Jeffrey Laurenti

UNA-USA Leader

Jeffrey_Laurenti1. Why is the United Nations important to the world?

In the decades since its founding after World War II, the United Nations has established itself as the nerve center for global politics and for collective action. It has defined the governing legal principles that are the cornerstone of international relations. Its Security Council has become an effective agent for managing and suppressing conflict, and through the General Assembly and specialized agencies the UN has pioneered the international standards for human rights, pressed investments in economic development, and promoted social progress - from health to the environment - all of which underpins a peaceable world. Powerful as the U.S. is, it is unable on its own, or even with a handful of like-minded states, to secure the same measure of global peace that shared political participation through the UN has made possible.


2. How do the UN and its work affect your work or life?

As a student of American foreign policy, I see the UN's success in setting parameters for how countries interact with each other as making even ambitious U.S. foreign policy goals easier to achieve. As a citizen, I see the work of the UN in such domains as health, the environment, and economic opportunity as vital for Americans’ own opportunities overseas and at home.


3. Why should Americans care about the UN’s work? 


We’ve had many lessons in how an event in a far-away place, whether a political crisis or a new communicable disease or an environmental calamity, can have rip-tide effects that reach around the world. The UN is admittedly, and perhaps mercifully, a weak political system that does not rely on coercion so much as cooperation. However it still has effectively forged responses to many such threats, and it has limited the potential for destruction even in the political and military sphere. Americans have a deep stake in an orderly and peaceable world in order to do business, raise living standards, and enjoy security in all its dimensions. The UN and its family of agencies are where this gets done.


4. In your opinion, what has been the UN’s best moment to date? 


Americans have been led to judge the UN’s performance in political terms, but I would say the most sterling moment for the UN system came in its non-political work, perhaps best exemplified by the elimination of smallpox and today by its closing in on elimination of polio. In political terms, the UN showed its ability to confront political threats to human security when Iraq brazenly flouted the touchstone principle that bars territorial conquest with its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  Similarly, it has marshaled global unity against Al-Qaeda post-2001 – on top of its countless peacekeeping efforts that could never be done by individual nations successfully.


5. What do you think is the most exciting opportunity for the UN going forward? 


The UN is the only place for realizing dreams of rolling back nuclear dangers, eliminating disease, expanding human rights, and marshaling common global policies to eliminate extreme poverty and promote economic growth. These are the major challenges for the decades ahead, much as they were the founding  purposes that  animated the UN Charter and at the first session of the UN in 1945-46.


6. What is the most effective element of UNA-USA’s work?

Over its long history, UNA-USA has sustained American public support for the UN vision of a world "where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, shall prevail," as President George H.W. Bush declared at the start of the war with Iraq in 1991. UNA-USA’ has made its biggest impact in bringing citizen engagement to the global policy debate and in bringing principled internationalism to the American political class. The pressures in Washington for aggressive unilateralism seem never to go away, no matter how many times the results prove disastrous, and UNA-USA, virtually alone, has stood at the ramparts defending the structures of a peaceful world when narrow and short-sighted Washington interest groups have sought to batter at their gates.

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