Restoring U.S. Leadership Through Global Cooperation

November 22, 2009, 9:58 am
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Advocacy Agenda 2009

Adopted by the UNA-USA Board of Directors on December 15, 2008

As the Obama administration and the 111th Congress take office in 2009, they will have an opportunity to reassert American leadership in the world and renew the U.S.-UN relationship. The great global challenges of our time require the world to work together toward shared solutions. The breadth of issues requiring broad-based international cooperation is extensive, including: climate change; the financial crisis; human rights; global health; peacekeeping; poverty; nuclear proliferation; and terrorism. Working on these challenges through the United Nations and with our allies allows the United States to share the costs, risks, responsibilities, and benefits of promoting a more peaceful and just world.

With a new Administration, the United States can renew its commitment to diplomacy, international law, and the United Nations as vital tools for advancing our security, economic, humanitarian, and environmental interests. It is in our national interest that the UN thrives and succeeds.

The changed political dynamic in Washington presents a fresh opportunity for America to exercise global leadership by emphasizing international cooperation. Significant progress in this direction can be made through a series of relatively risk-free and inexpensive policy choices that will signal to other countries a new approach to the U.S. role in the world.


Below are some basic talking points for use when communicating with Members of Congress and their staffs, or representatives of the Administration.

Working with the 111th Congress

In 2009, UNA-USA members and leaders can help make progress toward several achievable targets. The following talking points can be used in communications with elected officials to help us all to synchronize our messages and meet our over-arching legislative goals:

  • Pay our dues to the UN on time and in full: Congress should appropriate adequate funding to meet our commitments to the United Nations and other international organizations.
  • Address shortfalls to the Peacekeeping Budget: In the Fiscal Year 2009 budget request, U.S. contributions to UN peacekeeping are $500 million short. Congress should make up this shortfall. The U.S. has voted for these peacekeeping operations in the Security Council. If we expect the rest of the world to help share the burden of stabilizing conflict situations before they spread, we need to pay our fair share of the costs.
  • Lift the Peacekeeping Cap: Congress should permanently lift the 25 percent cap on payments to UN peacekeeping in order to prevent further arrears.

Working with the Obama Administration

We can also make progress on some key policy goals that stem from the Office of the President and his Administration. In completing our 2008 candidate questionnaire, President Obama made a number of important commitments regarding U.S.-UN relations. It is now important that we follow up on these commitments to ensure that a strong United Nations continues to be a priority for President Obama. In particular, all UNA-USA members and leaders are encouraged to voice their support for these key priorities in communications with the Administration:

  • Engage with the UN Human Rights Council: In recent years, the United States has all but walked away from the Human Rights Council, abdicating the important work of promoting human rights and setting norms. The U.S. should have an active, permanent presence at the Human Rights Council, exert leadership in the Council’s work, and run for a seat on the Council.
  • Work constructively to strengthen the UN: The UN is an important part of the global landscape for U.S. diplomacy and security. The United States should participate fully and constructively in the effort to strengthen UN operations and institutions so the organization can meet the challenges of the 21st century.
  • Pay our UN dues: By failing to fully pay our mutually agreed-upon share of UN expenses, we are undermining our influence at the United Nations and the important work of the organization. The United States can make a powerful statement about its support for global cooperation and the importance of fulfilling international commitments by meeting the most basic obligation of UN membership – paying our dues.


Detailed below are six priority issues for UNA-USA chapters, leaders, and members to focus on in 2009. These are issues that ranked highly in our survey of different Association groups, including chapters, the Council of Organizations, the National Council, the Board, and national office staff, and which have tangible, relevant, and short-term goals that we can all work together to achieve. UNA-USA members and chapters are encouraged to educate their communities and communicate to their elected officials about these core issues.

1) Strengthening the U.S.-UN Relationship

There is an opportunity now to strengthen the U.S.-UN relationship and reinvigorate U.S. leadership in the world. But it will require the U.S. acting as an engaged and constructive partner with other UN member states. U.S. leadership at the UN and in the world also depends on upholding our commitments, including by paying our dues to the UN’s regular budget, peacekeeping budget, and specialized agencies on time and in full, as well as fulfilling pledged commitments to UN voluntary programs.

Working cooperatively with other nations through the United Nations allows us to share the costs and risks of promoting fundamental American foreign policy goals, such as international stability, global prosperity, and respect for basic human freedoms.

In recent years, the United States increasingly has turned to the UN to help tackle complex international crises in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Haiti, Congo, and Darfur. Accordingly, the size and complexity of UN peacekeeping operations continues to undergo an historic expansion.

The United States must do more to help the UN manage its rapidly growing peacekeeping mandates, in addition to paying unpaid debts and ongoing assessments in full. Currently, the United Nations does not receive adequate contributions of troops and equipment from member states, and its capacity to effectively manage operations has not kept pace with the growth in peacekeeping mandates. The U.S. can and should play a central role in helping strengthen UN peacekeeping capabilities, not only in the areas of transport, logistical support and communication equipment, but also in direct participation in the military dimension of UN peace operations when appropriate.

When the U.S. short-changes the UN, it not only jeopardizes the effectiveness of the organization’s important work, it also undermines American leadership at the United Nations and within the international community.


  • By the end of 2009, the President and Congress should develop a plan for paying all outstanding dues payments owed to the United Nations and to put the United States on track to pay its dues to international organizations on time;

  • The United States should permanently lift its unilateral cap on UN peacekeeping contributions and pay all of its current year UN dues in full and without conditions;

  • The United States should increase its support of UN peacekeeping, including in the areas of logistics, communications, intelligence, training, and equipment, and units of its military should prepare and train for potential direct participation in peace operations when appropriate; and

  • The United States should support the important work of UN voluntary programs, including restoring US financial contributions to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Action Items for UNA-USA Leaders and Members:

  • Visit local Congressional offices as part of National Advocacy Week (to be held in spring 2009) and conduct appropriate follow-up throughout the year to stress the importance of fully meeting our financial commitments to UN peacekeeping and basic operations;

  • Contact Members of Congress, as instructed by UNA-USA action alerts and otherwise, to request support for U.S. financial contributions to the United Nations;

  • Submit letters to the editor and op-eds to local papers to raise awareness about the need for the U.S. to pay its UN dues and the importance of U.S. leadership at the UN; and

  • Work with Model UN programs ( and regional and local affiliates of the UNA-USA Council of Organizations ( to highlight the value to the United States of a well-funded United Nations.

2) Advancing Human Rights and International Justice

The UN’s human rights work is a hallmark of the organization and has a significant impact on Americans’ overall perceptions of the United Nations. This is particularly true in the case of Congress, where the UN Human Rights Council has served as a lightning rod for criticism of the United Nations.

The United States stood virtually alone in its opposition to the creation of the Human Rights Council, which replaced the UN Human Rights Commission that had drawn heavy criticism from the United States and others for poor performance and over-emphasis on Israel. Only Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Palau joined the U.S. in voting against the formation of the Council in 2006. In addition, the Bush administration never ran for election to the Council. Instead, the United States has passively stood aside and has been absent for the first, crucial years of the Council. Most recently, in fiscal year 2008, the United States withheld its share of UN regular budget dues used to fund the Council.

While there are legitimate concerns about the Human Rights Council, simply ignoring and trying to isolate the Council will not improve any nation’s human rights performance. The United States can best improve the Human Rights Council’s performance by engaging with and working from within the Council as an active member. In particular, the U.S. should work with allies to help ensure that participation and leadership on the Council is reserved for countries that accept and adhere to the standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established by UN member states in 2002 as a permanent independent court. It holds individuals accountable for atrocity crimes that inevitably include the gravest violations of human rights. The United States has not joined the ICC despite its role as a longtime proponent of the international rule of law and international courts. The ICC is the world’s only permanent international court with jurisdiction to try individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes when national courts are unwilling or unable to act.

The United States participated in the drafting of the Rome Statute of the ICC and President Clinton signed the treaty at the end of 2000, but did not support ratification due to concerns about possible politically-motivated prosecutions of U.S. personnel. The Bush administration initially ended all U.S. involvement with the Court, including an unprecedented letter suspending the U.S. signature on the Rome Statute. However, in 2005, the Bush administration allowed the Security Council to refer the situation in Darfur, Sudan, to the Court.

The ICC is moving forward with its work without the participation of the United States. More than 100 countries have joined the ICC, which became operational in 2002, and the Court is currently investigating cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Uganda; the Central African Republic; and Darfur. The Court’s performance to date does not bear out critics’ concerns about politically-motivated or impartial prosecutions. The U.S. should reengage with the ICC, including through reinstating the U.S. signature of the Rome Statute and attending ICC meetings.

The rights of women and children are additional areas in which U.S. efforts are hindered by a decision to remain outside widely-accepted international regimes, in this case, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). A total of 185 countries have ratified CEDAW, also known as the Treaty for the Rights of Women. Among UN member states only the United States and Somalia have failed to ratify the CRC.


  • Help improve the performance of the Human Rights Council;

  • The President should immediately appoint a permanent observer to the Human Rights Council and organize an energetic campaign for election as a full member in 2009 or 2010;

  • The United States should resume funding its share of the Council’s expenses;

  • Within the first few months of taking office, the President should reaffirm the U.S. signature of the Rome Statute and announce that the United States will participate in the 2010 ICC Review Conference and preparatory meetings beginning in early 2009;

  • Congress should repeal all provisions of the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, anti-ICC legislation enacted in 2002; and

  • The United States should ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Action Items for UNA-USA Leaders and Members:

  • Raise awareness within the United Nations and among member states about the damage being done to the UN’s work and reputation by the Council’s poor performance;

  • Write letters to the editor and opinion pieces for local papers making the case for U.S. engagement with the Human Rights Council;

  • Organize petition drives and send them to the President and Secretary of State, calling for the U.S. to seek election to the Council;

  • Hold public events, such as speaker forums and lectures, to educate the public about the UN’s human rights work, including the Human Rights Council;

  • Learn about and participate in UNA-USA’s program, the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the ICC (visit;

  • Visit the local offices of your members of Congress during National Advocacy Week in the spring of 2009 to demonstrate public support for the ICC;

  • Organize a petition drive or postcard mailing to urge the White House to reinstate the U.S. signature on the Rome Statute and re-engage with the ICC;

  • Contact the administration and your Senators in support of CEDAW and the CRC; and

  • Take advantage of local media outlets to raise awareness about CEDAW and the CRC and the importance of US ratification of both treaties.

3) Renewing the United Nations

The UN’s membership and responsibilities have changed dramatically over its sixty-plus years. Although significant reforms have been adopted over the years, the United Nations remains in need of institutional upgrades to enable the organization to successfully carry out its many new and complex mandates, and to maintain the support of its member states. A strong and capable United Nations, updated for the 21st Century, should be a priority for the United States.

While the U.S. has advocated numerous changes to the Secretariat and the General Assembly, it has been less eager to engage on Security Council reform. This is a major point of contention for many nations that place a priority on Security Council reform due to concern that the Council’s permanent membership has remained unchanged since the UN was founded. Some argue that the unrepresentative nature of the Security Council has damaged the legitimacy of its decisions and will need to be addressed before further UN reforms can be agreed upon.

To the extent that the high-profile Security Council is perceived as outdated and unrepresentative, it taints public views about the UN in general. A successful effort to update the Security Council can provide momentum for progress in other areas of UN reform, and constructive U.S. participation in such an initiative can help improve America’s flagging global standing.

Much like the actions of the Security Council, UN peacekeeping is one of the most visible and important manifestations of the organization’s work. The success or failure of peacekeeping operations has a considerable effect on American views about the UN. Currently, the United Nations does not receive adequate member state contributions of troops and equipment, and its capacity to effectively manage large and complex operations has not kept pace with the growth in peacekeeping mandates. As the demand for UN peace and stability operations continues to undergo an historic expansion, the strengthening of UN peacekeeping capabilities must be a particularly urgent component of any UN reform effort.


  • The President should work with other key world leaders to initiate a high-level diplomatic effort to reform the Security Council, including expanding its membership, and strengthen UN peacekeeping operations; and

  • The United States should lead an active and urgent diplomatic effort at the UN to implement all of the recommendations of the 2000 Report of the Panel on UN Peace Operations, establish a well-trained and –equipped UN rapid deployment force, and ensure that the new UN Peacebuilding Commission receives adequate resources and support.

Action Items for UNA-USA Leaders and Members:

  • E-mail, write, and call the White House and Congress in support of a serious, intense, and high-level diplomatic effort to strengthen the capabilities and work of the United Nations, including the ability to deploy and manage its peacekeeping forces;

  • Educate your community through public events, outreach and media about the need to renew and reform the United Nations; and

  • Visit your legislators in their local offices as part of National Advocacy Week (to be held in spring 2009), and conduct appropriate follow-up throughout the year, to inform them about, and build support for, the valuable work of UN peacekeeping.

4) Building International Consensus on Climate Change

Climate change is one of the world’s most pressing and far-reaching challenges. Any effective solution will require intensive diplomatic, economic, scientific, and technological cooperation among all members of the international community.

The United Nations is uniquely positioned to provide the most effective platform for jointly addressing this threat. Under a UN framework, the international community has begun the process of drafting a new global climate agreement. The goal of these negotiations is the establishment by the end of 2009 of a widely-accepted comprehensive international agreement for preventing catastrophic climate change.

The UN will also play a central role in helping the developing world adapt to climatic changes by promoting measures such as the adoption of clean energy technologies that will enable economic progress with minimal emissions of greenhouse gases. The U.S. and other developed countries should work with and through the UN to help provide developing countries with the financing and technology needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change.


  • The United States should play a lead role in building international consensus in support of an agreement on a new global climate change protocol by the end of 2009; and

  • UNA-USA should help raise awareness about the UN’s central role in global climate change negotiations as an example of the unique and invaluable work of the United Nations.

Action Items for UNA-USA Leaders and Members:

  • Establish regular contact with Members of Congress to inform them of the UN’s critical work on climate change;

  • Partner with like-minded organizations in your area to hold public programs on climate change and the UN’s climate change activities; and

  • Organize a letter-writing campaign, call-in day, or other public events for World Environment Day, celebrated on June 5 (for ideas, visit

5) Achieving the Millennium Development Goals

The United Nations is spearheading a unique and ambitious international effort to improve the lives of the world’s poor and help reduce sources of conflict and instability throughout the world.

At the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, every UN member state, including the United States, agreed to a detailed development agenda to strengthen the world’s focus on, and commitment to, the fight against poverty. Reaffirmed by the United States and other world leaders in 2005, the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs) include eight concrete objectives to be achieved by 2015.

Progress has been made toward meeting the MDGs and the goals are still achievable. However, given the current global financial crisis, success will require a renewed effort on the part of the entire international community, including world leaders and citizen activists.

Emerging efforts to modernize and reform U.S. foreign assistance machinery should take account of and reflect the Millennium Development Goals, agreed to by the past two Administrations as the global roadmap for poverty reduction. In addition, the role and value of foreign assistance provided through international organizations should be reflected prominently in U.S. strategy.


  • Soon after taking office, President Obama should publicly endorse the MDGs and re-commit the United States to the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs.

  • The Congress and the Obama administration should develop a strategic plan for achieving the MDGs that takes advantage of multilateral development assistance channels; and

  • The United States should align its foreign assistance programs with the Millennium Development Goals.

Action Items for UNA-USA Leaders and Members:

  • Join UNA-USA’s HERO program to help achieve the MDGs dealing with child health and the spread of infectious diseases (visit;

  • Recruit and organize other community members and like-minded organizations that care about the UN and the fight against global poverty to increase public awareness about the MDGs and their importance to the achievement of U.S. national priorities; and

  • Organize letter-writing campaigns, petition drives, and postcard mailings to encourage the President and Secretary of State to publicly promote the MDGs and take steps to ensure their achievement.

6) Promoting Arms Control and Disarmament

From nuclear weapons to landmines and cluster munitions, the United States over the past decade has failed to take advantage of key opportunities to advance the goals of nonproliferation and disarmament. There are several important steps the new Obama administration and Congress can take to demonstrate America’s commitment to international arms control.

In the spring of 2010, a major international conference will review the status and implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at a time when both nuclear and non-nuclear nations have lost confidence in the treaty’s effectiveness. The review conference will provide the United States and other nations with an important opportunity to strengthen and restore confidence in the NPT, which serves as the foundation of the global nuclear arms control and disarmament regime.

The United States can also provide critical momentum to international nuclear arms control efforts by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The United States, the first nuclear nation, played a key role in the treaty’s development (President Eisenhower issued the first call for such a treaty and President Clinton was the first world leader to sign it) and American ratification could help jump start the effort to bring the treaty into force.

Though far less powerful than nuclear weapons, the destruction wrought by landmines and cluster munitions occurs on a regular basis, with thousands of innocent civilians killed or maimed every year. The United States has the world’s largest stockpile of cluster munitions and the third largest landmine arsenal. The refusal by the United States to ratify the Cluster Munitions Convention and the Mine Ban Treaty cripples the broadly-supported global effort to ban these indiscriminate weapons.


  • The President should help strengthen the global arms control regime by reaffirming America’s NPT obligations and by working to ensure that all nations recognize and renew their own obligations under the treaty at the 2010 review conference;

  • The United States should lead international efforts to strengthen the treaty, including through the creation of an international nuclear fuel bank;

  • The President should request, and the Congress should appropriate, adequate resources to enable the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify compliance with the NPT;

  • The President and the Senate should work together in support of U.S. ratification of the CTBT; and

  • The United States should sign and ratify the Cluster Munitions Convention and the Mine Ban Treaty.

Action Items for UNA-USA Leaders and Members:

  • Visit the local offices of your Members of Congress, including during National Advocacy Week (to be held in spring 2009), to show support for a U.S.-led international effort to strengthen the NPT, and ratification of the CTBT, Cluster Munitions Convention, and the Mine Ban Treaty;

  • Hold public events and engage local media to highlight the important work of the IAEA and the need to renew and enhance the NPT-based global disarmament and nonproliferation regime;

  • Contact the White House and Congress in support of robust funding to the IAEA; and

  • Educate your community and elected officials about the importance of US ratification of the CTBT, Cluster Munitions Convention, and Mine Ban Treaty through public events, media outreach, petition drives, and the adoption of city council resolutions (visit and


Randle, D. (2009). Restoring U.S. Leadership Through Global Cooperation. Retrieved from


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