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The U.S. Role in the United Nations

The U.S. Role in the United Nations

The U.S. Role in the United Nations

Kim R. Holmes, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs
Remarks Before the Defense Orientation Conference Association
Burke, Virginia
October 31, 2003

I am pleased to speak to you about the U.S. role in the United Nations. Since last year, we ve had quite a roller coaster ride in the Security Council over Iraq. Personally, I ll never forget sitting with Secretary Powell in the Council chamber on February 5th. That s the day he gave his presentation on Iraq s noncompliance with 17 prior Security Council resolutions. I remember looking around and thinking how historic, and intensely dramatic, the moment was.

Sitting in that room were foreign ministers from the most powerful and influential nations on earth. Saddam Hussein s Permanent Representative for Iraq sat just two seats away from us. Everyone was tense with anticipation. This, I thought, is what the United Nations should be, and frankly what it was intended to be: Great nations seriously debating great issues, with the world watching.

The Security Council s work is intense and contentious; it has to be. The Council is in the business of responding to crises and crisis management. The stakes of action, and inaction, are high. But on that day when the United States laid out its case for enforcing the consequences called for in Resolution 1441 its work was more intense than usual.

And though the debate that day did not turn out as some of us would have liked, it did highlight the tremendous efforts we and other nations take to ensure the Security Council is not merely relevant, but central to matters of international peace and security. Weeks later, when the Council came back together to unanimously pass Resolution 1483, lifting sanctions on Iraq and affirming the authority of the U.S.-led coalition, the world seemed to sigh in relief.

Since then, we have secured additional good resolutions on Iraq, including a victory this month Resolution 1511 which was adopted unanimously even though almost everyone had predicted failure. This victory required intense multilateral diplomacy, from the Secretary on down. It showed that the Administration, far from unilateralist, is one of the most proactive in recent memory in engaging the United Nations.

Our opponents have tried to tell the world that this resolution was not a victory. But the unity among Security Council members the consensus that it was time to put the past behind us to focus on the needs of the Iraqi people was crystal clear. More than just a victory for us, it was a victory for the Iraqi people and the UN. It showed what the Security Council can do when politics and narrow national interests are put aside for the greater common good. The victory was reinforced by the outcome at the Donor s Conference last week; commitments far exceeded most expectations.

Still, the rancor that characterized much of our interaction with the UN over Iraq has led many to ask why, why do we continue to go to the United Nations when it so often appears that its operating principle is to oppose us, no matter what. That is a fair question.

The answer is that the United States Government, which helped to found the United Nations, remains committed to it both in principle and in practice. This is true whether we are talking about the Security Council and Iraq, counterterrorism, peacekeeping in the Congo or Liberia, humanitarian relief, the Commission on Human Rights, or the work of the UN s specialized agencies.

The bottom line is that we recognize that neither the United States, with all its wealth and military power, nor the United Nations with its universal membership can solve the world s problems alone. If the United Nations did not exist today, we would try to create it. It may not look the same, but an international forum like it makes sense both from a diplomatic standpoint, and from a national security standpoint. Working within the UN system helps us better leverage our political, financial, and military capabilities, so as to be ready to respond to any new challenges that arise.

That is not to say that the U.S. Government thinks the UN is fine as it is. Far from it. The system is huge, costly, cumbersome, and vastly ineffective in many areas. Too many programs that began with the best intentions have outlived their usefulness. The General Assembly spends months debating, negotiating, and voting for the same resolutions, year after year. Members are elected to UN bodies when, properly, they should be sanctioned by those bodies.

The organization is in need of new thinking. It is in need of reform. The best way we have found to help shape the organization, its policies, and its programs is to stay fully engaged. Our role, as the largest contributor to the United Nations, is to lead, to stand firm on principle, to commit our time and talent and expertise to end oppression, conflicts, and humanitarian crises. To be frank, this is what countries expect of us.

It is true in the Security Council. It is true in the Economic and Social Council. It is true in the budget and legal committees, and the technical and specialized agencies. It is also true in UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, from which we withdrew 19 years ago when we determined it had violated its mandate. And it is true in our return this year to UNESCO this year, after finding it had made significant changes to its policies and management.

The principles of our engagement are quite simple. First, we want the UN to live up to the vision of its founders, whether it is getting countries to help us end the scourge of terrorism, stop civil wars, uphold their obligations under UN Security Council resolutions, or help stop global crises like HIV/AIDS and SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome].

It is why we took the unprecedented step of calling for a vote in the Human Rights Commission when it looked like Libya would win the chair s seat by secret ballot. We lost that battle; Libya was elected chair of the Commission. But standing on principle there was worth it. Since then, many people and influential NGOs [non-governmental organizations] began taking a serious look at the procedures that allowed this flaunting of principle to occur, and many are calling for reforms of the CHR [Commission on Human Rights]. One day, we hope it can once again become the foremost international body contributing to the protection of human rights.

Our second principle is that we want multilateralism that is effective -- that is more than just words on paper. We want good results, whether it is in refugee relief, setting aviation and maritime standards, increasing literacy, or providing new textbooks that teach tolerance, not hatred.

Finally, we seek good stewardship of the UN s vast resources. We take seriously the Secretary-General s call to the General Assembly members this year to dedicate themselves to improving the system.

These principles infuse our priorities at the UN. For example, when we promote counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, and effective peacekeeping missions, we demonstrate our desire to preserve peace and strengthen security. Americans want the UN to be most effective in this area. It is why we contribute 27 percent of the costs of UN peacekeeping. It is why we contributed 25.8 percent of the budget of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2002, to ensure safe and peaceful application of nuclear energy, and to prevent the illicit use of nuclear material for weapons.

Another priority is to help those in desperate need. We lead the way in contributions to UN humanitarian and refugee relief efforts. We remain the largest donor to the World Food Program, contributing 51.4 percent of its budget to help feed 72 million people in 82 countries. We also contribute 25 percent to the budget of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. And the President has placed a priority on motivating the international community to increase its commitments to fighting HIV/AIDS.

We place a priority as well on promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, and sustainable development. To advance development, we are working in the UN to change the way it dispenses advice about economic policies and aid. We have made considerable progress in this area. The Monterrey Consensus was the seminal breakthrough. Public and private sector leaders agreed that, while they all have a role to play, developing countries hold primary responsibility for their own development. And good governance is key. If we get the process right, we will liberate the energies of people and mobilize all the resources available to help development take root, and thrive.

None of these efforts can fully succeed, however, if the UN does not become more efficient with the vast resources the world gives it. Its proposed budget has surpassed $3 billion for the first time this year. Its agencies and commissions will only meet their objectives if they follow this one rule: Remain tightly focused on their technical and specialized missions, and do not veer off into politicized debates. We will continue to work with the UN Secretariat to improve results-based budgeting, best practices, and all the management reforms under consideration.

To give you some examples of how we work within the UN system to achieve good outcomes, I would like to focus on one aspect of our day-to-day engagement that affects national and international security: specifically, peacekeeping. The history of UN peacekeeping missions demonstrates both the capabilities and weaknesses of the United Nations itself. And it is one area that shows how long and hard the U.S. will deliberate bilaterally and multilaterally, and with our allies, on situations involving conflict resolution.

In the recent past, UN missions have generally been good at maintaining ceasefires and in supporting the implementation of peace agreements processes that help end conflicts. The mission in East Timor, for example, helped the Timorese create an interim government, draft and adopt a constitution, hold elections, and become an independent state.

But peace enforcement is another matter. Conflicts where armed forces and real offensive military action are needed, where force will be aligned with one side against another, do not make good candidates for the UN. This was true in Bosnia, where command and control issues proved a critical problem, and in Rwanda, where the Security Council did not have the political and military will to take action.

We believe that, if a Chapter VII intervention in a crisis is warranted, a substantial commitment of resources and personnel by interested parties (such as the U.K. in Sierra Leone and Australia in East Timor) is crucial. The Security Council could authorize multinational forces, coalitions of the willing, to carry out effective military action, such as it did for Desert Storm in Iraq, for INTERFET in East Timor, the French/EU multinational force in the Congo, and the French multinational force in the Ivory Coast.

To succeed, UN peacekeeping operations must have achievable objectives. It is understandable to want to do something when people are dying in large numbers. But we must actually do something that works. The U.S. insists on scrutinizing proposed peacekeeping missions to ensure that they have adequate forces, funding, clear and achievable objectives, and a strategy for ending the mission.

I am pleased that three UN peacekeeping missions closed down this year in Bosnia, on the Prevlaka peninsula, and on the Iraq/Kuwait border. And missions in Sierra Leone and East Timor are reducing both their size and role, moving towards handing over their duties to newly strengthened, democratically elected governments.

We are particularly proud of the close cooperation that occurred in the Security Council regarding the Congo. It is an example of the high level of collaboration among Security Council members regarding many African matters.

Since the outbreak of war there in 1998, where armies from at least seven African countries and several rebel groups pitted themselves against each other, the Security Council sought to play a direct role in resolving the conflict. When we began receiving reports of grave human rights abuses and killings of innocent civilians in the Ituri region of northeastern Congo, we worked closely with France and other Security Council members to authorize, as an interim measure, the Chapter VII, EU-led, multinational force to Bunia. And we collaborated closely to ensure that this interim force would be replaced as quickly as possible with a larger and more robust UN peacekeeping presence, again under Chapter VII mandate, to Ituri and other areas of eastern Congo.

Liberia is the most recent example of bilateral, regional and UN coordination to end a bloody conflict. It is an ambitious program, but one that offers hope to this impoverished country for the first time since 1980.

The U.S. led the way in preparing for the successful deployment of West African, or ECOWAS, peacekeepers to Liberia, and played a key role in producing the Accra Accords. We brokered the rebel withdrawal from Monrovia, opening the way for renewed humanitarian assistance to reach thousands of suffering people. We did this with a small--but crucial--military presence.

We also provided critical support to the UN Mission in Liberia, or UNMIL. We committed over $26 million for transport and logistics and equipment support to the ECOWAS s peacekeeping force, which is now part of UNMIL. We continue to work closely with the Secretary-General s Special Representative, Jacques Klein, an American who is in charge of all UN efforts in Liberia during this transition period.

Afghanistan is another example of how we work with fellow members of the Security Council to promote international peace and security. Operation Enduring Freedom stepped in to eradicate al-Qaeda terrorist cells and training camps in that country, and to defeat the Taliban regime hosting them. As that operation continued, the Security Council authorized the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to provide a secure environment for the development of the fledgling national government in Kabul.

We applaud the North Atlantic Council s recent decision to accept an expansion of the ISAF mandate outside of Kabul. We expect an operational plan for ISAF expansion will be agreed upon in Brussels in the near future. Following that, NATO must identify the necessary contributions from Alliance members.

I give these examples to show the intense work required simply on security matters, let alone all the other matters that the UN takes up. We have often heard that the U.S. acts alone, and is myopically concerned about its own interests. But that is simply untrue. International peace, long-term stability, democracy building, humanitarian relief, human rights are all in our national interest. Reducing hunger and illiteracy are as important to eliminating the hatred that breeds oppression, civil war, and terrorism as standing up any multinational force.

We see the UN as a force multiplier, so to speak, for freedom and stability in the world. Our diplomats work hard to ensure every action that is taken is in the best interests of not only Americans, which is our solemn duty, but also of people everywhere in the world.

As President Bush said this past May, This is America s agenda in the world from the defeat of terror, to the alleviation of disease and hunger, to the spread of human liberty. We welcome, and we need, the help, advice, and wisdom of friends and allies. Thank you.

[End]


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