Susan Rice’s Remarks to the United Nations Association of the United States

Susan Rice delivered remarks  yesterday to the annual meeting of the United Nations Association of the United States (which recently entered into partnership with the UN Foundation).  In her speech, Ambassador Rice makes the classic case for constructive engagement with the United Nations.  Here’s the meat of her argument. (Full remarks linked above.)

Now more than ever, Americans’ security and wellbeing are inextricably linked to those of people everywhere. Now more than ever, we need common responses to global problems. And that is why the U.S. is so much better off—so much stronger, so much safer and more secure—in a world with the United Nations than we would be in a world without it.

That’s the important case I’ve been making to the American public—and I need your help to reinforce it.

Our argument is compelling and clear. The UN helps prevent conflict and keep the peace. In Iraq and Afghanistan, UN civilian missions are mediating local disputes, coordinating international aid, and helping advance democracy—all of which helps us responsibly bring our soldiers home. The UN helps halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons. UN humanitarian agencies go where nobody else will to provide desperately needed food, shelter, and medicine. The UN helps countries combat poverty. The UN fosters democracy by helping strengthen fragile state institutions and supporting elections worldwide, as we’ve seen recently in the run up to the elections in Tunisia and the elections in Guinea. Finally, the UN can bring countries together to advance universal human rights and condemn the world’s worst indignities.

You all get that. But not everybody else does. So we need your voices out there to help make clear the tremendous value that the UN offers the American taxpayer, particularly in these tough economic times—and we need your help to underscore the progress we’ve made on behalf of the American people.

We’ve repaired frayed relations with countries around the world. We’ve ended needless American isolation on a wide range of issues. And as a consequence, we’ve gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.

In the past couple of years, with U.S. leadership, the Security Council has imposed the toughest sanctions that Iran and North Korea have ever faced.

In Libya, we worked in the Security Council to swiftly impose strong sanctions on Qadhafi and those who still stand by him, and prevented impending massacres in Benghazi and elsewhere by authorizing the use of all necessary means to protect civilians. The Council also referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court—the first time it has ever unanimously agreed on a referral. And the General Assembly suspended Libya from the UN Human Rights Council by consensus—another historic first.

In Cote D’Ivoire, U.S. efforts, along with those of others, helped enable the victor, President Ouattara, to take office.

In Haiti, after the devastating earthquake last year, we’ve worked closely with the UN to help ensure security and deliver vital humanitarian relief.

In Sudan, due in large part to UN assistance, the referendum on independence for the South was held successfully, credibly, and on time.

In the General Assembly, we have condemned Iran, Burma, and North Korea’s human rights abuses by unprecedented vote margins; we have fought and won protections for gay rights; and we helped create UN Women, a new agency dedicated to advancing women’s rights.

And as Tim said on the home front, working with the Congress, the Administration has cleared hundreds of millions in arrears to the UN that had accumulated between 2005 and 2008, and we are working hard to stay current with our payments.

But even as we note these important accomplishments, we are mindful that we face some serious challenges ahead. Let me mention just three.

First, some in Congress are again calling for the United States to withhold payment of our legally mandated dues. But, as you well know well, the UN can’t deliver the results we want, if we starve it of the resources it needs. It’s in our interest to ensure that the rest of the world continues to pay almost three-quarters of the cost of the UN’s work. Moreover, if we act like our treaty-based financial obligations under the UN Charter are somehow optional, others will too—which could leave us paying far more than we do today.

Second, we are tackling some longstanding flaws within the UN system. Take the Human Rights Council. We’ve gotten real results in Geneva since being elected to the Council, from establishing a new Special Rapporteur to spotlight human rights abuses in Iran to establishing Commissions of Inquiry to investigate abuses in places such as Cote d’Ivoire and Syria. But we’ve still got a long way to go, and we’re facing an HRC review process that could well move the body backward, rather than forward. Then, there’s the consistent unfair singling out of Israel. In Geneva and elsewhere, we aim to ensure that Israel gets fair and normal treatment across the UN system, with the same rights and responsibilities as any other member state.

Finally, there’s the wider challenge of UN reform. Led by our outstanding new Ambassador for Management and Reform, Joe Torsella, we are pushing real reforms that can enable the UN to do more with less. We are enforcing budget discipline; aggressively promoting a culture of accountability and transparency; we are pushing for a more meritocratic UN civilian workforce; we are restructuring the UN’s support systems for peacekeeping missions; and overhauling the way the UN conducts its day-to-day business. SYG Ban Ki-Moon has pledged in his 2nd term to address UN reform and we will continue to work with him on this important issue.

You are valued partners in this work. So please keep at it— help us to distinguish fact and fiction about the UN, help us to counter distortions and misinformation, help us to generate big ideas from management reform to energy and to development. Help us also to continue to make the argument—in blunt and specific terms—about how the UN helps the United States to share global burdens and advance our core national security interests.

We need you now more than ever because we need the UN now more than ever. In the 21st century, the UN plays an indispensable role in advancing our interests and defending our values. The United Nations isn’t perfect—far from it. But it provides a real return on our investment, and it can garner very important results. Strong U.S. leadership is the engine that drives effective action from the United Nations—from peacekeeping to nuclear nonproliferation, human rights to counterterrorism, from democracy to development.