By Timothy Buensalido, UNA-NCA Program Assistant and Adarsh Mahesh, UNA-NCA Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant
|From left to right, former UN Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe with UNA-NCA President, Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (ret.), UNA-NCA Executive Director Paula Boland, and Current UN Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman on Friday, April 21.|
UNA-NCA is proud and privileged to have had United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman, as the keynote speaker during UNA-NCA’s Donor Reception last Friday, April 21. In his remarks, Ambassador Feltman emphasized the need for UNA-NCA and all other chapters to continue advocating, now more than ever. He focused his speech on the importance of the UN, and how, in spite of growing skepticism about world order, it is still a great place to invest especially during this time of political transition in the United States.
To illustrate the significance of the United Nations to the United States, he summed up his points into 3 main categories: the UN being a public good, the alignment of UN and US interests, and the economic value of the UN.
On the point of the UN as a public good, Ambassador Feltman highlighted quantitative data to demonstrate the UN’s impact in the world and in the US. For example, last year alone the World Food Programme, the leading humanitarian organization fighting hunger worldwide, fed 80 million people and conducted anti-famine initiatives around the globe. As for combating diseases, UNICEF, the UN’s arm dedicated to providing humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers, vaccinated 40% of the world’s population. These are just two of the many examples of UN agencies making a positive impact in the world by providing public goods and services. Each UN institution continues to strive to progress the world in the right direction, which led the Ambassador to ask “if the UN did not implement these initiatives, who will?” The thought of having the UN completely nonexistent seems downright unjust for a world where circumstance plays a significant role in the outcome of people’s lives. Would countries really go out of their way to help others in need? Would individual efforts have as much impact as the programs that we have today? We need these public goods that the UN provides. Otherwise, there is no telling where those people, those lives would be right now.
He continued by moving to his next point which was the alignment of the UN with US interests including national security. Ambassador Feltman made a simple yet striking statement that international security means national security. The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) estimates that the cost of conflict globally reaches beyond $13 trillion and it is reasonable to think that the cost would be a lot higher without the presence of the UN. The UN strives to keep the economic cost and human cost from getting out of hand, and the US is a key ally in this regard. Another interest to the US would be the capability to broaden the impact of multilateral UN sanctions on countries or organizations conducting illegal actions. Currently with a leadership seat in the UN Security Council, the United States has an influential role in the sanctioning of organizations and countries conducting internationally illegal activities, and can direct efforts on counter-terrorism.
To round up his points stressing the importance of the United Nations to the United States, he touched on the economic value the UN provides the US. For one, burden is shared amongst UN member states with regard to various global operations that impact US interests such as peacekeeping. The financial investment in a UN peacekeeper is just 1/8 of the cost of having a US soldier on the ground, or 12.5 cents to the $1. The United Nations also provides many direct benefits to the United States since the US is the top supplier of goods and services. Granted, the US is winning these through a competitive bidding process, however, it is important to note that this opportunity would not be possible without the UN. In 2015, the US won $1.6 billion in UN contracts alone while having more than 5,000 citizens employed by the UN, the most by any member state.
Ambassador Feltman also shared with the audience the current UN Secretary General’s priorities moving forward. First and foremost, he aims to continue and maintain the programs former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put into motion such as the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Treaty, and financing for development. On top of that foundation, by utilizing his experience as former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Prime Minister of Portugal, he seeks to focus efforts on conflict prevention, security, and peacekeeping.
Lastly, Ambassador Feltman emphasized that in the event that the US exits the UN, other countries will quickly fill up the vacuum. Without the leadership and influence of United States, countries will be free to promote their own foreign policies and agendas which may not be beneficial to the US or the UN in the long run.
Regardless of how the current administration continues to operate, it is undeniable that the UN provides unparalleled value to the United States. We must stay the course and continue to show our leaders why we must support the United Nations and be at the forefront to lead it. Now more than ever, the United Nations needs us, but even more so – the world.