Editorial Board

'America First' Doesn't Mean United Nations Last

A strong relationship with the UN remains a smart investment.

Americas new face at the UN.

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Not surprisingly for a president whose slogan is “America First,” Donald Trump has expressed deep skepticism about the United Nations. Nevertheless, his appointment of a skilled and popular politician as the new U.S. permanent representative stands to help make the UN a more effective forum for advancing U.S. interests.

It will be South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s job to work with the widely acclaimed incoming secretary-general, former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, to see that U.S. interests are consistently respected.

In her confirmation hearing last week, Haley pointed out that the UN “is often at odds with American national interests and American taxpayers.” One of the most stunning examples of that dissonance has been the institution’s bias against Israel, America’s democratic ally in the Mideast. Haley lambasted the Obama administration’s misguided abstention on a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, and pledged to prevent a recurrence.

At the same time, she pushed back against legislation in the Senate that would cut off U.S. funding for the UN until it reverses the resolution, because that would jeopardize many other important UN efforts, including the push for sanctions against North Korea, enforcement of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and efforts to cope with various humanitarian crises around the world.

One of the UN’s most important projects has been the Paris accord to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Climate change is already under way, after all, and already fueling instability – conflicts over water supplies in the Middle East, for instance. On this, Haley waffled: Climate change will “always be on the table,” she said, but emissions restrictions should not burden American industries. That not only ignores climate change’s exorbitant economic costs but also threatens to undermine U.S. leadership on a critical issue.

It is true that the U.S., as the UN’s biggest funder, should have powerful leverage to advance its interests and values and to push for needed reforms. Haley is right to question, for example, why taxpayers should pay for peacekeeping missions that don’t keep peace.

That said, American public support for the UN has been growing steadily for a decade -- contrary to what Haley told Congress. Her job is not to drastically change the relationship, but simply to make it work better.   

    --Editors: James Gibney, Mary Duenwald

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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