Obama’s Foreign Policy Will Need United Nations Support
Because of President-elect Barack Obama’s genuinely internationalist ambitions, the United Nations will be an indispensable backdrop for the first time in recent decades for the success of US foreign policy. The key foreign policy issues of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the financial and economic meltdown, climate change and energy use have global components coordinated mainly by the UN.
On January 1, 2009, Iraq officially starts its post-American era under the agreement recently approved by the Iraqi parliament and the Nuri al-Maliki government. In that era, the Iraqi government will have the final word on almost all domestic matters, including when and where US troops fight and who they can hold prisoner and for how long. Some acts by Americans would even be judged in Iraqi courts outside US jurisdiction.
The UN will have a much bigger role in Iraq in coming years especially for national building and development, without which the US cannot stabilize that country whatever the accord’s future. Obama wants much more international and regional cooperation to find a dignified exit from the mess within the time frame he pledged during the elections and set down under the current agreement with Iraq. The UN’s peacekeeping and development expertise will be necessary for these processes.
In Afghanistan, the international force fighting the war is controlled by NATO, the US-led Western military alliance, but much of the economic and social development work is coordinated by the UN. Obama wants to step up the development work as part of an integrated strategy that includes a troop surge to pacify Afghanistan.
Delivering and maintaining the non-military part of this enterprise cannot be achieved without substantial help from the UN and its related agencies. Since January 2008, the UN has helped local activists to clear one million square meters of landmines in the north eastern region protecting about 331 communities. There, landmines had killed 165 people and maimed more than 1100 people. With continued UN support, Afghanistan should be free of all the millions of landmines by 2013.
The UN has also helped over five million refugees to return home from Pakistan and Iran, and a forthcoming conference in Kabul will study how to repatriate the remaining three million. Another UN agency is helping local anti-corruption groups to promote accountability and transparency, which are vital for Afghanistan.
Technical and other help is being given to remote communities through public works projects, such as a permanent bridge bringing access for 6000 isolated villagers to their wider region.
The adverse affects of climate change and profligate energy use are among the most difficult medium to long term challenges affecting the economic stability and personal health of millions of Americans. The UN is closely involved in both but has received erratic and reluctant cooperation from the Bush administration. Obama has placed high priority on these issues and will have to work more seriously with the UN and related forums.
The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization – all members of the UN system—are major actors in repairing and reversing the current global economic meltdown. The US government and Federal Reserve Bank are working at the national level to implement changes but results cannot be achieved without international collaboration.
President Bush’s Washington Summit on November 15 was ineffectual but new talks are set for April 2009 when Obama will be the major actor. Whatever the outcomes, most of the implementation will have to be done through the UN system’s agencies, in particular to channel financial help to the emerging economies of Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America.
Without the UN system as a partner in the economic recovery process, Obama’s best laid plans may fail to achieve their goals.