From 2001 to 2008 I spent my days (and many nights) speaking for the United States at the United Nations. I was the longest serving American spokesman in history and it gave me a unique perspective on the United Nations and its relationship with its largest funder - the American taxpayer. The reality of how the U.N. works is not what some people on the right and the left would have you believe. As Susan Rice begins her tenure representing America at the U.N., she will find an institution in great need of change.
We all want the U.N. to live up to its original intent and be the place where the world comes together to solve international problems. Currently, however, too many members like the status quo too much to want to make any changes. While the United States, Japan and a handful of others are pressing to reform how money is appropriated and spent, others - including South Africa, Egypt and China are more interested in adding new programs and studies (that benefit their own economies or employ their own bureaucrats) with little regard for who pays the bill.
The biggest loser is the American taxpayer who is already spending more than $1 billion every year on U.N. dues, peacekeeping and contributions to U.N. agencies and yet has one vote among the 192 others to do anything about it.
The U.N.’s effort to support the fight against terrorism is a particular study in chaos. Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.N. committed to fight terrorism and freeze the assets of terrorists. Committees were established and reports demanded of every country as to what was being done to stop the flow of terrorists within their border. Since then, after millions of dollars spent on committee structures and salaries, reports have either been shelved, not used or not even given to the U.N. As Security Council resolutions go unimplemented with no consequences for those who ignore them, more must be done to hold countries accountable. Former U.S. Ambassador John Danforth famously asked, “Can’t we agree that shooting children in the back is terrorism?” To no avail.
After eight frustrating years, I still have hope for the U.N. I also know that it will take a lot of sustained fortitude to fix these problems. Here are my recommendations for the New U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Ms. Rice:
1. Make reforming the U.N. budget process your No. 1 priority.
2. Don’t agree to any increase in U.S. taxpayer dollars spent at the U.N. until we see actual reforms.
3. The current committees designed for fighting terrorism are not working and must be changed by demanding more of members, not less.
4. Global warming, AIDS education and funding, smarter humanitarian assistance, and the protection of children are all noble causes that will greatly benefit from reforming the U.N. budget.
5. The best run agencies at the U.N. are the ones like UNICEF and the World Food Program where contributions are voluntary, not obligatory, and the top management are responsible to and held accountable by a board.
6. Fight hard for Japan to get a permanent seat on the Security Council, as it is one of our greatest allies.
7. The Human Rights Council will not be a legitimate agency until human rights abusers are denied membership.
8. You should get up every day and ask yourself “How do I make America stronger?” not “How do I make the U.N. stronger?”
9. If you are popular with other ambassadors it is probably because they like the fact that you aren’t asking them to do anything.
10. You should ignore the far right conservatives who think the U.N. doesn’t do anything good and the far left liberals who think the U.N. bestows legitimacy and therefore must first approve American ideas.
These reforms will go a long way toward showing Americans that the ideals of the U.N. can become reality and that the money we give to the U.N. to alleviate poverty and despair is worth the investment.
Richard Grenell served as director of communications for four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations from 2001-2008.