What the Democrats Have to Say about the UN

(Charlotte, NC) – The United Nations is mentioned several times in the Democratic National Convention’s official party platform. Not surprisingly, the attitude toward the UN is a bit warmer in the Democratic platform as opposed to the GOP platform released last week. (However, polling consistently shows that a majority of self-identified Republicans and Democrats still value the United Nations!)

What follows is an annotated explanation of the parts of the Democratic Party platform that mentions the United Nations.

Africa.(1) We will continue to partner with African nations to combat al-Qaeda affiliates in places like Somalia (2) and to bring to justice those who commit mass atrocities, like Joseph Kony. (3) We have made great efforts to reduce the violence in Darfur and built international support for a successful referendum on South Sudan’s future. And in his first visit as President to the United Nations, President Obama advanced initiatives to strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities in Africa. This includes providing equipment, training, and logistical support for UN and African Union missions in Darfur and Somalia. (4) The President has also worked to help African nations grow their economies, and we have opened trade and investment opportunities across the continent.

The United Nations. International institutions – most prominently the United Nations – have been a centerpiece of international order since the mid-20th century. And just as American leadership was essential to forging the architecture for international cooperation after World War II, the President and the Democratic Party are committed to modernizing its infrastructure for the 21st century – working to reform international bodies and strengthen national and multilateral capabilities to advance peace, security, and opportunity. (4)

We have restored America’s leadership at the UN by cooperating with our partners there when we can and respectfully disagreeing with them when we must, reversing the previous administration’s disdain for the UN.(5) The President’s leadership at the UN has enabled us to make real progress on a number of top national security priorities, including getting Russia and China on board to implement the toughest UN sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea. (6)

1. It’s no surprise that the United Nations receives mention in the Africa section. About 75% of all the work of the Security Council is tied to Africa in some way. The largest and most complex peacekeeping missions are there; as are some of the toughest global health challenges.

2.  Sadly, Al Qaeda affiliates like Al Shabab in Somalia, Ansar Dine in Mali, and Boko Haram in Nigeria are causing misery and hardship where they have taken hold. In 2011, Boko Haram bombed the United Nations Headquarters in Abudja, Nigeria killing at least 23 people, making it the deadliest attack on the UN in history.

3. Joseph Kony, as you no doubt know, is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army a militia that once terrorized northern Uganda, but is now much smaller in number and somewhere in the Central African Republic/Sudan/South Sudan/DRC border regions. Last year, President Obama approved a small American lead military mission to help a coalition of African militaries to hunt down Kony and the LRA. They haven’t found him yet.

4. The visit to the UN referenced in this sentence was really quite remarkable.  In his first year in office, president Obama spent nearly four full days at the UN attending various meetings. The most prominant of these meetings was a Security Council summit on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation chaired by President Obama. This was the first time a president personally chaired a meeting of the Security Council.

The meeting referenced in this graph did not receive quite as much attention, but was a very significant development for UN peacekeeping. Some background: there are about 100,000 peacekeepers in 16 missions around the globe. Fewer than 100 of these peacekeepers are American, but the USA is the single largest financial contributor to peacekeeping operations.

In September 2009, President Obama held a long meeting with the top troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping. This included several southeast Asian countries and several African countries. It was important opportunity for dialogue between the largest donor and the biggest troop contributing countries. It was also a very clear sign of support for UN peacekeeping at the very highest level.

5. One area of reform that has not been productively advanced is Security Council reform. However, one area of “reform” that is a surprising omission in this document is the Obama administration’s championing of LGBT issues at the UN.  Over the past three years, various UN bodies passed resolutions condemning the criminalization of homosexuality; helped LGBT focused NGOs gain credentials to the UN; and otherwise treated LGBT rights as human rights. LGBT rights are pretty much a mainstream issue now, with only religiously conservative countries (mostly in the middle east) in opposition.

4. The “previous administration’s disdain” for the UN was most prominantly manifest in its decision to basically ignore the UN Human Rights Council. In 2005, the UN abolished the old, discredited UN Commission on Human Rights and created the Human Rights Council. The latter had much tougher admission requirements, which the framers hoped would dissuade blatant human rights abusers from seeking admission. The Bush administration still believed that the requirements were not stingent enough so they stayed out.

When Obama took office, the most visible sign that the new administration was taking a different approach to the UN was its decision to join the Human Rights Council. Rather than gripe from the sidelines, the USA would help steer the direction of the Council. So far, I think it is fair to say that this approach has been successful. The most recent example of this is the USA helping to build a coalition to block Sudan from vying for a seat.  The Council is a much more effective institution with the USA on the inside.

6. In response to North Korea testing a nuclear weapon in May 2009, the Security Council passed some punishing sanctions on North Korea. China was on board, which is significant because China is North Korea’s largest trading partner.  In 2010, Russia and China got on board for a very tough round of sanction on Iran, to punish the country for non-cooperation with the IAEA.