Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s nominee to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations, appeared in a confirmation hearing on January 18 lasting more than three hours in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She introduced herself in an address to members that was both autobiographical — the daughter of immigrants — and political.
Acknowledging her neophyte standing in international affairs, she announced at the outset: “Like most government agencies, the United Nations could benefit from a fresh set of eyes. I will take an outsider’s look at the institution as I have in every challenge in my life, I will come to the UN to work and to work smart.”
Her testimony and answers to senators’ questions revealed throughout the three hours that she intends to work most closely with the Trump national security team, which is led by Michael Flynn, a controversial retired general who has been seen as a conspiracy theorist in the past, focusing on distrust of Muslims. Haley will be a member of the National Security Council, she told the committee.
When the hearing turned to questions from committee members, led by the chairman, Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, and Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top-ranking Democrat, their approaches to the UN reflected dramatically different political positions. Corker accused the UN of failing to live up to its founding peace and security mandate and went on to insult publicly the former secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, saying, “For me it was hard to determine if [he]even had a pulse when big issues were being dealt with by the world.”
Cardin commended the UN “for the unsung good that it is does.” Challenging critics on the right who would deny American funds for the organization or withdraw from all or parts of it, he added that “it is almost impossible to imagine a world without the UN.”
Hearing begins at 24 minutes and 38 seconds
Stepping into this partisan divide, Haley, the governor of South Carolina, who has scant international experience, was asked to discuss her priorities as US envoy and her attitudes toward the UN and global issues. Her replies sometimes tempered or broke with Trump’s recent pronouncements. Here are excerpts of what she said:
On Russia and the US in the UN Security Council: Russia’s going to be at the forefront of a lot of issues that we have to deal with. Russia is trying to show their muscle right now. It is what they do, and I think we always have to be cautious. I don’t think that we can trust them. We have to try and see what we can get from them before we give to them. They certainly have done terrible atrocities, when you look at things in Syria, and how they are working with Iran. . . . I think we need to let them know we are not O.K. with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria.
Support for continuing or expanding sanctions on Russia? What I believe is important is that we get together with the National Security Council [in the White House] and the president-elect and we decide on a plan for Russia: what we expect from them . . . what violations will trigger additional sanctions — and when we say it, we should do it and follow through with it.
Do you believe Russia committed war crimes in Aleppo? Yes, I do.
Proposals to register Muslims in the US: The administration and I don’t think there should be any registry based on religion. I think what we need to do is make sure that we know exactly which countries are a threat, which ones have terrorism, and those are the ones we need to watch and be careful, and vet as we go forward in terms of who comes into the country.
Do you have a game plan for UN reform, for fixing the UN? It is what I have done all my life. I love to fix things, and I see a UN that can absolutely be fixed.
Peacekeeping: We have 16 peacekeeping operations. Some are very successful. Some are not, and we need to go back and look at when we get into a mission, what is the end goal. Is it happening? . . . If you look at Sierra Leone, you see it started off rocky but ended up very strong. If we look at South Sudan, it’s terrible, but you also have to look that we’re not getting cooperation from their own government. . . . I see peacekeeping reform from the standpoint of not just those issues — also when it comes to whistleblower issues [in peacekeeping]. We’ve seen fraud. We’ve seen sexual exploitation. We’ve seen corruption of all kinds, and the whistleblower protections are not strong enough. People are still too afraid to speak up. We need to make sure that the countries that are contributing troops hold those troops accountable when they make these violations. . . . They need to understand that if we have to pull out those countries troops altogether we will do that, because many of those countries actually make money out of peacekeeping missions.
US funding of the UN: I think we need to go into every part of the organizations of the UN, but one in particular that you can look at is the Human Rights Council, and you really have to question what is the goal of the Human Rights Council when they allow Cuba and China to serve on those. They basically are protecting their own interests while they’re going after other countries to make sure that they give them a hard time. Do we want to be part of that? Do we want to leverage funding for that and say that we don’t want to do that? We’ve done that with Unesco before. . . . We’ve also got decisions to make on those types of organizations, and so I do think it [funding] could be leveraged. I do think it’s something we can be open about, and it’s something I look forward to exploring further.
US abstention on Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements: What happened with Resolution 2334], it basically said that being an ally to the United States doesn’t mean anything, and if we are a strong ally, and we always stand with them, more countries will want to be our allies and those that challenge us will think twice before they challenge us. What we saw with 2334 was it not only sent a bad signal to Israel, it also told the entire world that we don’t stand with anyone, and I think that was a terrible mistake, and we have to come out strong. We have to be incredibly vocal.
Should the US withhold dues to the UN because of Resolution 2334? I absolutely understand the frustration over Resolution 2334, but I think it’s important that we are strategic. . . . Yes, I do think there are times where you can withhold dues [but] I don’t think you should slash and cut across the board because I don’t think that will accomplish the goal.
Should the US move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Absolutely. Not only is that what Israel wants, but this Congress has also said that’s what they support.
Should there be serious consequences when territorial sovereignty is violated? I believe it’s up to the circumstances. . . . With every situation it is important that we discuss it with the National Security Council, with the president-elect and we have a plan. What we don’t want is kneejerk reactions.
Her priorities at the UN: I think the biggest part is how we represent America going forward. We need to represent our country from a position of strength. We need to remind the rest of the world that we are the moral compass of the world . . . that when we say something that’s where we stand, and when we say something we’re going to follow through and do that.
Given reproductive needs of women and girls in refugee camps, do you support continued funding for UNFPA [UN Population Fund]? I will support any efforts that help educate, help plan, help them know what contraceptives are in place, so that we can avoid any further action. I am strongly pro-life, so that anything that we can do to keep from having abortions or to keep them [women] from not knowing what is available I will absolutely support.
Have policies regarding the UN been discussed with Trump? We basically discussed the international situation and I think the president-elect is coming in with a fresh set of eyes. He wants to look at each and every country. He wants to look at all of the threats that face us, and I think he wants to work with the National Security Council to come up with a plan with each and every one.
Will Trump’s dismissive tweets on long-held US foreign policies have negative consequences? I think what the president-elect has put out there are his opinions as they stand now. What I do think is going to happen is that I will look forward to communicating to him how I feel, as I know the rest of the National Security Council does as well. It is important that we have alliances and I know the president-elect realizes that. It is important that we create coalitions, and I know that he realizes that as well, and so his comments are coming from the fact that he really does have a fresh set of eyes, that he really is looking at those things. But my job is not just at the UN. My job is to come back to the National Security Council and let them know what I know, which is I want to bring back faith to the UN, to show that we can be a strong voice in the UN. I want to show that we can make progress and have action in the UN. That’s going to happen from my actions, and things that I do, and that’s how I will show him that the UN matters.
What if China seeks to increase its power in the Security Council at US expense? I have talked to the president-elect about that, and when this position [of ambassador] came up, he said he wanted to have a very strong voice at the UN and he wanted us to have a higher profile at the UN and to really use it to work. . . . What I’ll tell you from my standpoint, I think that we need to go back to what the UN was intended to be. . . . We host the UN and that should give us great leverage in the way we handle that. We’re going to be dealing with some tough partners on the Security Council, whether it’s China or whether it’s Russia — those that do veto. But we have to remember that we also have a veto, so we can keep bad things from happening. The other side of that is, we still need both countries. We’re going to need their help. We’re going to need China when it comes to North Korea. We need Russia’s help when it comes to ISIS. . . . We should tell them exactly what the end goal is and how we need to work with them — and the way we will get these vetoes not to happen is to show how it’s in their best interests for their country, to make sure that they don’t do that.
Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.