The UN’s Stake in the Election: 4 BIg Issues To Watch

The United Nations has a lot riding on the outcome of the election tomorrow. The USA is the UN’s biggest contributor, host country, and most powerful member. Needless to say, diplomats around the world will be following the election very closely.

No matter who wins tomorrow, some of fundamental positions of the United States at the UN will not change.  Some of these issues, like defending Israel at the Security Council, have broad bi-partisan support. America’s position on other issues, like how the UN should manage its expenses and personnel, are derived mostly from the USA’s position as the world’s biggest power and largest UN contributor.

However, there are some other key issues at stake. Here are 4 things that may change after the elections.

1) UNFPA Funding.  The USA contributes about $45 million to the UN Population Fund, which supports maternal and reproductive health around the world. Unfortunately, the funding has been caught up in domestic abortion politics–even though UNFPA specifically prohibits abortion as a method of family planning. President Bush ultimately blocked American funding for UNFPA; President Obama supported it. There is every reason to believe that a President Romney would seek to block this funding once again.

2) LGBT Rights. During the Bush era, Europe and Latin America had pushed for a series of resolutions at various UN bodies in support of LGBT rights. The Bush administration tended to oppose these efforts, joining in coalition with mostly conservative Muslim countries. This included things like opposing an LGBT rights NGOs as it sought accreditation to attend UN meetings and voting against a General Assembly resolution calling for countries to decriminalize homosexuality. The Obama administration quickly reversed course, and supported a litany of resolutions to promote the dignity of LGBT communities around the world. Thanks to US support, LGBT rights are now firmly embedded into the human rights discourse at the UN. Mr. Romney opposes marriage equality in the USA, but American public opinion is moving toward greater tolerance. It’s unclear whether or not a President Romney would pull American support for LGBT rights issues at the UN.

3) Human Rights Council. Back in  2009, one of the first signals to the rest of the world that the USA was entering a new period of cooperative engagement was the decision by the Obama administration to join the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The Bush administration opted out of the Council, and even voted against its creation back in 2005. The Obama administration opted to try and steer the direction of the council, rather than complaining about it from the sidelines. Evidently pleased with what they have been able to accomplish through the Human Rights Council, the USA is standing for election to the council for another 3 year term. The election is in two weeks (and the USA is a shoo-in) so no matter what happens tomorrow, the USA will be serving on the council at the start of the next presidential term. President Romney, however, could simply follow the Bush administration’s tack and pull the USA out of the council. There are certainly some in his party who would like to see that happen.

4) Treaties. There’s more than the presidency up for election. Every seat of the House of Representatives and one third of the Senate is also up for grabs. The latter chamber is responsible for ratifying international treaties, but must do so by a two thirds majority. Right now, there are a few big treaties that have been signed by the US president, but never ratified by the senate. This includes the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; The Convention on the Status of Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Of these, the Law of the Sea Treaty is the closest to ratification because of its broad support from military, extractive industry and environmental groups, among others. The treaty came within two votes of passing in July and the Democratic leadership has signaled that it may bring up the treaty again in a lame duck session. Given the razor thin margin by which the treaty failed, even a slight change in the makeup of the senate could nudge the Law of the Sea Treaty closer to ratification.