A roadmap to reconnecting with the United Nations
In the first few months of the Biden administration, we will see major shifts in U.S. foreign policy and America’s relationship with the United Nations From rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and the World Health Organization, reengaging with the U.N. Population Fund and once again elevating the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. to the Cabinet, the Biden administration will quickly demonstrate that it is serious about being ‘back’ on the world stage.
Reengaging with the U.N. and its agencies cannot come soon enough and it’s a move that a majority of Americans overwhelmingly support. A new poll shows that Americans in all fifty states want the U.S. to be actively engaged with the U.N. And perhaps most remarkably, in a year of unprecedented fiscal tension on Capitol Hill, the poll found that three in five American voters want their member of Congress to take action to pay America’s dues to the U.N. on time and in full.
This level of support makes sense when one realizes the impact the U.N. has had in the past year alone.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the U.N. has been working on all cylinders to stop the spread and help the most vulnerable. For example, WHO has helped over 140 countries scale up testing and access essential personal protective equipment. The U.N. Refugee Agency has helped tens of millions of the most vulnerable and UNFPA has helped millions more access reproductive and maternal health care.
In addition, during the crisis, UNICEF and the WHO played critical role to eradicate polio from Africa, U.N. peacekeepers provided instrumental support for fair and free elections in the Central African Republic despite a coup attempt and the World Food Program was bestowed a Nobel Peace Prize for its role in preventing the use of hunger as a weapon of war.
Even with these important successes, my decades-long experience on Capitol Hill taught me that generating bipartisan support for any cause, including the U.N., requires education and advocacy.
To any skeptics, I would stress that the U.N. has already demonstrated that it is ready to reform and there is political will within the organization to do so.
Even amid a financial crisis within the organization — mainly stemming from America’s underfunding — the current Secretary-General António Guterres has sought to ensure the U.N. becomes nimbler, more transparent, accountable, decentralized and ultimately more effective.
Still, the 117th Congress and the Biden administration can set the groundwork for continued evolution at the U.N. On this, the agenda is clear.
First and foremost, we must support sound fiscal policies and smart budgeting. The U.S. is emerging from the Trump administration with over $1 billion in overdue bills to the U.N. In conjunction with Congress, the new administration must coordinate to pay these bills. By doing so, America would accomplish three important goals — ensure the U.N. can meet the demands we place on it, strengthen our hand in pushing through necessary reforms and counter the influence of China and Russia, who have leveraged America’s retreat at the U.N. to widen their own reach.
This does not mean a blank check.
In our rapidly changing world, the Biden administration must be open to new programmatic priorities, particularly those emerging from the global dialogues around the U.N.’s 75th anniversary that reached citizens of all 193 U.N. member states. But this will mean balancing new priorities with difficult decisions on slimming down and sunsetting existing U.N. efforts that have run their course.
To make our dollars work smarter, the U.S. will also need to continue to support and strengthen the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which plays a crucial role in providing top-notch audits, investigations and performance evaluations.
Second, we must review and reinvest in U.N. peacekeeping. As decades of research clearly shows, peacekeeping is an essential tool for saving innocent lives and ending wars, is cost effective and advances U.S. national security interests. As such, the Biden administration should push for missions to be strengthened where analysis deems it necessary while also ensuring that their mandates are realistic, achievable and consistent with the amount of money that is being allocated.
In addition, the U.S. and U.N. must ensure accountability never lapses. Peacekeepers incapable of achieving the mandate need to be removed and any troops or individuals that have committed abuses against the population they were sworn to protect must be expelled and prosecuted.
Last but not least, we must stop using the U.N. and its agencies as a political football and show the world that America is united and ready to shape the future of the organization. In the days ahead, the Biden administration will have to work to restore American leadership at the U.N., which starts with meeting our financial obligations. This will require congressional action, which should not be contentious.
American voters have spoken — they overwhelmingly support the U.N. That is why the incoming administration must work with Congress to champion reforms and secure U.N. funding that will change the future of the organization and ensure continued bipartisan support.
Peter Yeo is the president of the Better World Campaign and senior vice president at the United Nations Foundation.