Does the U.S. Need the U.N.?

WASHINGTON — In the words of former U.N. Assistant Secretary General Gillian Sorensen, the United States must regard the United Nations as a “valuable instrument” and push to work with the organization in order to guarantee its success in the future.

Sorensen, now a senior advisor of the United Nations Foundation, stressed to academics and analysts gathered at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies on Aug. 1 that while the United Nations certainly needs the United States, the opposite is also true.

The United States’ reputation as a world leader has been damaged during the past several years, said Sorensen, who argued that it would now be in the global superpower’s best interest to look toward, not away from, the United Nations as a means of repairing its image by embracing a more multilateral foreign policy.

“[The United States needs] to bring a spirit that says we believe in [the United Nations] not just here or there or now and then, but consistently,” she said. “Because when we use it as an organization of convenience and give it the back of the hand the next day, that inconsistency is confusing … it undermines our credibility.”

The U.S., the U.N. and the War in Iraq

Sorensen used the Iraq war as a primary example, arguing that the ongoing violence reflects the limitations faced by U.S. military power when it is used without the support of the United Nations.

While in 2003, the United States sought a U.N. Security Council Resolution to back the invasion of Iraq, no such resolution was ever granted. A U.N. envoy to that traveled to Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion was killed in a massive car bombing attack. During the years since that August 2003 bombing, according to Sorensen, the United Nations has reconfigured its involvement in Iraq.

Even while going it “alone” in Iraq, she said, the United States still recognized that it needed help of the United Nations, but only after bypassing the Security Council’s approval.

Noting how U.N. personnel have since worked in Iraq training civil police and monitoring nationwide elections, Sorensen said that she has “too many times” heard that the United Nations was cowardly in not supporting the war.

She acknowledged the existence of a quiet resistance and resentment among some U.N. officials, who feel the organization was asked to help “pick up the pieces” of a war it opposed from the beginning.

“The United Nations deserves respect and deserves to be heard,” Sorensen said.

The Evolution of Democracy?

Sorensen also took issue with other criticisms of the United Nations, specifically the claim that it allows of undemocratic countries to be members.

“Democracy evolves,” she said. “There is hardly a state of perfect freedom or perfect democracy.”

Sorensen maintained that the presence of monarchies and dictatorships in the United Nations alongside democracies gives all types of nations an opportunity to talk. She insisted that a lack of communication can only diminish the work of moderates and freedom seekers in the undemocratic countries.

“Never close that door,” she said.

Taking particular issue with the Bush administration’s categorization of some U.N. member states since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sorensen added that the United States should: “Never categorize an axis of evil because you shut that opportunity [of instead communicating].”

She also slammed the United States’ “go-it-alone” approach to international treaties despite the wishes of the American public. As examples, she cited the Kyoto Protocol, which requires that signatory nations limit carbon dioxide emissions for the reduction of greenhouse gases, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which describes the social and political rights of all children.

Sorensen noted that Somalia is the only nation in the world other than the United States that has not signed the latter.

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