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From the desk of Dr. Prithvi Singh Ravish 29.04.17

MANAGEMENT > Asia Region

From The Desk of Dr. Prithvi Singh Ravish
Ambassador at Large , Asia Region
At International Human Rights Commission - Secretariat

Nearly Every Living UN Ambassadors Spanning 5 Presidencies Urge Continued US Leadership at the UN

Nine former United States Ambassadors to the United Nations, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, wrote to key members of Congress today urging them to maintain American financial support for the United Nations and its agencies. In the letter, addressed to Speaker Paul Ryan, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, the diplomats pressed Congress to “support U.S. leadership at the UN, including through continued payment of our assessed and voluntary financial contributions to the Organization.”

The letter comes at a key time. The White House released a budget request that would substantially reduce American support for diplomacy and development, including programs at the United Nations. That budget is now being debated in Congress and this letter sends a (bi-partisan) message that the United Nations, despite its flaws, deserves American support.

“In our experience, the U.S. is much more effective in pressing reforms when it stays engaged and pays its dues and bills,” the ambassadors write. “Withholding or slashing funding for the UN, by contrast, weakens our hand, alienates allies whose support is critical to our reform priorities, undermines essential UN activities that promote core American interests and values, and costs us more over the long term. It also cedes the agenda to countries that can be hostile to our interests and more than willing to see the U.S. give up its seat at the table.”

The US is the single largest funder of the United Nations, contributing about 25% of the regular budget and about 28% of the peacekeeping budget. The USA is also a major funder of UN humanitarian agencies like UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the UN Refugee Agency, among others. In all, the US spends about $10 billion on UN programs each year. “Our message is simple,” said Madeleine Albright, who served as UN Ambassador in the Clinton Administration, on a conference call to discussing the letter. “Cutting the UN budget, as Trump indicated, will only damage national security.”

“None of us believe the UN is perfect,” she said. “We all believe it remains an essential tool in the American foreign policy and national security tool box. Whether we are dealing with North Korea, Iran, Iraq, or Mali the UN plays a vital role.”

The ambassadors released this letter just one day after President Trump met with members of the Security Council over lunch at the White House. According to the press pool report, President Trump said that the United Nations has “tremendous potential” and stressed the value of the United Nations when confronting the North Korea crisis.

“I like the president I heard,” said Ambassador Thomas Pickering, who served under President George HW Bush and joined Albright on the press call. “I don’t like the president that put forward the skinny budget.”

Both Albright and Pickering expressed concern that a reduction of US financial contributions to the UN would create an opening that America’s global rivals could exploit at the expense of American interests or values. “If we step back and give up on our role at the UN, the Chinese and Russians will exert it in a way that will not be helpful,” said Albright.

Pickering agreed. “We don’t want to put ourselves in the position of being isolated at the UN by Russians and Chinese,” he said. “It would be terrible and frankly stupid to do that.”

As Congress begins debating the budget in earnest, it is still unclear how some of Donald Trump’s proposals will fare. On a press call yesterday Senator Bob Corker the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee touted the value of US foreign aid spending, which the Presidents budget would dramatically slash. “It’s 1% of what we spend,” he said. “If we spend it wisely is what keeps [American soldiers] out of harms way and out of a hot war.” Corker dryly added that he has “never seen a president’s budget become law.”

Still, reductions in US contributions to the United Nations are a distinct possibility. This letter from nine individuals who have spent years of their lives defending American interests at the United Nations shows how counter productive those cuts can be.

Full letter below:

The Honorable Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader, United States Senate, U.S. Capitol Building, Room S-230, Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives United States House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol Building, Room 232, Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Charles Schumer, Minority Leader United States Senate, U.S. Capitol Building, Room S-224 Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader, United States House of Representatives, U.S. Capitol Building, Room 204 Washington, DC 20510

April 24, 2017

Dear Leader

McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Leader Pelosi:

As former U.S. Permanent Representatives to the United Nations who have served under both Republican and Democratic Administrations, we share a deep understanding of the UN’s strategic value in advancing U.S. national interests and promoting American leadership. While the UN is imperfect, and many reforms are needed, the UN remains an indispensable instrument for advancing the global stability and prosperity on which U.S. interests and priorities depend. We therefore urge you to support U.S. leadership at the UN, including through continued payment of our assessed and voluntary financial contributions to the Organization.

The United States and its allies and partners today face grave and interconnected challenges that transcend national borders. These include cascading conflict in the Middle East and South Asia, an emboldened North Korea, the rising threat of violent extremism and organized crime, vulnerability to pandemics, the worst forced displacement crisis since 1945, the prospect of famine in four countries, and the potential for major societal disruptions from climate change. The U.S., despite its wealth and military might, cannot afford to take on these issues alone, nor should it have to. That is exactly why the UN was created in the first place: to harness there sources and commitment of all countries to act on challenges that necessitate collective response.

Since its establishment, the UN has been a cornerstone of the post-World War II international order, serving also to advance U.S. priorities and interests on many fronts. Through its peacekeeping operations, humanitarian relief work, efforts to address international public health emergencies, and development investments, the UN has helped secure core U.S. interests while reinforcing America’s long -standing commitment to human rights and human dignity world wide. By marshalling financial contributions from all UN member states, the UN has also reduced the burden on American taxpayers by leveraging U.S. contributions to the UN four-fold. The whole UN system is built on burden-sharing that ensures the United States does not have to go it alone and that other countries stand up, rather than stand by.

We understand frustration in Congress at what can seem a needlessly slow pace of critical management, budgetary, and accountability reforms at the UN, all of which we have fought hard to advance during our respective tenures at the helm of the U.S. Mission in New York. We fought those battles differently and did not always agree. Nevertheless, in our experience, the U.S. is much more effective in pressing reforms when it stays engaged and pays its dues and bills. Withholding or slashing funding for the UN, by contrast, weakens our hand, alienates allies whose support is critical to our reform priorities, undermines essential UN activities that promote core American interests and values, and costs us more over the long term. It also cedes the agenda to countries that can be hostile to our interests and more than willing to see the U.S. give up its seat at the table.

This January, the UN elected a new Secretary-General – Antonio Guterres of Portugal – and the U.S. Administration fielded a new U.S. Permanent Representative – Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina. Secretary-General Guterres and Ambassador Haley have both expressed a commitment to work together to create a more efficient, effective, and responsive UN. We urge you to give them the time and space needed to advance this critical work and avoid policies, such as drastically reducing our financial support, that would damage our nation’s ability to lead – not just at the United Nations but on the wider world stage.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ambassador Andrew Young
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 1977-1979

Ambassador Donald McHenry
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 1979-1981

Ambassador Thomas Pickering
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 1989 – 1992

Ambassador Edward Perkins
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 1992 – 1993

Secretary Madeleine Albright
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 1993-1997

Ambassador Bill Richardson
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 1997-1998

Ambassador John Negroponte
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 2001-2004

Ambassador Susan Rice
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 2009-2013

Ambassador Samantha Power
Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, 2013-2017

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