The naming of Jonathan Moore, a senior United States Foreign Service officer, to the position of Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, signals that in the United Nations’ 75th year, the Trump administration is getting serious.
The move doesn’t mean that the US is increasing support for the organization, of course, or for a robust implementation of the ambitious plans this year to enhance women’s rights agreed in Beijing in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Those promises will be reassessed in March at the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. But to look good, Trump has just resurrected the moribund Obama-era Office of Global Women’s Issues.
Generally, the Trump administration appears to recognize how much power and good will has been slipping from the US in the UN over the last few years. Under Trump, the US has been withdrawing from one after another agency or multilateral body in the UN system. The most important pullback may be from the UN Human Rights Council, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasts of creating new American definitions of human rights with conservative religious overtones, in a group headed by Mary Ann Glendon. She is a Harvard law professor who represented the Vatican at the 1995 Beijing conference.
Russia and China, which like the US have vetoes, can now obstruct American initiatives in the UN Security Council at will. The top US diplomat at the UN — Kelly Craft, the American ambassador to the organization — is a neophyte in a job that was once filled by skilled, experienced people in international affairs. One of Craft’s potential new counterparts, Jennifer Yue Barber, as the US envoy to the UN Economic and Social Council with rank of ambassador, is also from Kentucky and lacks depth for the post.
Another new nominee for the US mission at the UN is Richard Mills Jr. of Texas, to be deputy representative, with the rank of ambassador. A Foreign Service officer, he is the charge d’affaires ad interim of the US embassy in Canada, where until last summer Craft was the US ambassador, under Trump.
The appointment of Moore, an experienced diplomat, as head of the International Organizations (IO) bureau at the State Department is interesting even though the office is not considered important by Republicans in either the White House or the Congress, an assessment that a former prominent UN official also shared.
Anti-abortion extremists in Congress have pushed or legislated significant Republican policies and laws that are harming women’s health care and denying their rights globally for decades. Congressional Republicans were responsible for the ban on US funds for the UN Population Fund (Unfpa), on the false accusation that the agency supported abortions in China.
On Jan. 23, 19 Senators and 41 members of the House of Representatives (all Republicans) wrote to Pompeo demanding a further tightening of the “global gag rule,” which forbids the use of American funds by nonprofit groups that work with women globally if they support or condone abortion.
These Republicans, who are fixated on their anti-abortion crusade, want to close what they see as loopholes in the policy. It was first introduced in 1984 under President Ronald Reagan and has been drastically expanded by Trump. The Republicans’ direct appeal to Pompeo — skipping the International Affairs bureau — charges that US government funds are being covertly mixed into money raised independently by nongovernment organizations.
Moore, with a graduate degree in Russian and East European studies from George Washington University, was most recently deputy assistant secretary in the IO bureau after a three-month stint in 2018 as senior adviser for Europe and Eurasia at the US mission to the UN.
He began his diplomatic career in Belgrade during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Later — with a three-year break as deputy chief of mission in Namibia — he served in various positions in the State Department and in ambassadorial assignments in Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina. For 10 months in 2005-2006, he was also a national security affairs fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University.
From 2014 to 2017, Moore was the ambassador and head of mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a 57-member nation body drawn from Europe, North America and Asia that promotes dialogue on stability, peace and democracy.
Relevant to the current American political debates about corruption in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries related to US policy, Moore focused considerable attention on the damage that corruption was doing in the Balkans and elsewhere after the Soviet system collapsed.
In a strongly worded statement to the OSCE in 2016, he noted that corruption posed a “comprehensive challenge to Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Criminal behavior was wasting public resources and damaging people’s trust in government and the political system there and elsewhere in the region, he said.
Kelley Currie, another recently appointed American official with international experience, will figure prominently at the UN, when contentious issues emerge at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March and the two nongovernmental organization forums in Mexico in May and Paris in July.
In December 2019, Trump named Currie ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, a post created in 2009 and first filled by Melanne Verveer. The position was left vacant for more than two years after Trump took office amid fears among advocates for women that the office would be eliminated.
Currie will lead the US team at the Commission on the Status of Women. Previously, she had been the US ambassador to the UN’s Economic and Social Council and led the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice.
Before joining the US government, Currie, a specialist on the Asia-Pacific region, had been a senior fellow at the Project 49 Institute in Arlington, Va., for a decade. The Institute describes itself as a “nonprofit research organization focused on promoting American values and security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.”
She had earlier worked on international issues as a Congressional staff member, at the International Republican Institute and several nonprofit groups, her biography says. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and holds a law degree from Georgetown University.
At her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing for her new job, last October, Currie largely confined her remarks to the safe topics of promoting the educational, social, political and economic advancement of women and ending violence against them. She praised the Women’s Global Development Initiative, a pet project of Ivanka Trump.
Although the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls were avoided by Currie, they will not go away, and US government branches like the Agency for International Development and the women’s health and family planning offices in the Department of Health and Human Services are expected to continue to disrupt international debates and block consensus on issues of importance to more progressive, less ideological delegations from around the world.
With her boilerplate agenda, Currie is likely to get the backing of the most conservative voices at the Commission, from the US and other countries and groups. She is expected to be working closely with Valerie Huber, who was a US delegate last year at the CSW meeting. Huber is a political appointee who works in the Department of Health and Human Services and advocates abstinence-only policies, among other agendas.
But even before Currie’s testimony in the Senate — where she was confirmed by voice vote — advocates of women’s rights were warning that under her direction, the mission of the Office of Global Women’s Issues “risks subversion, and its leader could become the mouthpiece for a more extreme agenda,” said a policy paper written by Rebecca Dennis, senior legislative policy analyst at PAI, a leading independent research and advocacy organization in Washington.
“After all, the Trump administration has made clear where it stands on sexual and reproductive rights, having expanded the already harmful Global Gag Rule and aligned itself with some of the most extreme delegations at the UN on issues related to reproductive health and family planning,” Dennis wrote.
“Currie falls short of being an ideal candidate to lead as Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues.”
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
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.