Why A Billion People Need a Stronger U.S.-UN Partnership

Last week, former UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland penned a column in The Huffington Post arguing that, while the living situations of most human beings in the world have been improving over the last two decades, an impoverished underclass of one billion people still lives in deplorable conditions. Egeland, a veteran of disaster and war areas from Colombia to Darfur, issues a call to arms for the world’s richest countries: make combating global poverty a priority, or risk not only moral hypocrisy, but also the danger of antagonizing an entire substratum of the global population.

To address this festering problem, Egeland proposes a renewed commitment to international cooperation, with an emphasis on improving the relationship between the UN and the United States. As we have noted here and elsewhere, the U.S. has significantly shortchanged humanitarian and peacekeeping imperatives in favor of beefing up its defense spending. Egeland puts the contrast in these priorities in stark terms:

Every year since the invasion in 2003 America has spent six times more in Iraq alone than the United Nations system has had to invest on all peace, human rights, relief, development and environmental efforts around the globe. The annual 120 billion dollars spent in Iraq is nearly twenty times more than the cost of all the successful UN humanitarian and peace-making operations in Angola, the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Northern Uganda, the Middle East and East Timor combined. The cost of unilateralism and effectiveness of multilateralism is not known to the American tax-payer, or to UN member states.

To strengthen Egeland’s last point, it bears reminding that UN peacekeeping has been shown to be eight times cheaper — as well as more effective — than comparable U.S.-led missions.