Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, testified on April 2 before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Appropriations for State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs — on the financing of the UN. (The US remains the single-largest financial contributor to the UN.) Power, who became ambassador in 2013, spoke about making the UN more financially disciplined, ending the organization’s anti-Israel bias, promoting human rights and peacekeeping missions. Here is her testimony:
Thank you so much Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Lowey, Congressmen; thank you for the invitation to testify. I am really delighted to have this chance to talk with you about the pressing challenges that you have alluded to and our country’s leadership at the United Nations and beyond.
Madam Chairwoman, at my confirmation hearing last summer, I pledged to work vigorously for a UN that would advance America’s stake in global stability; operate with greater efficiency; eliminate anti-Israeli bias; and contribute to universal human rights. My full statement outlines the steps that we have taken in each of these areas, but to honor your time, I will today confine my remarks to five key points.
First, I respectfully but strongly urge you to support full funding for the administration’s request for a new peacekeeping response mechanism and for the CIPA, CIO and IO&P accounts [US State Department’s Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities, Contributions to International Organizations and International Organizations and Program accounts]. I recognize, and you both have alluded to this, that your consideration of the FY15 budget comes at a time when both the Administration and Congress are committed, rightly, to fiscal restraint. I am acutely mindful of the very difficult budget climate we are in and, in particular, the extraordinary sacrifices being made by American taxpayers every day. You are making difficult choices about what to fund and what to cut.
The United Nations — and our financial support to it — must receive rigorous scrutiny. Recognizing the need for restraint in spending, but also conscious of the very real value these resources provide, we ask for your support because: the UN and other international organizations enable our country to address diverse problems around the world at a cost and a risk far lower than if we acted on our own. We are the world’s leading power and the primary architect of the international system, which continues to benefit the United States and the American people. Our citizens will do better and be safer in a world where rules are observed, prosperity is increasing, human suffering is alleviated, and threats to our well-being are contained. The United Nations is an indispensable partner in all of this. And if you allow me in the discussion period, I will go into greater detail on the specific funding request.
Second, the State Department and the US mission will continue to press and press hard, in much the same way you have Madam Chairwoman, for UN reform. This past December, I personally presented the case for financial discipline to the committee that handles the organization’s regular budget. I am pleased that the United States has kept the UN budget to near zero real growth since the 2010-2011 biennium. We have also secured UN progress in reducing staff, freezing pay, cutting waste, increasing transparency, and strengthening oversight of peacekeeping operations. Much more needs to be done and much more can be done. With your support, we will continue our work to make the UN more effective, efficient, transparent, and accountable.
Third, we are fighting every day — on numerous fronts — to end the bias against Israel that has long pervaded the UN system. With our help, Israel has in recent months become a full member of two groups from which they had long been excluded — the Western European and Others Group [WEOG] in Geneva and what is called the JUSCANZ human rights caucus in New York [a consultative body to the UN Human Rights Council]. These groups are where much of the behind-the-scenes coordination takes place for UN meetings, leadership assignments and votes, and the United States and Israel had tried for years to break down the barriers that were blocking Israel’s entry to both groupings. These milestones would perhaps seem less consequential if they had not been so unjustifiably delayed. Slowly, but surely, we are chipping away at obstacles and biases. Israel’s inclusion sends a powerful message to those striving to isolate or delegitimize the Jewish state; and that message is “You will not succeed.”
The United States will stand with Israel, we will defend it, and we will challenge every instance of unfair treatment throughout the UN system. Let me also add, given reports yesterday of new Palestinian actions that both of you have referenced, that this solemn commitment also extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral actions in the international arena, including on Palestinian statehood, that circumvent or prejudge the very outcomes that can only come about through a negotiated settlement. If I may, Madam Chairwoman, again, I would like to come back to this troubling issue in the discussion period, if I could.
Fourth, I ask the subcommittee’s full support for UN peace operations. From Haiti to Lebanon to sub-Saharan Africa, our country has a deep and abiding interest in restoring stability, mitigating conflict, and combatting terrorism. Multilateral peace operations enable us to do so in a cost-effective manner in such strife-torn countries as South Sudan, Somalia, the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], and Mali as well as in transitioning counties critical to U.S. interests such as Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. Since the President submitted his budget on March 4, owing to a sharply deteriorating security environment in the Central African Republic, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has in fact recommended the rapid deployment of a new UN mission to protect civilians.
The emergency in the Central African Republic — and our view that a peacekeeping mission is, in fact, required because of the acute security needs — highlights the value of a peacekeeping response mechanism of the type that we have proposed to deal with contingencies arising outside the regular budget cycle. But at the same time the real world is presenting catastrophic humanitarian emergencies like this one to which it is in the US national interest to respond. We are rigorously reviewing all UN missions, and urging the UN to do so as well. We know the importance of reducing or closing missions where conditions on the ground permit and when host governments have the capability — and must find the will — to manage their own affairs, particularly after many yearlong deployments by the United Nations. In our view, peacekeeping activities are often essential, but they need not be eternal.
Finally, we are striving to mobilize the UN as a vehicle for the promotion of human dignity and human rights, and a forum in which the United States can continue to stand up to repressive regimes. With the strong backing of many in Congress, including all of you here today, we have exposed Russian duplicity in Ukraine; fought back against the global crackdown on civil society; provided a platform for the victims of repression in North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and elsewhere; and pursued such vital objectives as universal access to education, an end to gender-based violence, support for religious liberty, and the defeat of HIV/AIDS.
Madam Chairwoman, for almost 70 years, American leaders have found it in our interests to participate actively in the United Nations and other international organizations. In this era of seemingly nonstop turbulence, diverse threats, and border-shrinking technologies, we can accrue significant benefit from an institution that seeks every day to prevent conflict, promote development, and protect human rights. For these reasons, I again urge your favorable consideration of our 2015 budget requests. To close on a personal note, I consider it both an enormous honor and a great responsibility to sit behind America’s placard at the UN. And a big part of that privilege and that responsibility is the chance to work closely with you, as the guardians of America’s purse and representatives of the American people — to ensure that our national interests are well served. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have, including some you already posed.
Thank you Madam Chairwoman.
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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.