The US-UN Relationship – Why it Matters for US

By Patricia Zanini Graca

The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945 on American soil. Its name was coined by American President Franklin Roosevelt. Since its foundation, the UN has played a major role in shaping the globalized world we live in today. The organization works to unite countries, maintain world peace and security, promote human rights and international justice, and ensure economic and social progress. For example, the UN has recently focused on current global issues, such as climate change, the refugee crisis, and disease outbreaks. Despite the recent skepticism of the UN by leading United States politicians, the UN provides a vehicle in which to promote US interests around the world and makes the international system that the US leads possible.

The US has partnered with the UN since its creation. The US has always supported the UN as an international organization, and a non-state actor that stewards the world’s needs, addresses interdependent issues, and mitigates threats to world peace and security. Both the US and the UN have benefited from this relationship. The UN was established as a peacekeeping organization that aimed to provide an arena for member states to discuss and solve conflict. The UN first conference was held in San Francisco, California where the delegates drew up the UN’s founding document, the UN charter. According to the UN charter article 1, the purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security. The UN is often competent in keeping and building peace in the contemporary world, despite not able to rely on its own coercive military power. Since 1945, the UN has led 71 peacekeeping operations worldwide. The UN, through much effort, has socialized many member states to understand the concept that it is more productive to address conflict through peacemaking and peacekeeping agreements, rather than by engaging in wars or violence.

The UN-US relationship is based on mutual cooperation. Although the UN has 193 member states, the US is without a doubt a special member. It has some notable leverage for being a beacon of democracy with an economy that drives the world’s market. The former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anna said at the Heinz Foundation at the University of Pittsburgh on October 21, 2003, that “it is no surprise that we owe the very existence of the United Nations to a great American President:  Franklin D. Roosevelt.” The UN acknowledges the relevant role of the U.S. in its organization while reinforcing the cooperation between them through the years.

The US is connected to the UN by multiple organs, but the lion’s share of its influence comes from its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (SC), which aims to maintain and promote world peace and security. The SC has 15 members, 5 permanent, and 10 non-permanent members that are elected every two years. The US holds one of these 5 permanent chairs. Each member has the right to one vote. All UN members can participate in the discussions, but only the 15 SC members can vote. Any member, state or party that is involved in the dispute can participate in the discussions, but have no rights to vote. The SC calls upon its members whenever international peace and security is threatened. Passing a resolution requires 9 positive votes. The advantage the 5 permanent members have is the right to a veto. If one of the 5 casts this negative vote, the decision cannot be approved. Since the existence of the council, the U.S. has already used the right of veto 79 times. The SC summons up its members and the parties involved in the dispute to settle it peacefully when there is a world threat. The SC pursues solutions that promote and restore world peace via diplomatic approaches such as authorizing sanctions and peacekeeping missions. If it is necessary, the SC has the right to authorize the use of military force to maintain or restore world peace and security. For that reason, the SC is responsible for the deployment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). The SC adopts a resolution that is approved by its members and establishes a peacekeeping operation. The peacekeeping missions attempt foster stability in many countries of the world by keeping the peace, promoting human rights, facilitating both economic and political development.

The UN has helped the US advance its foreign policy interests by striving for the stability and facilitating the interstate cooperation needed to create and maintain the liberal world order the US heads and benefits from. The aforementioned influence the US holds on the SC is the best illustration of the US being able to shape outcomes, but the UN also provides other avenues for cooperation through its multiple agencies. For instance, in concrete national security terms, the UN helps keep America and its allies safer through cooperation, for instance, the UN framework has already created 19 international treaties on counterterrorism partnerships.

One criticism lobbed at is that it is wasteful and spendthrift. On the contrary, because the US often holds the purse strings for most of the UN budget its has enormous influence over possible reform. Because the US is the largest financial contributor to the UN, contributing more than 25% of the UN annual budget, and 28% of its peacekeeping budget, the US needs the reform to be effective to see some return on investment. At the General Assembly on September 18, 2017, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “he shared Trump’s vision for a less-wasteful UN that will live up to its full potential.”  Even though the UN has imperfections, the UN’s proposed reform in response to the US requests indicates the cooperative relationship between the UN and the US endures. US and UN cooperation remains as essential as ever to maintain the current ordered liberal world.

Patricia Zanini Graca is a first-year graduate student at the Seton Hall School of Diplomacy and International Relations. Patricia holds an MBA in Business and Marketing. Patricia is a media associate at the Journal of Diplomacy, and an associate at the Graduate Diplomacy Council. She specializes in International Organizations and Global Negotiations & Conflict Management. 

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3 thoughts on “The US-UN Relationship – Why it Matters for US

  • December 11, 2017 at 11:53 pm
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    Great topic which drives so much of the politics within the UN Organization. Looking for more great analysis from the author. Good job.

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