Since President Trump’s inauguration, many in Washington and beyond have awaited a clear articulation of the new Administration’s global vision. Recent proposals have emerged showing the Administration’s desire to cut the foreign affairs budget by as much as 37 percent, eviscerating programs that many in the national security and international development community know are vital to U.S. global leadership and interests.
Yet just two weeks ago, before a Joint Session of Congress, President Trump himself described a vision of U.S. foreign policy that is aligned with – and enabled by – multinational engagement and much of the work the United Nations is doing today.
It remains to be seen which vision will win out. But given the President’s own remarks, I hope he, and Congress, will see that an effective United Nations makes the U.S. safer, richer, and stronger.
In his remarks, President Trump stated that “Our foreign policy calls for direct, robust, and meaningful engagement with the world. It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe.” In one sentence, Mr. Trump summarized the UN Charter and acknowledged that we are stronger when we engage and more influential when we lead.
For 70 years, the UN has been the leading venue for America’s engagement with the world. It is where we leverage our shared security interests to maximum effect. Our partnerships at the UN help fight terrorism and stamp out violent extremism. With our support, UN missions work to stabilize fragile states, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Columbia. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime counters transnational organized crime and drug trafficking and is a leader in the global fight against trafficking in persons.
Through the UN, the world is better equipped to verify Iran’s compliance with nuclear weapon restrictions and effectively respond to global health emergencies like the Zika virus.
In his speech, President Trump also said that he expects our allies, “whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific – to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost.” He is absolutely right.
When we pursue our interests through the UN, its mandatory contributions allow us to share the financial burden of responding to global crises and challenges with other countries. At the UN today, nearly 80 percent of the cost of non-peacekeeping efforts are borne by other nations. And other nations contribute more than 70 percent and nearly all of the troops for UN peacekeeping operations. By encouraging collective action and burden sharing, the UN saves American taxpayers the billions of dollars required to solve these issues than if we were to tackle them on our own.
While self-evident, it was reassuring to hear our President state, “We know that America is better off, when there is less conflict – not more.” The United Nations was created out of the ashes of World War II for precisely that purpose. Our leadership within the body helps ensure that the world has an inclusive venue for cooperation and the skills and resources necessary to manage crises before they devolve into violence. The UN helps countries tackle some of the underlying factors that lead to conflict – including poverty and inequality. In addition, each day UN peacekeepers demobilize combatants, facilitate humanitarian aid, protect civilians, and create conditions for political reconciliation, and free and fair elections. Decades of peacekeeping research has shown this spadework is quite effective in preventing conflicts from reigniting.
Regrettably, more than 65 million people today have been driven from their homes by war or persecution—the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II—and President Trump was right in saying “the only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long process of rebuilding.” But the U.S. should not be solely burdened with this responsibility. And it isn’t – the UN is on the frontlines in responding to these crises and providing life-saving assistance every day. Agencies like the World Food Program, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF are vital first responders in helping the victims of famine, conflict, and natural disasters.
The next four years will require an unprecedented level of U.S. engagement in order to promote, as President Trump said, “harmony and stability, not war and conflict.” From mitigating regional conflicts and responding to humanitarian crises, to preventing global pandemics and addressing the long-term threat of climate change, a strong UN is what we need today, led by the United States and supported by all nations. It is a smart investment in a safe and prosperous future for America and the world.