Outlining a Legacy of Multilateral Accomplishments

When President Obama assumed office more than seven years ago, it was with determined commitment to reengaging and reassuming leadership in the multilateral system. He referred to that commitment as a “new era of engagement,” and it was rooted in a core understanding and reflected two overarching objectives.

That core understanding was an acknowledgement that the United Nations (UN) and larger community of international organizations are not a threat to our national interests -- and not a sideshow or an afterthought -- but a logical and indispensable extension of our foreign policy influence. That influence has many channels, but given the range and variety of global challenges we face today, one essential channel is clearly collective action through multilateral diplomacy.  

So, what are those defining objectives? Put simply, they are a determination to use U.S. engagement and leadership across the international system to advance our nation’s interests, and to apply that same engagement and leadership to improve and update the United Nations. On both, we have real progress to show, and a lot of work in progress. 

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a public dialogue at the New America Foundation hosted by its President and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter to discuss those accomplishments and the continuing objectives of the President’s multilateral era.

During the discussion, I noted several areas in which I believe U.S. influence has resulted in demonstrable, positive action. Of course, accomplishments include groundbreaking multilateral actions such as the Paris climate change agreement and the Iran deal. They also include significant successes that may not make the headlines but represent similarly significant evolution.  

One is the multilateral human rights system centered on the UN Human Rights Council. In 2009, the Administration faced a stark choice: either remain disengaged from the Council and disparage its utility from afar, or engage, take leadership, and try to shape it more toward our vision, and its own promise. 

After two three-year terms on the Council, we’ve seen real progress toward action and attention to the world’s biggest human rights challenges and the worst offenders, in support of universal rights and freedoms including LGBTI rights, and made some headway on its biased preoccupation with Israel. The Human Rights Council remains an imperfect body, but U.S. leadership there has driven real and meaningful change.

On UN peacekeeping, leadership from the President and Vice President underscored both the dire need to modernize and upgrade this crucial tool, and the impact of determined U.S. influence. That impact was clear at the President’s Summit on Peacekeeping at last year’s UN General Assembly, which resulted in significant and varied new commitments that will help shore up and modernize the critical tool of UN peacekeeping.

On development, the United States was an influential player in the negotiations and launch of the new Sustainable Development Goals. These goals mark an important departure from the stale north-south constructs of the past toward a more global and universal discussion, less defined as donor and recipient, more focused on data and evidence, and with an updated framework on financing focusing on domestic resource mobilization and private sector flows as much as official development assistance.

The pattern continues on peace and security issues, where the Security Council took effective action in support of peacekeeping, including the creation of missions in Mali and the Central African Republic, creative efforts to address foreign terrorist fighters and terrorist financing, and robust sanctions on Iran that contributed to the deal on its nuclear program. U.S. leadership and engagement has also spurred real progress on management and reform issues, transparency, whistleblower protections, and more. 

In his recent congressional testimony, Secretary Kerry noted that the United States is engaged diplomatically more than at any other time in our nation’s history. Much of that engagement is multilateral in nature, and the UN system extends our ability to pursue our many goals on the international stage -- it gives us more options, more tools, and more burden-sharing to deal with today’s challenges.

So, as we continue to pursue those goals in the last year of the Administration, we also understand that ultimately, this isn’t about some binary choice between using multilateral tools or doing without. We have to use them, so the salient questions for future administrations are how to use them effectively, and how to foster continuous improvements in the system so it remains available, relevant, innovative, and cost-effective.

About the Author: Sheba Crocker serves as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs

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Patrick W.
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Maryland, USA
February 29, 2016
"70th annual General Assembly Debate" New America Foundation hosted by its President and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter and discussed with Sheba Crocker about the issues we all face and our accomplished together. The Paris climate change agreement and the Iran deal are good examples of what we can do if we all work together on our mutual problem. That in includes everyone countries and leaders ! I think we all have accomplish a lot over the past few years. One accomplishment of mine is: I have stop smoking because of President Obama leadership, and being a good role model. I though about it, and if he can do it I could too. I have started smoke E- Cigarettes and hope to stop smoking all together in a few months. Great Post Sheba Crocker !!! ;)
A wide view of the General Assembly Hall prior to the start of the 70th annual General Assembly Debate, on September 28, 2015. [UN Photo/Cia Pak]
Posted by Sheba Crocker
February 27, 2016

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