Amid a news cycle beset by crisis, turmoil, and recriminations, a tragedy recently hit the United Nations. Two UN investigators, a Swede named Zaida Catalán and an American named Michael Sharp, were kidnapped and murdered while working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to monitor the effectiveness of UN sanctions, investigate potential violators, and hold human rights abusers and other criminals accountable for their misdeeds.
While we never had the privilege of meeting Zaida and Michael, as former ambassadors to the United Nations, we know how vital their work was to global security. In the face of such personal tragedy, we take comfort in the fact that the UN stands fast in its mission to achieve a more peaceful world — not only for the Congolese for whom Michael and Zaida cared deeply — but for countless others.
The work the UN is doing in Iraq, for example, aims to do just that. We all know the U.S. and Iraqi militaries are fighting to free Mosul from the barbarity of ISIS. Less known but crucial are complementary UN-led efforts to restrain ISIS’s ability to recruit new fighters and provide vital humanitarian assistance. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other UN bodies are in Mosul right now feeding, clothing, and sheltering the some 300,000 civilians caught in the battle’s crossfire.
The UN has been a leader in confronting terrorism. UN Security Council Resolution 1373 mandated a global post-9/11 response targeted on freezing terrorist assets, thwarting money-laundering, and blocking arms-trafficking. In 2014, the UN Security Council passed a legally binding resolution requiring all member states to put domestic laws in place that will help prosecute anyone who travels abroad to join a terrorist organization. In 2016, the Security Council called on countries to share biometric and biographic information about terrorists with immigration and border authorities.
Despite these valiant efforts, U.S. participation in the UN and the value of the organization is being questioned as never before. This is misguided. Here is what is being overlooked: the UN’s collective efforts, whether it’s implementing sanctions, coordinating a response to international terrorism, or delivering lifesaving aid, ensures that the U.S. does not bear the cost of maintaining international order on its own. In an increasingly interconnected world, it is clearly in America’s interest to ensure that others stand up — not just stand by — and share the responsibility of achieving a more peaceful and stable planet.
Our new president has called upon allies and friends to do their fair share to defend themselves. In UN we already have achieved that goal. The other 192 member states cover the vast majority of the UN’s budget. As a result the U.S. investment is matched four to one by foreign dollars, thus providing favorable treatment for the U.S. in terms of our share of the world’s economy and trade. The UN’s mandatory contribution system guarantees that we avoid the “free rider” problems we encounter elsewhere.
UN peacekeeping led by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is another example of this principle in action. The U.S., in fact, provides only 78 soldiers, military advisors, and police officers to UN peacekeeping operations, a tiny fraction of the 113,394 uniformed personnel currently deployed. That means the larger international community provides most of the personnel and foots over 70 percent of the bill required to staff and fund not just the mission in the Congo, but also the other 16 peacekeeping operations working around the world.
The history of UN peacekeeping operations is one of turning the tide of conflict and tragedy toward peace and the rule of law. Two important successes were the UN missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone — in Sierra Leone 75,000 ex-fighters were disarmed, including nearly 7,000 “child soldiers!” These two West African nations, along with Guinea, later were the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak, countered effectively by two indispensable institutions in the UN system, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Development Program (UNDP).
In honoring the Sanctions Committee’s sacrifice, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán were “working on the front lines of what we try to do at the United Nations every day: find problems and fix them.”
We agree with the new U.S. ambassador. This is a mission of profound importance — one that can only be achieved by the United States’ steadfast commitment to international cooperation and strong partnership with the United Nations. Doing so, we believe, would be the best way to honor Michael, Zaida, and the hundreds of other UN staff who have voluntarily given their lives in the service of peace and security.
John D. Negroponte is a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN and Deputy Secretary of State.
Thomas R. Pickering is a former U.S. Ambassador to the UN and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs.
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