While politicians on the campaign trail may not think voters care about the UN, our polling proves the opposite. A recent UN Foundation/Better World Campaign survey found that Americans understand the value of the United Nations and they believe the work of the UN promotes American interests. In fact, our research shows that 59 percent of Americans rate the United Nations favorably, indicating that the UN’s response to humanitarian issues, disaster relief, and work to end global poverty are key reasons as to why the United Nations continues to resonate with today’s voters. For these reasons, the majority of Americans also recognize the UN is a good investment and support paying our dues to the UN on time and in full. And these are not just Democrats supporting the UN; our polling found a majority of Republicans surveyed consider the United Nations relevant today.
Politicians and policy makers should take note of these facts. As candidates pound the pavement on the campaign trail this weekend, they will be campaigning on the 65th anniversary of the United Nations, Sunday, October 24th.
It would have been hard to predict that a body created from the ashes of World War II would remain so relevant to global affairs given the rapid change in the world. But the UN has not only endured, it has thrived. Its membership has grown from 50 countries at its inception to 192 today; and its work touches every corner of the globe by deploying peacekeepers, combating global poverty, and promoting human rights worldwide.
This is, in large part, due to a symbiotic relationship between the UN and the U.S.
The UN’s history is one of the best parts of America’s heritage. The United Nations was conceived at an international meeting in Washington, DC, in 1944; its charter signed by those 50 governments in San Francisco in 1945; and of course, the UN has been housed in its iconic New York City headquarters since 1952. Throughout the UN’s history, the United States has been a generous host, providing the UN with critical financial and political backing. But the benefits have exceeded our investment -- for every $1 the U.S. invests in the UN, our nation receives $1.50 in return.
The United Nations has helped the United States in countless ways through the years. These benefits are particularly evident today. As the United States deployed its own troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, the UN not only supported those operations but increased the number of peacekeeping missions to maintain global peace and stability elsewhere. Today, UN Peacekeeping has more than 100,000 troops deployed to 16 global hotspots. Peacekeepers are in flashpoints like Darfur, DR Congo, South Lebanon, and Haiti — places to which the United States cannot or should not send its own troops, but where international troops play an important stabilizing role.
These deployments are cost-effective; the United States pays about one quarter of UN peacekeeping expenses, which come out to about two billion dollars a year. This is roughly equal to the cost of one week of maintaining the U.S. deployment to Afghanistan. In return, UN peacekeepers risk their lives – as evident by the 153 who died in Haiti and the 73 who have died in Darfur - to support U.S. national security interests by training police and helping humanitarians deliver aid in Haiti, monitoring the ceasefire in Lebanon, and disarming former combatants in Sudan.
The UN also adds value to American goals of fighting poverty and global diseases and promoting human dignity worldwide. UN partnerships with institutions to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria pool resources to fight these diseases, while the Millennium Development Goals concentrate global attention on extreme poverty. When disaster strikes as it did in Haiti in January, or more recently in Pakistan, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs leads the global response.
The work of the UN is high on the minds of American voters. It is time that candidates catch up and keep the UN at the top of their agenda.
Peter Yeo is vice-president of public policy and public affairs at the UN Foundation and executive director of the Better World Campaign.