As world leaders converge upon United Nations Headquarters in New York City for the annual meeting known as the 69th General Assembly, it is always a good time of year to reflect upon the importance of the U.S. remaining committed to the global institution. As leaders and dignitaries from nations – large and small – address the most pressing issues confronting our world today, it is significant to note that the global body, created in the aftermath of World War II, has withstood the test of time despite numerous calls for its elimination.
On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, in delivering the commencement address at American University, said the following, “…we seek to strengthen the United Nations, to help solve its financial problems, to make it a more effective instrument of peace, to develop it into a genuine world security system - - a system capable of resolving disputes on the basis of law, of insuring the security of the large and the small, and of creating conditions under which arms can be finally abolished.” President Kennedy had the foresight and vision to know that the U.N.’s role, working closely with great powers like the U.S., would be vital for years to come. Abolishment of the institution, as many suggest, is extremely short-sighted; it is a viewpoint that has absolutely no merit and is unworthy of any further comment.
No Shortage of Criticism
Critics of the global body enjoy using this time of year to sharpen up their pencils to spew forth their laundry list of negatives as to what they perceive is wrong with the U.N. Rather than cite what is wrong, it would certainly appear that their time would be better served as to how they would improve the institution. Is the U.N. perfect? No, of course not. However, as with any large company or organization there are always going to be some imperfections. The key is to pinpoint the problems and find ways to solve them.
For example, critics such as the Heritage Foundation, point out that the U.N. is a waste of taxpayer money. Brett D. Schaefer, Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs, leads the charge against the U.N. for the conservative think tank. I would beg to differ with the assertion that the U.N. wastes taxpayer money. It is my firm belief and contention that these criticisms are completely misguided, and the evidence bears this out.
U.S. contributions to the U.N. benefit the American economy. The truth of the matter is that for every $1 invested by the U.S. in the U.N. the nation’s return on its investment is $1.60. Moreover, the purchase by the U.N. of American goods and services through contracts with U.S. companies far outweighs the cost considerations involved. The U.S. contributed $2.478 billion, but the overall amount derived was $4.13 billion. The City of New York sees a gain of $3.3 billion, while U.S. companies generate $832 million in revenue through contracts with the U.N. from the purchase of their goods and services. It is quite evident that maintaining a strong partnership with the U.N. is a “win-win” for the taxpayer and the nation as a whole.
Yes, the U.S. does contribute the largest share (22% and 27% for peacekeeping operations) to the world body; but by continuing our fair share of contributions we maintain our standing within the institution allowing for us to promote our interests and set forth our positions.
To bear this point out, in the Spring 2011 issue of the Harvard International Review, former Senator from Colorado and past President of the United Nations Foundation Timothy Wirth, wrote a piece titled, “The US-UN Partnership: Greater Engagement Will Bring a Greater Institution.” In the piece, Mr. Wirth wrote the following: “While the United Nations is an imperfect institution in need of additional and meaningful improvements, attempts to demonize it and label it as irrelevant have negative consequences for U.S. interests. Our rhetoric and unwillingness to defend the United Nations against its harshest critics cause our allies to distance themselves from some of our positions and make others question our motives.”
In addition, former Senator Wirth continued by writing, “The United Nations is effectively operating in many places, so that the United States and our allies do not have to.”
The U.N. "will threaten our sovereignty" is the typical refrain from those opposed to any U.S. affiliation with the world body. However, I can unequivocally say that there is no need to feel concerned because our sovereignty has not now nor has it ever been threatened in any way. Why? Because the laws of the U.S. take precedence over any U.N. treaty or international law. Then, why do we need them if U.S. law is paramount? U.S. citizens are protected under the provisions of these treaties when overseas.
Supporter from the Opposite Side of the Aisle
Alan K. Simpson, former Republican Senator from Wyoming, let his voice be heard regarding the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with the U.N. in an opinion piece he wrote for Partnership for a Secure America in Washington, D.C., a bipartisan organization that seeks to promote foreign policy and national security solutions. The op-ed titled, “US, U.N. need each other”, begins by commending the efforts of those U.N. workers who were providing humanitarian assistance to those peoples of Haiti who were suffering from the aftermath of the earthquake that hit the impoverished nation in 2010. We often forget the dedicated and loyal U.N. workers toiling in very difficult circumstances. The former Republican Senator wrote, “Their efforts serve us all.” The threats we face today are transnational: climate change, the spread of Ebola, terrorism, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is because of these issues that “…we need a strong, efficient, well-run United Nations that can expand our global reach…” the former Wyoming Republican wrote.
Individuals who continue to assault the U.N. as un-American fail to realize, due to their ignorance, “…that the U.N. Charter, a remarkable document, is largely influenced by American values,” as Mr. Simpson so aptly points out. Our engagement with the global body enhances these values, does not hinder them. “The United Nations needs assertive, supportive American leadership; America needs a strong, effective United Nations.”We should work together to strengthen the U.N., not weaken it.
Harry Truman’s Vision Continues to Resonate Today
In his 1949 Inaugural Address, President Harry S. Truman laid out four important points with respect to peace and freedom. The first point said:”…we will continue to give unfaltering support to the United Nations and related agencies, and we will continue to search for ways to strengthen their authority and increase their effectiveness. We believe that the United Nations will be strengthened by the new nations which are being formed in lands now advancing toward self-government under democratic principles.”
President Kennedy, some twenty years later, echoed these thoughts as he also believed it was vital for the U.S. to pursue a strong U.N. as it served our national interest.