Its incredibly fitting that this week was the third and final Presidential debate in the United States because it was the week that the United Nations was formally established and its also the week that the most intense foreign policy crisis of a generation occurred- the Cuban Missile Crisis. I want to take this opportunity to just contextualize the importance of the UN and then delve into the foreign policy stances of President Obama and Governor Romney in relations to the UN, which was not something brought up in the last debate.
Created at the end of the world’s worst conflict, after FDR and Churchill coined the term “United Nations” in January 1942 meeting, the organization would come to exist three years later after the ratification of its charter San Francisco (President Kennedy was reporting this historical moment from a returned GI’s perspective for the Chicago Herald-American). Much of the UN’s early years came to be defined by the East-West conflict, which weighed down on the UN’s continuing purpose of securing a peaceful future until the falling apart of the Soviet Union. Today the UN is faced with a new polarization, but its challenges and issues continue to span the globe and are much more complex then the post-World War II realities it was created in.
UN membership today consists of 192 sovereign nations. The membership is a political expression of a shared interest in the UN’s declaration and a sense of purpose to tackle issues that extend outside of the national boundaries’ of the member states. The UN serves as the sole global forum of discussion as well as the global coordinator of international efforts to address humanitarian aid, management of refugees and disasters, disarmament, trade, nuclear proliferation, counter terrorism and significant social issues like combating the drug trade, human trafficking, childhood diseases and much more.
President Obama and the UN
In his 2009 address to the UN General Assembly, President Obama stated the “extraordinary good” the United Nations does “feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, mending places that have been broken.” But he cautioned that the United Nations “also struggles to enforce its will, and to live up to the ideals of its founding.” President Obama continues to work within the UN framework to address (albeit miserably) the Syria crisis and to prevent Iran from gaining Nuclear weapons.
In January 2012 the US Mission to the UN laid out its 4-point plan on working to reform the UN based on President Obama’s foriegn policy goals. The administration has built on a bipartisan tradition of championing reform at the United Nations (UN) and has achieved notable successes on behalf of U.S. taxpayers but aims to 1) economy, create a leaner UN; 2) accountability, create a cleaner UN; 3) bolster integrity, by increasing respect for UN; 4) seek out excellence by creating an effective UN.
Governor Romney and the UN
In 2007 in a interview with USA Today Gov. Romney suggested that UN was an “incredible failure.” Romney cited that the US should withdraw its seat from the UN Human Right Council (which it did not have one to vacate in the first place). He further stated that the US should form a new international organization
“We should develop some of our own — if you will — forums and alliances or groups that have the ability to actually watch out for the world and do what’s right,” Romney said.
Romney’s foreign policy advisers include former UN ambassador John Bolton, a ferocious UN critic, if not outright against the UN’s existence. That in of itself should tell you where Romney stands on the UN and American foreign policy.
My after thoughts
It should not be any surprise to anyone reading my blog that I am a supporter of a the United Nations. I believe strongly in how Madeline Albright (though I believe she should be tried for war crimes against the people of Iraq) describes the US-UN relationship as one that enhances our foreign policy choices because its not about acting alone or only through the UN but about how “we want and need both options. So indispensable is an instrument like the UN that it will be useful in some situations, useless in others, and extremely valuable in getting the whole job done in others.”
In fact in just one area- the most critical currently to our national security and interests- terrorism and counter-terrorism; the UN has lead the way to standardize security and investigation, financial rules and prioritization of the worlds governments in policing and investigating terrorists and terrorism helping the US to reach out and get many country’s that otherwise we might not have brought on board through unilateral diplomacy.
Granted the UN is not perfect. There are a long line of incidents and circumstances that indicate failure, however, you don’t throw out the dirty bath water with the baby in it. President Obama has offered a plan that is feasible, whereas, Gov. Romney has only offered to start from scratch in a time period where the US requires the greatest degree of international cooperation- from counter terrorism to disease control, from financial economic shoring up to peace keeping missions in areas where terrorist are liable to take hold. Not to mention the UN’s role in preserving human historical sites along with standardizing copyright and intellectual property law- the list is quite endless.
I don’t know what Gov. Romney’s true intent with foreign policy is, however, the current stance he takes makes it crystal clear that he will work to damage American foreign policy abroad and that he can not be trusted with its stewardship. To many Americans died in two world wars to see the creation of the UN as a mean of maintaining the peace, even with all its fanfare it might not be perfect, but we have seen some of the most amazing moments in the UN and its introduced America to the world.