Monday, April 09, 2007

The U.N.-U.S. Relationship

Event Title: The U.N.-U.S. Relationship
Sponsor: Elliott School of Foreign Affairs
Location: City View Room of Elliott School
Date: March 8th, 2007
Time 3:00 pm-5:00 pm
Approximate Number of Attendees: 60
Intern Attending: Evan Davies

Featured Speaker: Tim Wirth, president of the UN Foundation

Former Senator Wirth began with a little history of the UN Foundation. The Foundation was created in 1998 when debt to the U.N. threatened the U.S.’s seat. Millionaire Ted Turner wanted to pay off the US debt to the U.N. because he was a firm believer in the power of the U.N., but the U.N. does not allow private citizens to pay government debts. In response, Mr. Turner decided to start an organization in support of the U.N. The UN Foundation supports the U.N. through advocacy, grant making, and partnerships. Sen. Wirth went on to discuss how important it is to have the U.N. and U.S. work together, because in a world of globalization there must be strong global partnerships.

Sen. Wirth sees a stronger U.S.-U.N. relationship to be mutually beneficial. The current breakdown in trust between the U.S. and U.N. has global effects. Wirth described burden sharing, such as in the area of international security, as an example that would better relations between the U.N. and U.S. It would be eight times less expensive for the U.N. to run at capacity in peacekeeping than the U.S. performing the same role. But financial benefits aside, a major concern is if the U.S. will trust the U.N. in the endeavor. The UN peacekeeping section is massively overstretched and under-funded. Sen. Wirth said that the UN peacekeeping forces are exasperated. Work in Iran, Afghanistan and Israel try to maintain peace in the countries, while the U.S. sits at bay. Wirth believes that the U.N. can do the job, but needs the appropriate systems and resources to do so. He notes, however, that the U.N. fails to gain recognition for its achievements as it is a poor storyteller of its own work. More resources might become available if the international community could recognize how effective it really is.

Because many US citizens view the U.N. as a “do nothing organization,” the country’s relations with the international organization continue to falter. Furthermore, as wars push the U.S. deeper into debt, funding, including that of the U.N., is tightened. Many Republicans want to cut funding to the U.N. as its debt to the organization tops $770m. The U.S. has already cut $500m from the UN Peacekeeping budget. The UNDP has taken the hardest hit, losing 40% of its funding. Strains on the U.S.-U.N. relationship are exemplified by the failure of the U.S. to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and its absence from the most recent Human Rights Council aimed to strengthen the UN Resolution. In current international crises, neither the U.S. nor the U.N. has taken major steps to stop the genocide in Sudan. Sen. Wirth suggested that the genocide could be a good place for the U.N.-U.S. relationship to rebuild. Both agree that that the situation in Sudan is a major human rights violation and it needs to be stopped immediately. They must work together to accomplish this common goal.

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