The UN is About People

March 28, 2013
It is funny how much can change in a week. Just days ago, I was on the verge of penning a terrific column about progress on the Millennium Development Goals. It was coming together nicely, but I’ll have to save it for another month.

As we emerge from the most recent Congressional budgetary battle, which thankfully left the UN largely unscathed, a rather negative column was recently released from a conservative think-tank essentially declaring the UN’s work in the first quarter of 2013 a failure.

Before I try to summarize the silliness that was disseminated, let me remind everyone that, while the UN is not a perfect institution, for the millions of people who receive food each day, the millions of children and mothers who receive vaccinations and health care each year, and the tens of thousands of refugees the UN is helping outside Syria (to name just a few examples) – the UN is simply indispensable.

Without giving the piece more cyberspace than it deserves; I’ll abbreviate the attack.

The Heritage Foundation’s piece waxed on about inaction in Syria, but made no mention of the UN’s life-sustaining humanitarian aid to Syria’s battered civilian population, or the UN’s urging of member states to take more action.  Of course, there’s no mention that the UN is not charged with controlling the actions of member states that seek to hinder progress toward resolution.

The author also chides the UN on deference to North Korea’s aspirations, however neglecting that the UN has provided a platform for the U.S. and China to agree on a course of action to isolate Pyongyang.

On  and on it goes with “What about this?” and “Look at that!” one-liners.  It concludes that the UN isn’t using its budget wisely, though giving no heed to the multitude of reforms underway to streamline efficiency.

Are we to stand by and let these one-sided and misleading attacks go unchecked?

I find it funny (and sad) that anti-UN forces marshal so much energy around a federal budget item – UN funding – that a fraction of one percent of the U.S. government budget is allocated for international affairs. Some of us remember the $435 claw hammer and the $640 toilet seat by the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1980s and the Department’s own inspector general flagging a missing $1 trillion dollars (with a “T”), which included losing track of 56 airplanes, 32 tanks, and 36 Javelin missile command launch-units. (Refresher article: Military waste under fire.) U.S. institutions could use some trimming, reform, and review as well, but these are the federal organizations we have, and when crunch time comes, we rely on them to deliver. The UN fits the same bill.

Let’s not forget a key principle in this debate: the UN is about people. The opposition will continue to talk about the UN’s process and stereotype the administrative elements, but the UN is first and foremost about the people that it helps: the hungry child who gets fed; the child who is saved from death by a malaria bed net; the mother who can have a healthy baby with the UN helping provide proper care; and the family that receives a place to live when war claims a home. The UN is about the people working within the system to drive change, like Eileen Donahoe, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council or Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations or Jan Elliasson, Deputy Secretary-General. All of them are pushing the UN to evolve, to take diplomatic speak and turn it into global solutions, and to reach for the future we want and deserve.



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