Security Council votes unanimously to increase humanitarian aid in Syria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Don’t Conflate the 15 Member Security Council with the Entire Work of the United Nations

The vote today at the Security Council to castigate Israel over its settlement activity has ushered a torrent of criticism. Several lawmakers, including Senators Lindsay Graham and Tom Cotton, have called on the United States to restrict its funding for the global body over this vote. Meanwhile, Donald Trump himself tweeted his displeasure.

The vote passed 14-0, with one abstention: the USA. The United States abstained from the vote despite its strong history of defending Israel at the Council precisely because there is very little defensible about expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Ambassador Power drove that point home in her explanation of the US abstention, in which she quoted verbatim from an 1982 Ronald Reagan speech in which he describe settlement activity as antithetical to the prospects for a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Let me begin with a quote: “The United States will not support the use of any additional land for the purpose of settlements during the transitional period. Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks. Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.”

This was said in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. He was speaking about a new proposal that he was launching to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While ultimately, of course, President Reagan’s proposal was not realized, his words are still illuminating in at least two respects.

Still, some members of Congress and pundits are seeking to punish the entire United Nations for the actions of its 15 of its members. But conflating the 15 member council with the entire UN work around the world’s is profoundly misguided. Punishing the UN for the actions of its 15 member council is simply dangerous. Should starving children in Nigeria lose their access to aid because of this vote? Should water treatment projects in Haiti be abandoned because of this vote? Should peacekeepers be recalled from fighting jihadists in Mali because of this vote?

Those, in fact, are the real-word implications of conflating the actions of the Security Council with the work of the UN as a whole–and making contingent decisions taken by the former to paying for the life saving work of the latter.