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Congress Seeks to Regain Influence in United Nations

November 19, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
United Nations. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A top State Department official continued the Biden administration’s theme of “We’re back” during a congressional hearing Thursday on the United States’ role in the United Nations.

The State Department is trying to regain leadership positions that suffered setbacks during the go-it-alone international policies of the Trump administration, said Erica Barks-Ruggles, a State Department senior bureau official.

“We are back to make sure the U.N. advances the interests of the United States and the American people,” Barks-Ruggles told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international development.

The U.S. is the biggest contributor to the United Nations, paying for nearly one-quarter of its budget.

Nevertheless, delegates from adversaries like Russia and China have won elections and appointments to policy-making positions in recent years, Barks-Ruggles said.

In one example, it included a top post in 2019 to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which went to a Chinese candidate after the U.S. State Department and Agriculture Department could not agree on which American candidate to support for the job.

Winners of U.N. elections often use their positions to push policies that do not reflect U.S. interests, according to lawmakers.

In one example, China has been able to exclude Taiwan from many international programs. Taiwan claims independence as a nation but China says Taiwan is a renegade part of its own country.

China’s huge military buildup of recent years is suspected to have control of Taiwan in its crosshairs.

Lawmakers held the hearing Thursday partly because they want to ensure the American loss of influence does not continue in upcoming U.N. elections. They include campaigns to lead the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and Interpol.

Interpol refers to the International Criminal Police Organization, a U.N. organization that coordinates worldwide police cooperation and crime control.

“The candidate pool has to be better in order to get folks elected,” Barks-Ruggles said.

One strategy she described was a database the State Department is developing to identify issues the United States seeks to influence and matching personnel who are best qualified to lead U.S. policies.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, described U.S. action toward leadership in the United Nations as “uneven” in an apparent reference to Trump administration policies.

He endorsed a bigger U.S. role to avoid the conflicts and coercion that can accompany international disagreement.

“It is essential that the United States stays deeply engaged with the U.N.,” said Castro, who chairs the subcommittee on international development.

Many of his comments reflected his contributions to the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act, which the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved in July. It is awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives.

Key provisions would elevate the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to a presidential cabinet position, require prompt payment of dues by the United States to international organizations it joins and transfer qualified federal employees from other agencies to serve in international organizations.

Another provision seeks to counter China’s transfer of ballistic missiles and nuclear technology to Middle Eastern countries.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., expressed concern that the U.S. influence on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council has eroded, thereby allowing authoritarian regimes to gloss over their own human rights violations.

The Human Rights Council is one of the United Nations’ most politically influential organizations. Its mission is to promote and protect human rights worldwide.

Malliotakis called the Geneva-based Human Rights Council “a fundamentally corrupt organization” that is known for “covering up the crimes of the world’s worst human rights abusers.”

She added, “This administration has done nothing to drive real reforms at the Council.”

Tom can be reached at [email protected]

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