Congress and the United Nations

Spencer P. Boyer details a strategy for building a stronger U.S.-U.N. relationship and moving forward on reforms.

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The relationship between the United States and the United Nations is in desperate need of repair. Although the United Nations owes its existence to the post-World War II leadership of America and its allies, in recent years the U.S.–U.N. relationship has spiraled downward into one that is too often dysfunctional. While the relationship has never been without tension, having endured Cold War-related polarization and other political disagreements, much of the breakdown has happened over the past decade—with the U.N. Secretariat, U.N. member states, and the U.S. executive and legislative branches all deserving a share of the blame. A significant part of the problem, however, has been the failure of the United States to provide sufficient support and leadership for the world body.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse. The United States needs the United Nations more than ever to help tackle a range of transnational challenges that directly threaten U.S. national security interests. The dire situations in Iraq and Darfur, the continuing threat of global terrorism, the nuclear standoff in Iran, and the ongoing civil strife in Lebanon are just a few of the problems that cannot be adequately addressed without robust United Nations involvement.

Without an engaged and supportive United States, the United Nations will be unable to fulfill its mission. Fundamentally, without a strong and capable United Nations, the United States will be unable to accomplish many of its own strategic objectives.

The good news is that with a new Congress, a new U.N. Secretary-General, and a new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations there is a unique opportunity for positive change in this troubled relationship. While it may be difficult to fully repair U.S.–U.N. relations before a new U.S. administration can make a fresh start in 2009, there are several steps that the 110th Congress can take in the short run to demonstrate leadership and improve relations, thus improving the chances of pushing forward needed U.N. Secretariat, management, and budget reforms that affect U.S. interests.

The recommendations, which this paper will explore in detail, include:

  • paying in full our U.N. peacekeeping and other arrears, which are nearing $1 billion;
  • addressing U.S. funding shortages for U.N.-affiliated international organizations critical to American interests;
  • taking concrete steps to improve U.S. relations with developing countries in the U.N. General Assembly;
  • re-engaging with the world community on important international treaties, such as the Law of the Sea Treaty;
  • re-assessing the U.S. position toward the International Criminal Court;
  • funding and engaging constructively with the U.N.’s newly created Human Rights Council;
  • increasing direct congressional contact with the United Nations; and
  • scheduling regular congressional hearings on U.S.–U.N. relations and U.N. reform progress.

These steps would also lay the groundwork for the next administration to begin its term with a stronger, more productive U.N. that is better able to help the United States meet the global challenges it will face in the coming years.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

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