In more ways than one, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is one of the most important assignments in the diplomatic corps. Despite South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s trade-related forays as the top elected executive official in her state, nothing really compares to being America’s top diplomat in an unwieldy U.N. bureaucracy. Here are three things that Ambassador-in-waiting Haley should keep in mind as she takes her seat in the Security Council chamber.
1. Prepare for headaches and heartaches in the Security Council: Article 24 of the U.N. Charter entrusts upon the Security Council the power and responsibility to keep the peace. Unfortunately, bringing the five permanent members of the Security Council together in order to accomplish that lofty objective isn’t as basic as it seems. The Security Council isn’t as much a unified, supranational decision-making body. As the current U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power knows all too well, getting something even slightly controversial through the Security Council is about as easy as herding cats.
Russia and China have demonstrated time and time again that they will use their power to slow the process down, if obstruction is what is required to protect their clients, allies, or partners from punitive measures or international tribunals. Sometimes, the best the U.S. team can do is pass a watered-down resolution that takes into account the interests of all the permanent member states around the Security Council table. It’s not the best result but certainly better than continued deadlock.
The tedious wrangling is enormously frustrating, but the U.N. is still a partnership for the United States that is worth the trouble. Were it not for the blue-helmets, the U.N. mediators, and the police officers under U.N. command, countries like the United States that retain the military power, capability, and resources to intervene halfway around the world would be pressured constantly to send in troops to avert a humanitarian disaster or to keep the peace in a hostile or failing state. U.N. peacekeeping operations certainly have their fair share of systemic problems, but deploying U.N. personnel to deal with peace enforcement is still a far better alternative for Washington’s pocketbook and army than sending its own soldiers to perform the tasks of nation-building, post-conflict development, and political reconciliation between adversarial ethnic, tribal, or sectarian communities.
2. Lawmakers back home will second-guess your strategy every step of the way, and that’s their right: Politics in Washington will seep into the U.N.’s New York headquarters, just as it seeps into the State, Defense, and Treasury departments. Haley will quickly learn that her decisions, techniques, and negotiating style will be second-guessed by the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees — two prestigious congressional panels that are composed of members who would secretly jump at the chance to claim the U.N. job for themselves.
There is no need to sweat the critiques, though. Haley would make it easier on herself to take all of the criticism in stride, because whether she likes it or not, Congress is well within its rights to demand answers and probe the inner workings of the president’s team at the U.N. By exercising accountability over the administration’s foreign policy apparatus, Congress will highlight where it believes Haley is going wrong and which subjects her deputies and negotiators should pay more attention to. Best not to take the beatings personally — it’s America’s prized system of checks and balances at work.
3. Don’t let other countries drag the U.S. into unnecessary fights or commitments: Notwithstanding the incessant talk in Washington about the decline of America’s military power and the lack of respect other countries have for the United States, America is still the most powerful country on the entire planet. The U.S. Armed Forces are second to none. America’s economy is worth $17 trillion, and its system of government remains one that billions of people around the world aspire for their own countries.
We’ve seen other nations, allies and partners included, try to bring the U.S. along to their side. The Baltic states will constantly remind U.S. diplomats that Russia is a menacing behemoth that would like nothing more than to annex a part of its territory. Saudi Arabia will attempt to convince Washington that tens of billions of dollars in arms sales and U.S. diplomatic cover at various U.N. agencies and panels are absolutely critical to the fight against an expansionist Iran. And European powers on and off the Security Council will gently remind the U.S. that, as the world’s indispensable power, it has an obligation to stand up for victims of war crimes and punish crimes wherever they happen to occur.
Many of these requests will be rightly heeded by the U.S. delegation at the U.N., but others may very well need to be questioned on the merits and on a case-by-case basis. Haley’s job, after all, is U.S. ambassador, not the ambassador for the entire international community. As powerful as the U.S. is, it cannot afford to become a dentist nation and weigh into civil wars or state-on-state disputes that are tertiary to U.S. security.
Pending her confirmation by the Senate, Haley will soon occupy one of the hardest jobs in the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy, but she can make it a little easier on herself by remembering these guidelines.