Here’s Obama’s prepared remarks on the various announcements today. Most of it was fairly banal, but I was interested a bit by this, regarding Susan Rice’s appointment as UN Ambassador.
Susan knows that the global challenges we face demand global institutions that work. She shares my belief that the UN is an indispensable – and imperfect – forum. She will carry the message that our commitment to multilateral action must be coupled with a commitment to reform. We need the UN to be more effective as a venue for collective action – against terror and proliferation; climate change and genocide; poverty and disease.
Here’s an article Obama wrote for Foreign Affairs in July of 2007 which touches on the subject of “UN Reform” but doesn’t articulate what precisely Obama means. In the article, Obama takes issue with UN’s passing of resolutions condemning human rights violations in Israel but not in Sudan or Zimbabwe. And indeed, this is hardly just, but highlights perfectly the inherit difficulty of UN “reform.” That is, the UN’s legitimacy stems primarily from the fact that it represents the views of a disparate group of nations, so “reform” that serves mostly to make it easier for the United States to assert itself will likely be interpreted as a delegitimizing measure. Of course, with respect to the example Obama raises, symmetrically enforcing human rights violations isn’t uniquely an interest of the United States, but loose enforcement of human rights standards most certainly is an issue of interest to China or Russia or Pakistan, and hence the foot-dragging on Darfur. None of this is to say that this system is good — indeed, Obama is right to call the UN imperfect — but just to show that reform interpretable as a measure to enhance the US’ influence within the body is going to be met with skepticism. I’ll be interested to see what sort of reform Obama has in mind.