WASHINGTON, D.C. — Strong American leadership at the United Nations would greatly enhance President-elect Trump’s foreign policy agenda. United States investment in the UN is an effective use of taxpayer dollars to serve the US military, diplomatic, economic and national security interests. UN peacekeepers, for example, cost one-eighth the expenses of US boots on the ground. And history shows that US leadership is critical to the UN’s efficiency and usefulness.
Combating terrorism and defeating ISIS and its metastasizing clones is clearly a top priority of the new administration. Yet failing and failed states remain breeding grounds for terrorism. Instead of sending US troops to places like Somalia, Lebanon, Mali, South Sudan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or asking the US military to engage in nation-building, UN peacekeepers are employed at a much lower cost. That is why 125,000 peacekeepers are currently operating in 16 conflict and post-conflict zones on four continents — the world’s largest military deployment.
UN peacekeepers are often undertrained, underequipped and, in some instances, have been charged with sexual abuse and negligence. Yet they are being held more accountable through stricter regulations, and the UN is committed to improving standards of conduct. With strong US, European and NATO advisers and support, peacekeepers can be an important force securing peace in conflict zones and helping to reconstruct nations in peace-building processes.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, the US can veto any peacekeeping mission; shape its authorization and mandate and exercise regular oversight. Lasting peace can be sustained through the collaborative work of the UN, regional organizations and member states by mediating disputes and building sustainable democratic institutions under the rule of law. If Trump wants to strengthen US security and make America safe, this is a significant way to do so around the globe.
UN specialized agencies harmonize global standards and ensure cooperative working relationships that advance US national security interests. Instead of negotiating separately with 193 countries bilaterally, the US can protect its citizens and enhance our economy most efficiently by establishing global safety and security standards in air travel, enforcing fair and balanced trade agreements, facilitating global telecommunications and postal services, protecting food security, containing pandemics and communicable diseases and forecasting tsunamis and hurricanes as well as fighting human trafficking, narcotics trade, counterfeiting and the sale of antiquities to fund terrorist organizations.
At any given moment, 30 ships at sea, 70 aircraft in the sky and 5,000 trucks on the ground enable the World Food Program to deliver food, much of it the beneficence of US agricultural productivity, to 90 million people in 80 countries, reducing the threat of instability in failed and failing states. The UN provides humanitarian assistance to people devastated by natural or manmade disasters and to 70 million refugees and displaced persons, mitigating the harsh effects of global instability. The UN vaccinates over half the world’s children, reducing the threat of communicable diseases that override sovereign borders.
If Trump seeks a better working relationship with Russia, the Security Council is a continuing deliberative forum that can facilitate this cooperation, although Syria is a gross example of the failure of unity among the council, with no consensus in sight.
Nevertheless, in October, Russia and the US and other members of the Security Council agreed to select the next UN secretary-general, António Guterres, the first former head of government to hold that position. He starts on Jan. 1. On many issues Russia, China and the US work together — for example, in supporting the Colombian peace agreement with the government and the FARC terrorists; opposing the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; and imposing sanctions on Iran and North Korea. The UN has helped to resolve dozens of conflicts in Asia, Africa and Central and South America, including in Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Haiti, Namibia and Mozambique.
Addressing the systemic causes of conflict and terrorism requires collaborations to raise global standards of living and economic opportunity. In the words of the 2016 Republican Party Platform, “Foreign assistance is a critical tool for advancing America’s security and economic interests by preventing conflicts, building stability, opening markets for private investment and responding to suffering and need with the compassion that is at the heart of our country’s values.”
Over the last 15 years, under the Millennium Development Goals, extreme poverty was reduced by 50 percent and infant and maternal deaths by 60 percent. The proportion of girls and boys in elementary school increased from 40 to 85 percent, and deaths from diseases like malaria, polio, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis were dramatically reduced.
In September 2015, 193 nations in the UN General Assembly agreed to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which envision private sector/civil society partnerships to create jobs and economic progress, eliminate extreme poverty and promote good governance and the rule of law. If the goals are carried out, US leadership will help to address the underlying causes of conflict, terrorism and the refugee and migration crises as well as serve, in the words of the Republican Party platform again, as a “catalyst for private sector investment to fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law and create new markets for American goods and services in a competitive global economy.”
American dues to the regular UN budget are $621 million annually, and the US pays about $2.4 billion for peacekeeping, out of a $4 trillion total US budget, less than a 10th of 1 percent. Beyond that, voluntary contributions of dollars and expertise are given to UN programs that serve the US national interest.
When the US leads at the UN, real progress is made, and US national security is advanced.
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Donald T. Bliss is the president of the United Nations Association-National Capital Area, in Washington D.C. From 2006-2009, he was the American ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations-affiliated entity, based in Montreal; and from 1977-2006, he practiced law at O’Melveney & Myers in Washington. He has a law degree from Harvard and a bachelor in arts degree from Principia College in Elsah, Ill.