President Trump is not known to be a big fan of the United Nations:
From April 2, 2016
“Where do you ever see the United Nations?” Mr. Trump continued. “Do they ever settle anything? It’s just like a political game. The United Nations — I mean the money we spend on the United Nations.”
The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 26, 2016
“The United Nations is an underperformer, but it has huge potential … I think that the United Nations has tremendous potential,” Trump said.
Today, however, in a meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York City, Trump linked arms, figuratively and only in the most brotherly way, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the cause of reforming the UN bureaucracy and the way it operates.
I applaud the Secretary General for laying out a vision to reform the United Nations so that it better serves the people we all represent. We support your efforts to look across the entire system and to find ways the United Nations can better, and be better at development, management, peace, and security.
The United Nations was founded on truly noble goals. These include affirming the dignity and worth of the human person and striving for international peace. The United Nations has helped advance toward these goals in so many ways: feeding the hungry, providing disaster relief, and empowering women and girls in many societies all across the world.
Yet in recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement. While the United Nations on a regular budget has increased by 140 percent, and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, we are not seeing the results in line with this investment. But I know that under the Secretary General, that’s changing and it’s changing fast. And we’ve seen it.
That’s why we commend the Secretary General and his call for the United Nations to focus more on people and less on bureaucracy. We seek a United Nations that regains the trust of the people around the world. In order to achieve this, the United Nations must hold every level of management accountable, protect whistle-blowers and focus on results rather than on process.
To honor the people of our nations, we must ensure that no one and no member state shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden, and that’s militarily or financially. We also ask that every peacekeeping mission have clearly defined goals and metrics for evaluating success. They deserve to see the value in the United Nations, and it is our job to show it to them.
One sees the hand of Ambassador Nikki Haley in how this conference came about:
The U.S. drafted a 10-point document, “U.N. Reform Declaration,” and asked member states to sign it to attend Monday’s event with Mr. Trump, diplomats said. More than 100 out of 193 member states did so.
The declaration, seen by The Wall Street Journal, combines the U.S.’s agenda for change—including a commitment to reduce redundancy within U.N. organizations—with Mr. Guterres’s vision for management and bureaucratic overhauls.
In the declaration, countries will “commit to reducing mandate duplication, redundancy, and overlap including among the main organs of the United Nations.” The signatories encourage Mr. Guterres to “pursue impactful and field-centric management reforms,” the document said.
In fact, Haley has made some progress on her own initiative. She pushed for, and got, a $600 million cut in the UN peacekeeping budget, thereby making women and children throughout the world much, much safer:
The United Nations has tentatively agreed to cut nearly $600 million from its peacekeeping budget after pressure from President Trump’s White House to reduce funding. Under the agreement, the U.N. will spend $7.3 billion on peacekeeping in the next year, down from $7.87 billion, Agence France-Press reported Wednesday. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley cheered the agreement on Twitter late Wednesday. “Just 5 months into our time here, we’ve cut over half a billion [dollars] from the UN peacekeeping budget and we’re only getting started,” she wrote. Trump had previously angered U.N. diplomats by pushing for a $1 billion cut to funding.
(As an aside, this is a great article on Nikki Haley at the UN.)
On a down note, Trump is gonna Trump. His prepared remarks with a reference to one of his New York development projects:
I actually saw great potential right across the street, to be honest with you, and it was only for the reason that the United Nations was here that that turned out to be such a successful project.
And as he was leaving:
Leaving the meeting, Mr. Trump told reporters he wanted the U.N. to live up to what he saw as its potential, invoking his campaign slogan. “I think the main message is, ‘Make the United Nations Great,’ ” he said, while adding: “Not ‘again.’ ‘Make the United Nations Great.’ Such tremendous potential, and I think we’ll be able to do this.”
UN reform has beaten a lot of UN Secretaries General and American presidents, but pushing the UN in the direction of reform is our best hope for an international institution that can actually act positively. I’m not all that sanguine about the chances of success but I’m glad to see the effort being made.