The role of the United Nations in the debate over the war in Iraq or the oil-for-food scandal often obscures the fact that the U.N. is an indispensable organization that works on the front lines of issues that are central to U.S. interests. As the debate on U.N. reform heats up, here are six reasons Why the U.N. Matters:

  • The U.N. gets us to other goals. The U.N. has credibility and legitimacy in areas of the world where the United States does not, enabling it to play a vital role in conflict resolution and democracy assistance. The U.N. has contributed to the peaceful resolution of conflict in places like Ethiopia and Eritrea, Cambodia, Cyprus, Mozambique, East Timor, Liberia, Guatemala, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Just this past year, without the U.N., the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan would not have come off, and U.S. troops would be facing an even more difficult task in those countries.
  • The U.N. helps prevent nuclear proliferation. The International Atomic Energy Agency is a standing body dedicated to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The IAEA won access to the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs that the US had been otherwise unable to gain. The actions of U.N. weapons inspectors effectively eliminated Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program.
  • U.N. peacekeeping missions are more effective than American missions. A recent study of post-World War II peacekeeping missions by the RAND Corporation concluded that the U.N. was more effective than the U.S. at conducting peacekeeping operations. Since 1948, the U.N. has conducted 59 peacekeeping missions, 18 of which are still in operation. It has over 60,000 troops deployed abroad, collectively the second largest force commitment behind the U.S.
  • The U.N. has embarked on an ambitious plan to eradicate poverty and hunger. In the U.N. Millennium Declaration, world leaders pledged to halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. Wealthy nations have a moral responsibility to assist developing countries in achieving economic success. But it is not just this obligation that should drive this mission, for any stable future international order must be built on a more equitable distribution of prosperity among nations.
  • The U.N. helps disaster victims. The U.N. has saved countless lives through its Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Whether it’s floods in Haiti, droughts in Africa, or tsunami relief in Asia, OCHA has enabled the world to react to natural disasters faster and more effectively, saving thousands of lives and maintaining stability in devastated regions. Even today, OCHA is assisting in the relief and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
  • The U.N. is tackling tomorrow’s problems today. Whether it is working to alleviate poverty, prevent famine, eradicate diseases, improve education and literacy, or address climate change, the U.N. is constantly looking over the horizon to identify and address tomorrow’s problems today. The U.N.’s efforts in these areas not only mitigate potential catastrophes, they make good economic sense, too – eradicating smallpox saves $1 billion a year in vaccinations and monitoring.

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