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Opportunities at UN for incoming president

NewsNotes, January-February 2009

President-elect Obama’s decision to name Susan Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is seen by UN watchers as an excellent choice. Along with her broad knowledge of foreign policy, Rice is known as an advocate of “dramatic action” against genocide anywhere in the world. Since Rice has been one of Obama’s closest advisors, her choice sends a strong signal regarding the level of priority to be given to the UN by the new administration. Following are some of the challenges and opportunities awaiting the new administration.

Currently, the U.S. is $1.2 billion in arrears in dues owed to the UN. With the new administration in Washington, UN supporters hope that the U.S. will settle this bill immediately. This outstanding bill has a major bearing on the capability of the UN peacebuilding and peacekeeping forces to be present in places of conflict and strife around the world.

The U.S. has insisted upon UN reform in order to ensure that funds put into the UN system are not wasted. Ban Ki-moon, whom the U.S. backed for the position of Secretary General, has vigorously supported and systematically implemented UN reform. While there is still much to be done, this work on the part of the Secretary General needs to be upheld and publicly acknowledged. A widespread campaign designed to elevate the UN to a place of prestige in the minds of U.S. citizens ought to be mounted. This is urgent because the links binding all the nations of the world are increasingly apparent making it clear that international threats ought to be faced and resolved by the United Nations for the peace and security of all people. For this, intelligent U.S. participation and responsible leadership are required.

Other areas of urgent concern are support for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty against nuclear weapons development, restructuring the International Atomic Energy Agency, creating a treaty to ban the weaponization of space, and bringing about an agency to act as distributor of fissile material.

In addition, it is hoped that the U.S. will ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was signed by President Clinton but never sent to Congress for ratification due to the perceived hostile attitude of Congress toward the UN. The only other country that has failed to ratify this treaty is Somalia.

In 2006, when the UN replaced the discredited Human Rights Commission with the Human Rights Council, the U.S. opted out of joining the new council. It is hoped that the new administration will promptly reverse this decision in order to be eligible for a seat in the new session, which will open in the spring.

Another treaty signed by President Clinton but never ratified is the treaty creating the International Criminal Court. Since President Bush rescinded the signing of the treaty, it is hoped that President Obama will both sign it and send it to Congress for ratification at the earliest opportunity.

Lastly, it is widely anticipated that the new administration will actively support the successor document to the Kyoto Protocol, setting binding targets for reducing greenhouse gases in industrialized countries that now have a long history of polluting the earth’s atmosphere.

Hopefully, the U.S. will set the pattern of responsibility so that industrially developing countries will participate according to a schedule of incrementally increasing responsibility.

There is also a call for the reorganization of the Security Council, increasing its membership, and for the reorganization of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. All of these require the support and creative intelligence of the U.S.

Lastly, it is hoped that Obama will bring the youth of the U.S. into the UN by supporting internships and other UN youth oriented activities. As the United States rejoins the world community, model UNs could be set up by youth around the country. The ideas of the youth could be a source of vision and insight for a world united in the pursuit of peace and well-being for all.

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