The U.S. at the U.N. and Beyond: A World of Transnational Challenges

Thursday, September 16, 2010
Esther Brimmer
North America
United States of America

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Johns Hopkins School of International Studies
Washington, DC
September 15, 2010

(As Prepared)

Thank you for that warm introduction. It is great to be here at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies with so many friends and former colleagues.

I am truly grateful to Dean Einhorn, Felisa Klubes, and the International Development and International Law and Organizations Programs for putting this event together. Being back at SAIS, I am reminded of the far-reaching role this institution plays internationally, and its influence in Washington and across the globe.

When Secretary Clinton was here last month she articulated the United States long-standing commitment to global health, and introduced the Administration's ― Global Health Initiative. She also she highlighted the many contributions that SAIS has made in the fields of diplomacy and international law.

The Secretary also pointed out, something I am proud of, the overwhelming number of SAIS grads currently working at the State Department. I hope many of you will use the skills honed at SAIS, and consider a career at the State Department.

SAIS is a vibrant place because of its thoughtful and energetic students. Therefore I want to acknowledge your loss. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Julia Bachleitner who passed away yesterday.

I am particularly honored to be here on the eve of the 65th General Assembly. For the United States, for President Obama and the Administration, the upcoming UN General Assembly session is an opportunity to take stock, and to measure progress and the global impact of the President's new era of engagement.

Over the past 18 months, the President's repositioning of the United States internationally has both strengthened our security through concrete actions, and revitalized the multilateral system, giving hope to many around the globe.

The United States is meeting the challenges of our times by rolling up our sleeves and embracing the responsibilities outlined by the President last September at the UN, "to act boldly and collectively on behalf of justice and prosperity at home and abroad."

We are at the table and leading by example as we work together with international partners, including the UN, to address the common challenges we face.

We know that working with international organizations is a fundamental part of modern diplomacy. International organizations are places to find common solutions to complex problems.

International organizations also allow the international community to set global standards, and provide support to help states to meet these standards, thereby reinforcing global norms.

International organizations enable us to rally a global response to critical needs. We saw this response when the U.S., UN and international community responded immediately to catastrophic natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan.

Indeed working with the UN and the international community were integral parts of the U.S. response to the humanitarian crises in Haiti and Pakistan. In each case, the Secretary of State attended special sessions at the UN to rally international support to meet the needs of Haitians and Pakistanis.

As the United States looks for common solutions we are casting a wide net to work with many partners, yet the United Nations system remains the central organization in the web of international organizations, with key roles played by regional and other bodies.

We are active members of many organizations, including the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Asia and Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In fact in 2011, the US will host the APEC Summit in Hawaii.

The United States is also reaching out to international organizations, including those in which we are not members, such as the African Union. The U.S. Ambassador accredited specifically to the African Union. In August, USAID signed the first long-term assistance agreement with the African Union.

The U.S. also has a Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Our engagement with the OIC has focused on issues that transcend borders, including health. We are encouraging the OIC to work closely with the World Health Organization, UNICEF and NGOs, to effectively eradicate polio and also to advance maternal and child health.

As we reach out to include emerging economies in responsible global leadership, we are working through the G20 to strengthen international economic cooperation and promote global economic recovery.

President Obama has laid a foundation of multilateral engagement and global leadership in which America leads not by stepping outside the currents of global cooperation, but by guiding those currents in the direction of liberty and justice.

This foundation is reflected fully in our priorities at the upcoming UN General Assembly which include: non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security, human rights and human security; the preservation of our planet and climate; improving the global economy, and advancing global development.

Now, I will give you a preview of several of these key priorities, which will be the focus of our attention and efforts next week at UN General Assembly.

Nuclear nonproliferation is a long term priority for the Obama Administration. In April 2009, in Prague, President Obama announced his decision to press toward the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

This goal was set with the understanding that the international community, not just the United States, faces nuclear proliferation of a scope and complexity that demands strengthening and revitalizing the global nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

In a little over a year, the United States has achieved significant progress on this agenda:

  • Last September, the President presided over the UN Security Council's adoption of Resolution 1887 on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament.
  • This past April, the President signed the New START Treaty, which will further reduce the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia.
  • Also, in April, President Obama hosted a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington that brought together leaders from 47 nations and three international organizations to advance our goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials.
  • At the NPT Review Conference, in May, progress was made on a core priority of the President: strengthening the NPT's international nonproliferation regime and the three pillars of the Treaty – nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
  • In the coming weeks and months, the President will continue to advance America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, including pursuing a Fissile Material Cut-Off treaty, strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency, and strengthening the NonProliferation Treaty.

While progress has been made, we are also focused on the issue of enforcement. One of the factors critical to realizing the President's goal of a nuclear free world is compliance with international obligations, and the need for consequences when these agreements are violated.

As the President said during his Nobel lecture, "Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure—and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one."

In this case, a few bad actors, particularly Iran and North Korea, remain defiant in their non-compliance and threaten international peace and security. That is why it is imperative that the international community join the U.S. in holding Iran and North Korea accountable for violating their international obligations.

Iran has repeatedly failed to live up to its own commitments and continues to violate its obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, the NPT, and its IAEA Safeguards Agreement. It has also failed to address the fundamental concerns related to its nuclear program.

In June the Security Council responded by adopting Resolution 1929 which strengthens sanctions on Iran. Following its adoption, we have witnessed enhanced measures to hold Iran accountable, including robust EU sanctions, and then follow-up action from Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

While the door is still open to engagement and diplomacy, we will continue to increase pressure on Iran's leaders to fulfill their obligations and cease their irresponsible behavior. We are strongly urging other states to join a growing international consensus to ensure that the sanctions in Resolution 1929 are fully implemented.

Turing to human rights, the United States is proud of its record on human rights and the role our country has played in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.

Our fundamental long term commitment to universal human rights is clear. We support strengthening the UN's response to human rights concerns, and weaving human rights protection into its work across the UN system.

When it comes to human rights, the United States believes in leading by example. On August 20, we submitted a report on the U.S. human rights record, in accordance with the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The report reiterates our unwavering commitment to human rights at home and abroad.

At the one year anniversary of our joining the Human Rights Council, we take note of progress toward our overarching goal—a more active and credible Council, working to protect and defend universal rights. Through the Council we have expressed our commitment to promoting human rights globally, and to improving the human rights mechanisms of the UN.

We are committed to working from within the Human Rights Council with a broad cross section of member states to strengthen and reform the Council and enable it to live up to the vision that was crafted when it was created.

Today we have a better appreciation for the parts of our vision for the Council that have been more quickly achieved, and where real challenges continue to exist.

First the positive side.

During its June session, the Human Rights Council passed a U.S.-initiated resolution responding to the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, and we partnered with 56 nations, to issue a strong statement regarding Iran's human rights record. We also co-sponsored a resolution with the Afghan Government spotlighting attacks on schoolchildren in Afghanistan, and supported a resolution deepening the Council's engagement in Somalia.

In the upcoming September session, we plan to work with other countries, to renew the mandate for the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan; establish a special procedures mechanism on discrimination against women; and support the creation of a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and of Association.

Recent work at the Council builds on positive action in 2009, including a resolution on Freedom of Expression that brought together a wide range of countries, bridging some of the most persistent divisions on the Human Rights Council.

The positive steps highlighted do not mean that the Council's shortcomings have been remedied. We are actively engaged in the UN General Assembly mandated five-year review of the Human Rights Council in 2011, which is an opportunity to make the Council a more effective forum for addressing human rights concerns.

In particular, we must remedy the Council's ongoing biased and disproportionate focus on Israel. We must also continue to discourage the global community from electing unqualified candidates. We succeeded through intense, sustained diplomacy, in gaining broad support to prevent -- unqualified candidates, like Iran, from joining the HRC.

Looking ahead at UN General Assembly and then beyond, the United States will robustly defend human rights, emphasizing the importance of accountability, respect for human rights for all persons including women and vulnerable groups, and the promotion of the rule of law.

We will also encourage the UN to prioritize and strengthen its human rights and protection work as it responds to ongoing and emerging crisis situations. The UN's peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations are a major focus of this crisis response.

Working with Security Council member states and the broader UN membership to strengthen UN peacekeeping operations and partnering with UN Member States on peace-building and peacekeeping issues will continue to be key priorities for the United States.

Peace operations not only help move fragile states toward a durable peace but are often on the front lines to help shield civilian populations from violence. We ask a lot of the UN's over a 100,000 peacekeepers that are deployed in 15 UN missions around the world, most with complex mandates, and in tough neighborhoods. Many peacekeeping missions are overstretched, and without key equipment or logistical support, such as military helicopters, and struggle to meet their mandates.

A top priority for the United States is to focus greater international efforts on matching peacekeeping missions with capacity, better guidance, stronger support mechanisms and strategies, especially so they can achieve their mandates and protect civilians in their areas of operation. This is an important aim, whether for peacekeepers in Sudan, Haiti or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We are also focused on effective peace-building. Effective peace-building ensures that the burden of response is shared, accelerates the accomplishment of peacekeeping missions' goals, and, through sustainable, institution building reduces the need for future peacekeeping missions.

To that end, the United States believes that the UN's Peace-Building Commission (PBC) has a vital role to play in supporting countries, for example Sierra Leone and Liberia, as they move from post-conflict recovery towards long-term security and development.

Peacekeeping and peace-building are among the many important areas of our multilateral engagement where enhancing the role of women can have a major impact. Secretary Clinton has often said: "Women's rights and women's issues cannot be an afterthought in our foreign policy; they must factor centrally in how we look at the world. Women's rights are human rights."

If you think about it -- what happens to women and girls truly has an impact on the security of the United States and the international community. We know this because we see that the suffering and denial of the rights of women and the instability of nations go hand in hand.

We also led the effort at the UN General Assembly over the past year to create UN Women, a new UN entity which aims to promote gender equality and expand education and, economic and political opportunities for women and girls globally.

I want express our strong support for the decision of the UN Secretary General to name Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile, as the new Under Secretary-General to head UN Women. I join Secretary Clinton and the Administration in congratulating President Bachelet, on her appointment. She is an extraordinary choice to lead UN Women, and is someone we know who will work tirelessly to elevate the status of women and girls across the globe.

There is a lot of work to be done to address serious challenges facing women and girls, including mitigating the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women, bringing women more into peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace-building processes, and combating sexual and gender-based violence.

Around the world, the places that are the most dangerous for women are more often than not the areas of operation for international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. In fact in countries where women are threatened and abused, governance is often weak, and the risk of violent conflict is elevated.

Unconscionably sexual violence, particularly rape, is used as a tactic of war. The most recent and horrific examples of which we have seen being mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As Secretary Clinton said in response to these attacks, "the international community must take steps to protect local populations against sexual and gender-based violence and bring to justice those who commit such atrocities."

Over the past decade, the United States has been a strong advocate and led efforts to secure four UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions (1325, 1820, 1888, and 1889) embodying policies that promote the participation of women in conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and peace-building, and protecting women and girls from sexual and gender based violence.

In fact, resolution 1888 directed the Secretary-General to appoint the first-ever Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Today the U.S. is working closely with Margot Wallstrom, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, in her efforts and that of the UN, to address conflict-related sexual violence against women and children, and to bring more attention, action and resources to this critical issue.

This October marks an historic juncture, the tenth anniversary of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. Uganda, as the President of the Security Council in October, is hosting a UN ministerial meeting on the implementation of indicators to track progress on UNSC Resolution 1325.

We look forward to participating and contributing to this Ministerial with the understanding that while there has been some progress made we know that too many women are still not truly full and equal participants in the making and implementation of policies on international peace and security.

Looking more closely, we also know serious gaps still exist at the UN in monitoring and reporting on women, peace and security issues. With improved monitoring and reporting, the Security Council and the international community will be better positioned to develop effective strategy, policy and training, and to urge accountability when necessary.

As we grapple with challenges associated with peace and security, the Administration has also sought to elevate and integrate development as a core element of U.S. national security policy.

As Secretary Clinton has stated, "We advance our security, our prosperity, and our values by improving the material conditions of people's lives around the world."

The upcoming General Assembly session and the High Level MDG plenary, which will meet immediately preceding this session, provide an opportunity to build on the President's commitment to development and highlight American leadership in working with the international community to meet the MDG's 2015 targets.

Much progress has made to achieve MDG goals since the baseline year of 1990:

The number of people living on less than $1.25 a day has fallen by 400 million.
In 2007, there were 40 million more children in school across the developing world -- than five years earlier.
Over 1.6 billion people have better access to clean drinking water.
Nearly two-thirds of developing countries have met the goal of eliminating gender disparity in primary education.
Due to successful HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care programs, AIDS related mortality has decreased, and more people in low and middle income countries are receiving antiretroviral treatment.
The world is on track to achieving the MDG target of halving tuberculosis prevalence and mortality.
Even with these accomplishments the 2010 milestone is a good time to recall that much remains to be done. We know the road ahead is likely to be difficult, but we are determined to accelerate momentum toward fully realizing the Goals by 2015, and to help ensure that those gains are sustainable.

In reaching these goals, the President launched two initiatives aimed at the MDGs related to global health and to food security. As you may have read this morning, a joint UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program report titled "The State of Food Insecurity in the World," highlights a sizable drop in the number of undernourished people in 2010, compared to 2009.

Despite the report and historic progress toward the goal to reduce hunger and poverty, nearly one billion people worldwide still remain chronically food insecure. Reaching millions of people across the world, the US is leading a new effort to strengthen global food security through our "Feed the Future" initiative which renews our commitment to invest in combating the root causes of chronic hunger and poverty in developing countries.

The United States will commit an unprecedented amount of funding – and a minimum of $3.5 billion over the next three years – to help select countries make progress for the hunger related Millennium Development Goal.

To address the three Millennium Development Goals targeting health challenges, including child mortality, maternal health, and HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases the Administration launched the Global Health Initiative, a six-year, $63 billion strategy to help partner countries improve measurable health outcomes by strengthening health systems and building upon proven results.

The Global Health Initiative exemplifies the broad and deep U.S. commitment to intensified cooperation and partnership with countries and other partners to achieve real improvements in women's and children's health, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases, and building sustainable health systems.

So, while the world has made strides in meeting some of the MDGs, including significant reductions in rates of extreme poverty and improved access to primary education, that progress has been uneven. The remaining MDG challenges will require a determined, strategic, and analytically-grounded approach, guided by four imperatives:

Leverage innovation
Invest in sustainability
Track development outcomes, not just dollars; and
Enhance the principle and practice of mutual accountability, including transparent and effective management of development resources.
As I mentioned there is a lot of work to be done by 2015 and we are seeking to improve the coherence and focus of existing multilateral efforts in support of the MDGs, and will endeavor to amplify and extend effective UN programs that complement U.S. efforts.

At the UNGA we will continue to work with other member states to strengthen the UN to meet 21st century challenges. To meet these daunting global challenges, the UN needs to be well-organized, accountable and operate transparently and effectively. The United States, as the largest single contributor to the UN system, is particularly interested in ensuring that our taxpayer funds are effectively and efficiently used.

Indeed, all member states have a stake in a more effective UN – one that is better equipped to advance peace and security, promote human rights and democracy, fight the spread of pandemic disease, and reduce global hunger. In fact, the UN has made some important strides. The One UN initiative is one example of how we can strengthen the coordination of UN agencies, funds and programs to improve the effectiveness of development activities in the field.

But significant work remains to turn the UN into the efficient and effective body needed to tackle global challenges. The U.S. will continue to press for further progress on this important initiative and for other reforms of UN operations and institutions to increase the UN's effectiveness and contain budget growth to help ensure that even in this time of financial austerity that priority activities receive adequate funding.

In the International Organization Affairs Bureau at the State Department, we work hard to promote reform and to ensure that the work of the UN is having the intended impact, and that organizations across the UN system are aligning scarce resources with need. In order to enhance our ability to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of the UN, I have added an effectiveness advisor to my staff.

At the end of the day, reform also means developing the multilateral tools and the civilian power we need to strengthen our engagement at the UN and multilaterally. Beyond rhetoric if we want to benefit from today's multilateral framework, we need to train and equip U.S. diplomats at the State Department, USAID and across the U.S. government to meet the challenges of 21st century diplomacy and development.

We are also reviewing options through the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review as Secretary Clinton mentioned last week, to better equip, fund, and organize ourselves to more effectively manage our international relations and advance our interests in an increasingly interconnected world confronted with a growing number of borderless challenges.

I want to close on an optimistic yet realistic note. With 192 member states we are not naïve about the division and differences that exist at the UN. We know there are some at the UN and in other multilateral fora who prefer to sow conflict and violence rather than peace and security, hatred and bigotry instead of tolerance and respect.

Even with these daunting challenges, the United States embraces multilateral engagement at the UN and elsewhere, not for the sake of engagement alone, but because it benefits our security, prosperity and freedom.

At the UN General Assembly session next week we will continue to work hard to overcome new and existing obstacles, and seek to bridge age-old divisions that persist in dividing the world rather than uniting us to act with a shared purpose and destiny. We will do this by strengthening the international system, working from inside international institutions and frameworks rather than from the outside.

Leading by example, with confidence in our mission, the U.S. will write a new chapter in international cooperation. We call on all nations, as President Obama did last September, "to join us in building the future that our people so richly deserve."

I will end there. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak at SAIS. I look forward to your questions.