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The US Should Invest More in the UN, a Report Says


Danish peacekeepers in South Lebanon, playing Legos with local schoolchildren.

The influential Council on Foreign Relations has joined the chorus of those who say the United States can no longer afford to act alone when trying to resolve crises across the globe. As the world witnesses a decline  in wars between nations as well as  intrastate conflicts, a new report from the Council advises the U.S. to take more advantage of international and regional organizations to find long-lasting solutions to simmering problems that can boil over into bloodshed and destruction.

The U.S. should also use such tools as international norms and treaties, like disarmament compacts, to attain peace, thereby strengthening these means at the same time. The report singled out, for example, the relative success of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which it said had “gained increasing traction” most recently in forestalling full-scale civil war in Libya this year. (Though it also said the doctrine needed to be revisited.)

In addition, the report advised the U.S. to consider joining the International Criminal Court, a body that had been mostly shunned by the White House until President Bush supported its involvement in Darfur. The Obama administration has been active with the court, but the U.S.  is still not a member because ratification of the court’s founding treaty is vigorously opposed by Republicans in Congress.

The Council on Foreign Relations report,  “Partners in Preventative Action,” was written by two of its fellows, Paul B. Stares and Micah Zenko ( The emphasis is how the U.S. can turn its powerful influence in foreign affairs toward encouraging policies of good governance and economic viability in unstable areas by supporting  international and local groups with similar aims.

Some of the  “partners” working for world peace include the United Nations, European Union, African Union, Organization of American States and Association of Southeast Nations. By using established as well as smaller vital organizations (the Arab League, for one), the U.S. and other parties striving for world peace, the report stated, share a “platform for developing and enforcing international norms; provide a source of legitimacy for diplomatic and military efforts; and aggregate the operational resources of their members, all of which can increase the ease and effectiveness of American peacemaking efforts.”

It sounds simple enough, but taking a comprehensive, inclusive approach by relying more on outside bodies while helping to build them up takes time, energy and money, all of which is in short supply these days in the U.S. and in many  countries in Europe.

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Yet the report points out that well-known and fledgling regional and institutional groups, from weak partners (the African Standby Force of the African Union) to highly organized ones (NATO), can spread the burden of expensive peacemaking costs and time-consuming efforts among as many reliable partners as possible. This approach enables success (or failure) to be attributed to several parties, essentially letting the U.S. off the hook if things go wrong. Think of it as good p.r.

The report first recommends that the U.S. start by cooperating more closely with the UN, since it is “the only international organization with a global mandate to prevent and resolve armed conflict . . .  has the most established set of arrangements, deployable assets, and qualified personnel for this purpose.”

Particularly, the U.S. should help strengthen the UN’s Political Affairs Department, which has been run by an American under secretary-general, R. Lynn Pascoe, since 2007. The department acts as a cabinet to the secretary-general – the UN’s State Department, more or less – and is called upon to assess situations where conflicts are brewing or nations have been left in ashes. It aims to set up or smooth out electoral processes and give advice on governance and economic institutions, often in tandem with the UN Development Program. Most recently, Pascoe’s department has been mandated to install a short-term political mission in Libya to assist the interim leaders of the Transitional National Council to build a democratic society and to provide humanitarian aid.

But as the Council report notes, U.S. contributions to the UN, amounting to 22 percent of the total budget, making the U.S. the largest donor over all, are not enough to complete the goals of the Department of Political Affairs, which has an annual budget of $248 million. Its mediation unit, for example, remains under-resourced. Yet now is the time to invest more in UN operations concentrated on peacemaking, and though the authors acknowledge that the U.S. Congress is gripped in a tough budget environment, the White House can consider voluntary contributions that would flow to specific programs and thereby encourage more openness in how the money is spent, like the $2 million that seeded the UN’s special representative on sexual violence and conflict in 2010, an office currently run by Margot Wallstrom, a Swede.

As the U.S. continues to try to prevent conflicts and ensure stability around the world, it must refine its strategies in these areas by working more closely with other global institutions. That way, American foreign-policy goals can be achieved without the U.S. bankrupting its own coffers and spilling its own blood. In Washington, skeptics who dismiss such an approach can be turned around through advocacy “at the highest levels of the U.S. government,” the report says, along with commitments from other regional players. The U.S. can no longer afford to act alone.



Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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