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The U.S. needs the U.N., and the U.N. needs the U.S.

MCT FORUM – By Alan K. Simpson –

Jan. 12 marked the second anniversary of the horrific earthquake that ripped Haiti apart. While we quite properly remembered the unthinkable loss of Haitian lives that day, less well remembered were the deaths that same day of more than 100 U.N. officials in the collapse of the building that housed the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Haiti.

They were there in an effort to help the process of nation building in Haiti and to assist with humanitarian relief efforts there. Their deaths remind us that the United Nations and its staff members serve in many difficult places working on the most difficult issues. Their efforts serve us all.

Today’s national security challenges are global in nature. Threats like terrorism, nuclear proliferation and pandemic disease respect no borders. America, the most generous country in the world, must play its part in countering these challenges but, particularly in these times of increased austerity, we must have partners who will join us in this effort.

First and foremost, we need a strong, efficient, well-run United Nations that can expand our global reach. A strong United Nations can help provide that global reach and influence required in responding effectively to these threats, and also in preventing them from becoming major crises.

A truly unique body, the United Nations offers us the ability to communicate and collaborate with nearly 200 countries, our fellow members, on a breadth of issues.

Sometimes, the messenger matters, and a messenger that represents the collective global community stands a better chance of persuading people to take action than one from any particular country, even our own. Unfortunately, there are members of Congress who would have us cut our support for the United Nations.

They mock the United Nations because we sometimes disagree with our colleague member states on some highly contentious issues. They forget that the U.N. Charter, a remarkable document, is largely influenced by American values. They choose to pick on an easy target for scorn, and they do so without proposing any reasonable alternatives. That represents short-sighted and misdirected thinking.

Whether providing famine relief, staunching nuclear proliferation, creating arms embargoes, blocking the travel and financial support of rogue actors, establishing global standards to prevent money laundering, or curbing the spread of pandemics like Avian Flu, the United Nations’ work enables the United States to reap real national security benefits that advance American interests and make us safer and stronger here at home.

The full range of U.N. agencies does the tough, thankless work frequently forgotten and left off the pages of our newspapers. Especially as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan we need to remember that it will be international organizations like the United Nations that will pick up a significant amount of the slack on political, humanitarian and development processes.

Without question our U.S. contributions to the United Nations must be judicious and prudent: accountability, transparency and effectiveness are essential for any organization, including the United Nations. At the same time, our ability to burden share with other nations helps defray costs, promote stability and enhance the impact of our resources. It is our greatest foreign policy “force multiplier.”

Withholding U.S. funding weakens both our influence and support for our national priorities, while strengthening the hands of our adversaries.

The United Nations is an imperfect and sometimes very frustrating institution. I can sympathize with those who wish to lash out when the United Nations falls short of our expectations and aspirations for it. But I cannot agree that we should reduce our support for it.

By actively using all of the real foreign policy, national security and economic tools at our disposal, we help develop the international knowledge, capability and capacity required to help address challenges that, if left to fester, only eventually land on our doorstep. Many of those tools are provided through our membership in the United Nations.

Support for the United Nations is one of the most cost-effective ways for the United States to address global challenges and leverage our global leadership. The United Nations needs assertive, supportive American leadership; America needs a strong, effective United Nations.

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