The UN and ‘The Art of the Deal’
In the wake of the Security Council’s resolution against Israel, President-elect Donald Trump made it clear business won’t be as usual in Turtle Bay in 2017. In a directly worded tweet, the incoming president warned: “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20.” Time frankly has come for change at the UN.
In contrast to Presidents Clinton and Obama who championed the ideals of multilateralism, both President Bush and now President-elect Trump bring clear eyes to a bureaucratically bloated, infective, corrupt at times, and often-wasteful organization. For all of its programmatic achievements and diplomatic milestones, it has become as sclerotic as the “international community” is today.
This is not to say this is entirely at the feet of the UN Secretariat. Beyond humanitarian focused initiatives, Russia, China and the US spar on a myriad number of international security issues. The UN Security Council (UNSC) has become more of a boxing ring with endless rounds of sparring with no one ever able to deliver a knockout punch. Instead, the UNSC has left everyone bloody.
President Obama himself has re-enforced this charade. He has used it as a forum to champion broad-sweeping nuclear and climate change agreements.
Samantha Power, the lone liberal hawk in President Obama’s Cabinet, repeatedly rails during UNSC meetings on the failures of collective action on Aleppo and demarches Russia and Iran for their complicity in the hell that has become Syria under President Assad, Daesh, and other extremist groups, but never really acknowledges her own and the president’s complicity in Syria.
Ambassador Power’s celebrated work, “A Problem From Hell,” chastised her now colleague, Susan Rice, and the Clinton administration for their failures to act in Bosnia and Rwanda. For such a high-principled individual, Power’s loud rhetoric is a fig leaf for the fact that she has never acted on any of the lessons that she chided others for not taking now that she ironically is in a position of similar authority. Instead of resigning, the ambassador has chosen power. If a revised and updated version of her book ever does come out, one hopes Power writes a chapter on Aleppo.
The UNSC vote on settlements is another moment where when push comes to shove Obama has often treated the US opponents with more respect than its friends such as Israel. The president often touts his defense of Israel at the UN, but it is by no means symbolic that in one of the president’s final acts, Obama abstains and does not support Israel. The idea as well that peace can be imposed from the outside on the Arab-Israeli conflict is simplistic and unproductive. The UN has long lost its legitimacy in its role as a neutral arbiter in this conflict.
A change is coming
President-elect Trump’s appointment of Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina is a wise choice to bring change to the UN. Similar to Trump who is an outsider bringing change to Washington, Haley is an outsider to global forums importantly carrying a message and mission of change. An effective governor in overhauling South Carolina, Haley will be charged with both pushing for substantial overhaul of the organization and advancing and defending the US new global posture under Trump.
Haley will have to grapple with the same sclerosis that Power did, but will likely bring much more pragmatism and sanguinity to the position than her predecessor did. Trump’s plans to re-engage Russia may also help lower some of the tensions between Putin and Obama that prevented the UNSC from bridging any gaps.
However, the president-elect’s sharp tone toward Beijing may lead to a situation where instead of Moscow being the spoiler, Beijing is. Unlike Russia, China though has a lot more sway and power at the UN and may prove an even greater opponent for Trump.
A new deal
The rumblings that Washington may consider defunding the UN should not be taken too lightly either. While the US should support the UN, Turtle Bay needs an organizational overhaul, which has too often been obstructed by both the bureaucracy and other member states. As the largest funder of the UN, the new administration and the Congressional leadership has the right to expect change so that its money is better spent and accounted for.
Trump and Haley will likely push for a new deal with the UN where the US achieves the reforms it has been pushing for and at the same time, Turtle Bay receives its continued funding. If the new UN secretary-general and other member states do not learn “The Art of the Deal,” the UN may find its budget greatly diminished.
• Andrew Bowen is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.