South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley joins U.S. military service members and community business partners for the launch of Operation Palmetto Employmenn

Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador


Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina is President Elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the next Ambassador of the United Nations. To many around the UN who are wondering how the twice-elected governor of South Carolina views foreign policy: you are not alone.

Here’s what we do know.

Haley is the daughter of immigrants from India and was sharply critical of Donald Trump’s call during the campaign to ban Muslims from entering the United States. She governed as a conservative representing an historically staunchly conservative state,  but distinguished herself in American political circles by adopting more moderate rhetoric than many other Republican politicians in the region. So, for example, while her follow Republican governor in North Carolina enthusiastically adopted a ban on transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choice, Gov. Haley demurred.

On foreign policy, she does not have much of a record. But her governing style suggests that she will not be a firebrand. The fact that Trump picked her over someone with a more abrasive disposition (say, Giuliani) suggests that Trump does not want to immediately alienate allies at the United Nations. She is not an ideologue (like, say Bolton) meaning that she likely has few fixed positions or opinions about the United Nations or the value of the UN to American diplomacy and national security. This could be an asset, and possibly give room to the professional staff of the US mission to the United Nations to wield more influence than they would if the incoming ambassador was a veteran foreign policy hand.

The fact that Trump has picked a high profile Republican governor also suggests that the position of US Ambassador to the United Nations will be a cabinet-level appointment. And what is particularly interesting is that this announcement was made before the Secretary of State pick. This could set off an internal rivalry that is a unique feature of the American foreign policy bureaucracy.

There is natural tension built into the bureaucracy between the Secretary of State and UN Ambassador. This is because the Secretary of State has an entire International Organizations bureau under his or her purview, yet the US mission to the UN acts in partnership, but not subordination, to that bureau. The mission theoretically has a direct line to the White House, while the International Organizations bureau has a few other layers of bureaucracy with which to contend. How Ambassador Haley manages her relationship with the Secretary of State will be one key determinant of her ability to sway American foreign policy from her office in Turtle Bay.

When Gov Haley takes up her perch at the United Nations she will immediately face several important global challenges. None is perhaps more urgent than an unprecedented global refugee crisis in which the humanitarian needs of people displaced by conflict or natural disaster are far outstripping the international community’s ability to respond. There are also important issues at the UN — from shoring up the effectiveness of UN peacekeepers to maintaining progress on global development and the sustainable development goals–that are sometimes outside the media spotlight, but require sustained engagement for progress to be made. She will have to quickly come to speed on these issues, or otherwise support the civil service at the US Mission to the UN as they engage on these issues in ways that advance American and global security interests.

Most of all she will have to demonstrate that despite the heated rhetoric of the campaign, American global leadership can endure. When the world faces a major crisis — like Ebola or a mass atrocity event — the world has historically turned the United States to take the lead in marshaling global responses to these crises, and the United States has historically found the United Nations to be a useful platform for bringing together a diverse set of countries around a common purpose. If Governor Haley continues the tradition of American leadership at the United Nations, and is supported in doing so by the rest of the United States government, we can expect this 70 year old feature of American foreign policy to remain intact.