About the Author: Brian H. Hook serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Affairs.
The 63rd UN General Assembly (UNGA) has opened, and the bilateral and multilateral meetings are already underway among the 192 members of the United Nations.
This is my first General Assembly as the acting Assistant Secretary for the Department's Bureau of International Organizations, and it happens to fall at a remarkable time. First and foremost, this is the President's last General Assembly, and on Tuesday, he will be addressing the assembled world leaders for the final time as President of the United States.
Second, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a declaration the United States was instrumental in creating, and which warrants the world's renewed support. Finally, I would note that this is also the 60th anniversary of the UN's first peacekeeping mission.
On Monday morning, I gave a briefing at the Foreign Press Center on 52nd Street, not far from UN headquarters. I briefed invited foreign media about U.S. priorities for the upcoming General Assembly and also discussed the President's multilateral legacy.
Much is said about this Administration's supposed unilateral approach to foreign affairs. In fact, the United States is more broadly, actively, and substantively engaged with the world's multilateral bodies than at any time in its history.
A number of journalists covering the 63rd UNGA have asked me about the President's legacy at the UN, his key accomplishments. I think there are many areas that one could choose. One example is the President's commitment to the promotion of democracy and good governance. The President was instrumental in the conception of the UN Democracy Fund, for example, which supports grassroots organizations around the world in their efforts to build civil society and strengthen the roots of democracy.
Another area is the President's groundbreaking actions to address the devastation brought by HIV/AIDS and malaria in much of the world. Some people don't realize that, in addition to launching the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the President's Malaria Initiative, he has spearheaded a drive to ensure that U.S. efforts complement and extend the activities of the World Health Organization and UNAIDS.
Despite the historic scope and nature of those actions, I look at yet another issue as the President's greatest multilateral legacy. When terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001, it wasn't clear how the international community would or should respond. It was President Bush who pointed the way, when he came to the very same General Assembly in October of that year and underscored to the assembled leaders that 9/11 was a defining moment for the UN, and that UN members must take responsibility to oppose all forms of terrorism.
From that day forward, I think you can safely say that U.S. priorities at the United Nations shifted. We have seen a steady strengthening in the UN's ability to address and respond to perpetrators and supporters of terror, and we now have UN Security Council committees which seek to contain al-Qaida and the Taliban, help countries prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and crack down on terrorist financing.
Of course, the UN is a multilateral body, which means disagreement is one of its hallmarks. I think, though, as we look forward to the President's speech on Tuesday, most would agree that the UN is a different body than it was eight years ago.
Editor's Note: Read Acting Assistant Secretary Hook's next entry about the 63rd UN General Assembly.