partners, or standing up to our adversaries. It’s also an important element of our efforts to work with important emerging powers that are expanding their own international influence. Indeed, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and South Africa are among many countries that see multilateral diplomacy as key to their foreign policy. These countries send their best and brightest diplomats to postings in New York, Geneva, and other UN cities, where they are formulating their outlook on the world. So to engage these states effectively, we must be able to understand and address their multilateral priorities.

Now, global respect for universal values is an enduring American interest, and one we have long championed at the United Nations.

An important setting for these efforts is the Human Rights Council in Geneva. This Administration, reversing the policy of the previous one, chose to run for – and won – a seat on the HRC in 2009. And since joining, we’ve become the most active delegation on the Council, bolstering our engagement with a dedicated human rights ambassador in Geneva and a strengthened team working on the HRC within the State Department.

But our expanded engagement does not mean we have dived in with our eyes closed. Are we frustrated with the Council’s ongoing substantive shortcomings? Deeply. Could the HRC do more to address pressing human rights issues? Far more. And does it continue an unfair and imbalanced focus on Israel? It does. Will the session in March be tough? It will. But these criticisms, like many we face, tell only part of the story.

They fail to recognize how the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies have improved as a result of U.S. engagement, and how these bodies do advance U.S. foreign policy goals. And they ignore the reality that without U.S. engagement, these bodies likely would have been dominated even more by our adversaries.

Let’s look a little deeper at the Human Rights Council, and what took place prior to the U.S. joining the Council. Five special sessions on Israel in three years. A decidedly mixed set of special rapporteurs, including Richard Falk. Flawed mandates, including the Goldstone report on Gaza. Far too many unbalanced resolutions singling out Israel, and far too few resolutions, special procedures, and other attention to the world’s most troubling and urgent human rights situations.

And since the United States joined in 2009? The challenges continue, but the Council’s improvement – through U.S. engagement – is undeniable. Timely action in 2010 on human rights crises, from Kyrgyzstan to Cote d’Ivoire. New UN special procedures on countries with serious human rights situations, for core rights like freedom of assembly, and, for the first time, on discrimination against women. A strong statement in the Council by 56 countries on human rights in Iran. We defeated an attempt by Cuba to politicize the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a proposal by Pakistan that would have restricted free speech.

And in 2010, the Human Rights Council did not hold a single special session on Israel – but did call special sessions to address pressing human rights situations in Haiti and Cote d’Ivoire.

In short, the United States took seriously our engagement on the HRC, and we already have achieved concrete results. We have more to do. But these accomplishments would not have happened without an American voice at the table.

Of course, the Human Rights Council is far from perfect, and so our hard work continues, session by session, as we knew it would when we joined. The upcoming March session will be a challenge, because Middle East issues will be raised. But at the end of the day, issues important to the United States will be debated and responses decided at the HRC with or without us. We’ve engaged with the Human Rights Council because this Administration cares deeply about international human rights – because we believe that the protection of human rights is far too important to be left to the human rights abusers.

I was proud to be the first American official to address the Human Rights Council as a member, and I remain proud of our continued engagement. The more I look at the HRC’s record – its resolutions, actions, and outcomes – the more I am convinced that U.S. membership on the Council marked a watershed moment. And even critics who disagreed with this Administration’s decision to join are admitting that U.S. membership has had a positive impact.

You actually can see some similarities between our strategy at the Human Rights Council and our approach to UN management issues.

Our policy toward UN management and reform issues has been to work in collaboration and cooperation with the United Nations toward renewal and increased effectiveness. All member states have a stake in a more effective UN, but as the largest single contributor to the UN system, the United States is particularly interested in ensuring that our taxpayer funds are effectively and efficiently used.

Our management and reform accomplishments over the past two years can be roughly divided into three categories.

First, we’re working to improve the UN’s day-to-day administration, supporting initiatives that are having a measurable impact. We won new standards that hold UN officials accountable for achieving real results. We led the charge to institutionalize the UN Ethics Office, with an American at the helm. And we worked to protect the full mission of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, to carry out audits, inspections, evaluations, and, where necessary, investigations of UN activities.

Second, we are further increasing UN accountability and transparency. We led the establishment of new oversight bodies at UNDP, UNFPA, and the International Telecommunication Union. And we fought back attempts to impose restrictions on oversight reporting.

And third, we are continuing to reinforce the UN’s effectiveness in key policy areas. We have led efforts to put into place the Global Field Support Strategy, to improve the UN’s capacity to maintain complex peacekeeping missions. And we were instrumental in establishing UN Women, merging four disparate UN bodies into a single new entity to effectively and efficiently advance women’s issues worldwide.

These accomplishments may not grab headlines, but they get results. Naming and shaming, loud and brash calls for tearing down the United Nations rather than building it up – these don’t get us closer to our goal of improving the UN’s effectiveness. Instead, we work cooperatively to further embed and strengthen within the UN a culture of responsibility and transparency.

Now, there has been some talk in recent weeks about UN funding, calls in some quarters for reducing our dues and withholding a portion of our assessments – despite our legal treaty obligations under the UN Charter. As someone who worked on multilateral issues in the Clinton Administration, I feel a little bit of déjà vu. These same calls were made fifteen years ago, and then as now, they were supposedly called “UN reform.”

Now, let me be clear: this Administration takes seriously our obligation to guard taxpayer dollars. We are second to none in pushing for a more efficient and effective UN. But gutting our assessments isn’t “UN reform.” It’s just paying less. And trying to avoid paying our bills hurts our ability to deliver results at the UN that the American people want, and that the United States needs. The United States must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills and working for real renewal at the UN.

How could we have won tough Security Council sanctions on North Korea and Iran if we were continuing to incur arrears? How could we have championed any of our management and reform achievements just over the past two years if we had failed to keep current on our assessments? How can we work with other leading contributors to maintain UN budget discipline and hold down costs if we do not meet our own obligations?

No longer can our adversaries at the UN change the subject to our arrears when we press them on an important policy matter, as they did for so long. The President’s decision to pay our UN assessments in full means that we have had more political capital to galvanize support from allies, partners, and others for achieving our goals at the United Nations.

So given all this, our multilateral work in 2011 will consolidate innovation and the advances we’ve made in revitalizing the United Nations.

On peace and security issues, we’re continuing to work to close gaps that too often plague peacekeeping missions – gaps between ambitious mandates and the UN’s capacity to carry them out, between political support needed and that provided, and between material needs of the missions and the resources provided to them.

We also will continue our work to ensure that Security Council sanctions are respected and enforced, by bolstering the capacity of key states and drawing attention to sanctions-busters and peace spoilers.

But as the first QDDR made clear, we must continue to prevent conflicts and atrocities before they arise. This includes further enhancing the UN’s capacity to anticipate and address crises before violence erupts, through mediation, election assistance, political missions, and crisis response. And we’re increasingly looking at peacebuilding as a complement to UN peacekeeping missions.

But conflict prevention also means addressing human rights situations as they arise. I pointed earlier to some of our victories in pushing the Human Rights Council to play this role, and we’re working to expand the Council’s timely action on pressing human rights concerns. The ongoing 2011 HRC review is an important opportunity to move the Council closer to its envisioned role in defending universal human rights.

We’re also working multilaterally on global development. We give more official assistance than any other country, but cannot achieve the Millennium Development Goals unilaterally. Although the first responsibility lies with people themselves, international support can help.

So from our $3.5 billion “Feed the Future” food security initiative, to our $63 billion Global Health Initiative, U.S. development strategy recognizes that by working multilaterally, American leadership and resources can leverage a greater global effort to address the root causes of poverty advanced through country-led plans.

Ladies and gentlemen, I began today by noting that we live in a changed world. It has changed from just ten years ago, and certainly changed from when the UN was founded in 1945.

As Secretary Clinton said early in her tenure, “if we didn’t have the United Nations, we would have to invent one.” Given the many areas I’ve outlined where the United Nations system is critical to U.S. national security and foreign policy, it’s a good thing we don’t need to invent it today.

But just as we cannot hide inside our borders and disengage, nor can we address 21st century threats and challenges with 20th century tools. As the President has said, our international architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats, and new challenges. So the United Nations does need to reinvent itself – and it is doing so – to better meet the demands of our time. And in that effort, the United Nations will have no better partner than the United States.

Our work in this area is ongoing. But this Administration is proud of our achievements to date across the UN system.

Faced with tough challenges, we have chosen to lead, not retreat.

And given the continued need to develop cooperative responses to the shared threats and challenges of our time, we see no choice but to continue to work multilaterally, to ensure that the United Nations is strong enough to bear the burdens we must place upon it in the decades to come.

Thank you.


Purposes and Principles of U.S. Engagement in Burma

I have just completed my second trip to Burma.

During my two-day trip, I met with a wide variety of stakeholders inside the country. In Nay Pyi Taw, I held consultations with the Minister of Science and Technology, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Information and the Spokes Authoritative Team, the Union Election Commission, the Labor Minister, and the head of the USDA.

In Rangoon, I met with a number of community leaders of ethnic minority groups, the National League for Democracy, key members of the diplomatic corps, NGOs, a variety of political players, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

This trip comes as part of a process the Obama Administration launched last year. In February 2009, Secretary Clinton announced that we would undertake a review of our Burma policy, stating clearly that neither sanctions nor engagement, when implemented alone, had succeeded in influencing Burma’s generals. Over the course of the seven months of the policy review, we consulted widely and deliberately in order to seek the best ideas from around the world and at home. The result of that extensive review was to launch a policy of pragmatic engagement with Burma’s leadership. We have engaged in senior-level dialogue with the regime. Yet we have not lifted sanctions, nor have we abandoned our commitment to the people of Burma. Our strategic goal for Burma remains unchanged: we wish to see a more prosperous, democratic Burma that lives in peace with its people and with its neighbors.

The United States has approached this engagement with goodwill. We continue to consult and coordinate closely with key countries, including those within ASEAN, the European Union, with India, Japan, China and others, and a number of players outside governments seeking a more positive future in Burma.

The key objective of my trip to Burma was to underscore the purposes and principles of our engagement, and to lay out the reasons for our profound disappointment in what we have witnessed to date.

During various discussions with Burma’s senior leadership, we have outlined a proposal for a credible dialogue among all stakeholders in Burma that would allow all sides to enter into such a dialogue with dignity. Unfortunately, the regime has chosen to move ahead unilaterally – without consultation from key stakeholders – towards elections planned for this year. As a direct result, what we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy. We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections.

We have also asked for greater respect for human rights and the release of political prisoners. The regime has detained many of Burma’s brightest and most patriotic citizens, citizens that could contribute greatly to ensuring a more prosperous future for their country. Instead the regime has silenced them, dispersing them to remote locations throughout the country where the generals hope they will be forgotten. They are not.

We have raised our persistent concerns about the increasing tensions between Burma’s ethnic minorities and the central government that have resulted in violence along the country’s borders. The regime has ratcheted up the pressure on Burma’s ethnic groups in preparation for this year’s elections, forcing countless innocent civilians to flee. Burma cannot move forward while the government itself persists in launching attacks against its own people to force compliance with a proposal its ethnic groups cannot accept. The very stability the regime seeks will continue to be elusive until a peaceable solution can be found through dialogue.

Finally, we have urged Burma’s senior leadership to abide by its own commitment to fully comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1874. Recent developments call into question that commitment. I have asked the Burmese leadership to work with the United States and others to put into place a transparent process to assure the international community that Burma is abiding by its international commitments. Without such a process, the United States maintains the right to take independent action within the relevant frameworks established by the international community.

Although we are profoundly disappointed by the response of the Burmese leadership, I remain inspired by those outside the government with whom I met. I admire the resolve of Burma’s ethnic groups that wish to live in peace and to have a representative stake in the future of their own country. I respect the difficult decision Burma’s political parties have taken regarding the upcoming elections. Some have decided to participate, some will not. It is the right of a free people to make those decisions for themselves, and the United States respects their decisions.

I would like to take a moment to applaud the leaders of the National League for Democracy – a political party that has struggled for more than two decades to improve the lives of the Burmese people – with whom I held a lengthy meeting. Although having been denied a legal framework in which to operate by the regime’s own flawed rules, its leadership remains committed to working on behalf of and for the Burmese people. The United States will continue to stand behind all those working to support Burma’s people, including the National League for Democracy, however it may constitute itself in the future.

Finally, I was again moved by the perseverance and the commitment Aung San Suu Kyi has shown to the cause of a more just and benevolent Burma and to the Burmese people themselves. She has demonstrated compassion and tolerance for her captors in the face of repeated indignities. It is simply tragic that Burma’s generals have rebuffed her countless appeals to work together to find a peaceable solution for a more prosperous future.

The strength and resilience of those who struggle continue to inspire us. The United States stands by the Burmese people in their desire for a more democratic, prosperous, and peaceful nation.


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