Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, delivered a major policy speech at NYU School of Law on August 12, articulating a comprehensive vision of how the Obama administration was poised to implement a significant shift in the country’s approach to international relations.
In her address, “A New Course in the World, a New Approach at the U.N.,” co-sponsored by NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and Center on International Cooperation, Rice stressed the transnational nature of the nation’s most urgent security threats, and listed three core premises: the U.S.’s global challenges require U.S. leadership, that leadership is insufficient without a broad range of allies, and others will share more of the “global burden” if the U.S. “leads by example, acknowledges mistakes, corrects course when necessary, treats others with respect, and forges strategies in partnership.” Those burdens, she said, include nuclear security, the global financial crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nuclear capacity of Iran and North Korea, terrorism, genocide, cyberattacks, international crime and drug trafficking, pandemics, and global warming.
Rice, who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Clinton administration, advocated a global culture of democracy: “The United States needs to help grow the ranks of capable, democratic states—states that can deliver on both their international responsibilities and their domestic responsibilities to their own people.” Not only does the U.S. need strong allies, she said, and not only do its values include the eradication of poverty and suffering, but it cannot afford the risks to peace embodied by fragile states: “America’s security and well-being are inextricably linked to those of people everywhere.... When we recognize that national security is no longer a zero-sum game, then we increase other countries’ will to cooperate on the issues most vital to us.”
Although she never invoked Obama’s predecessor by name, the ambassador conveyed a clear message that the new administration would pursue foreign affairs with an ideology that differs sharply from that of George W. Bush’s administration, which had a strained, sometimes contentious relationship with the U.N. Referring to what Obama has called “a new era of engagement,” Rice said, “Everyone notices when a superpower becomes an agent of change.... We are demonstrating that the United States is willing to listen, respect differences, and consider new ideas.”
Among the guiding principles of the new course at the U.N., she said, was what she deemed constructive participation. Referring to the U.S.’s continued refusal to join the Human Rights Council because it was “flawed and anti-Israel—which it obviously is,” Rice argued, “Real change doesn’t come from sitting on the sidelines.... If you think engagement is imperfect, try isolation.” Enumerating the ways in which U.S. policy has now changed—adopting the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, offering assistance to family-planning and reproductive-health programs, supporting a General Assembly statement decrying sexual-orientation discrimination, and shifting the approach to climate change—Rice added, “Through word and deed, the United States has shown that we are ready to lead once more.”
While acknowledging that the U.N. continues to grapple with problems such as inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and corruption, Rice also said that a vital component of improving the institution was a U.S. commitment to “pay its bills.” The government plans to clear its arrears to the U.N.’s regular and peacekeeping budgets and to meet in full its 2009 obligations, to the tune of more than $2 billion; the U.S. is the single biggest contributor to the U.N. coffers.
Nearing the end of her speech in a filled-to-capacity Greenberg Lounge, Rice alluded again to a dramatic break with the practices of the previous administration as she charted the way forward. “We have paid the price of stiff-arming the U.N. and spurning our international partners. The United States will lead in the 21st century—not with hubris, not by hectoring, but through patient diplomacy and a steadfast resolve to strengthen our common security by investing in our common humanity.” Rice pointed to “concerted international action” in addressing the global financial crisis, improved relations with allies, a renewed commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, new tacks in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, a fresh focus on a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, the determination to reach out to Muslims around the world, and the renunciation of questionable interrogation techniques.
“The time for action is now,” Rice said in conclusion. “The challenges we face are vast. But the opportunities are even greater. And we will seize them—because the United States is back.”
Posted on August 13, 2009