While most countries use their presidency in the United Nations Security Council to visit war zones and pivotal peacekeeping missions around the globe, the United States ambassador, Kelly Knight Craft, is taking her counterparts to her home state of Kentucky in December.
The Security Council will be traveling to what is often called the “Horse Capital of the World” from Dec. 13-15, and the Council will also go to Washington, D.C., earlier in the month. All participating members will pay for their own travel and lodging, according to the US mission to the UN.
Confirming the trip, Knight Craft’s office said, “The visit will provide an important opportunity for Council members to strengthen their relationships outside the daily diplomatic bustle in New York, and deepen their understanding of America’s richly diverse communities and the values that shape the American worldview and American policy.”
Knight Craft will be sitting in the monthly rotating presidency of the Council in December. This is her first time in that role since she became US envoy to the UN in September, succeeding Nikki Haley, who resigned one year ago. Knight Craft was until recently the US ambassador to Canada, appointed by President Trump. She comes from a rural town in southern Kentucky, called Glasgow, but has spent much of her adult life in Lexington, a metropolis in the north and home to the University of Kentucky, her alma mater.
Council ambassadors will undoubtedly enjoy the warm hospitality of the American South, and the trip is meant to be part of the Council’s new mode of operation — gathering informally away from the UN, such as on Long Island — to get to know one another.
The Council journeyed to China last year, when the country had the presidency, but its purpose was vague. Some media called the visit a form of “tourism.”
In 2018, Haley had also planned a Council trip to Charleston, in her home state of South Carolina, while she was ambassador to the UN, but a hurricane canceled that venture.
According to a UN expert, other governments have organized similar informal trips in the past. “Over the years, some other governments have invited the Council members to visit their countries,” the person said. “However, my guess is that the other governments would be more likely to characterize those visits as an informal retreat.” For example, the Council traveled to the Dominican Republic earlier this year for an unofficial trip, as the country is a current elected member.
The trip to Kentucky reflects the US agenda at the UN and President Trump’s nationalist administration, but it is also a way for Knight Craft to get to know her new colleagues in the Council. Fellow diplomats say Knight Craft seems dedicated to the job, but that she is in a steep learning process. As such, taking the Council to her home state could help her to bond with other ambassadors, but it’s not apparent how the trip will help build peace and security abroad.
She and her husband, Joe Craft III, are multimillion-dollar donors to Republican Party bigwigs, including to the Trump campaign in 2016 and to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader and fellow Kentuckian. Kentucky is divided somewhat evenly between Democrats and Republican voters, and a new governor narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in November, fighting a hotly contested election that Trump tried to buoy for Matt Bevin, unsuccessfully. The winner, Andy Beshear, is said to be friendly with Knight Craft.
Knight Craft was sworn in as US ambassador on Sept. 12, after the position had been empty for nine months. Since then, she co-led an October Council trip to South Sudan, organized by the South African mission to the UN. She has also delivered many declarations on behalf of the US government in the Council, from humanitarian issues in Syria to the political challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and she has held a few press encounters. But she has only taken one or two questions from reporters afterward.
There is little precedent for a US ambassador taking the Security Council to a US state. In the last few months, diplomats have gone overseas to Colombia, where a UN mission is monitoring the peace deal there (the trip was organized by Peru); France and Germany hosted a trip to Mali and Burkina Faso, in the heart of the troubled Sahel region; and Equatorial Guinea took the Council to Ivory Coast and Guinea-Bissau, where the former country has emerged from a civil war and the latter is embroiled in election delays. Kuwait also used its presidency to showcase Kuwait-Iraqi relations and post-conflict recovery. The terms of reference for the Kuwait-Iraq trip aligned with Security Council priorities. (Under Kuwait, the Council also traveled to Bangladesh to see the Rohingya refugee camps.)
Another similarity to the Kentucky trip is the one to China, which invited the Council to the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou in November 2018 to prove “China’s support for peacekeeping.” (It has a standby peacekeeping force, based near Beijing, set up for UN use but so far has done nothing.) China called the 2018 trip a “side event” rather than a formal trip, which means Beijing paid for it, not the UN.
According to the UN expert, “For the UN to have paid, there would have needed to be a published letter from the Council President to the SG [secretary-general], setting out the terms of reference, which is the customary vehicle for releasing budgetary funds for such missions.”
This article was updated to reflect confirmation by the US mission to the UN about the Council trip.
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.