What You Need to Know About President Obama’s Last UNGA: The Intent and Impact of U.S. #GlobalLeadership

Posted by Megan Mattson
September 12, 2016
United States President Barack Obama addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters.

When the United Nations (UN) was founded 71 years ago, the United States was a prominent voice in shaping the institution, its values, and ideals. Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama made a concerted decision to intensify U.S. engagement across the UN system to address global challenges from humanitarian crises, to disaster relief, to health and disease epidemics, among other issues.

This effort has served the United States well, and contributed to the successful completion of landmark agreements such as the Paris climate agreement. 

Next week, President Obama will address for the eighth time the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and will use the opportunity to underscore his continued commitment to collective action as the best means of tackling shared challenges. At this year’s UNGA, the broader U.S. focus will fall in three key areas:

  • Humanitarian response: Faced with the largest refugee crisis since World War II and a humanitarian network stretched to its limit, the President will host the Leaders Summit on Refugees on September 20. The Summit complements the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting on refugees and migrants to be held the prior day and is the culmination of a vigorous, sustained effort to bring new energy and commitments to strengthen and expand the global response. It is intended to broaden the donor base and secure significant new commitments, including financing of humanitarian appeals and increased opportunities for resettlement, education, and employment for refugees from around the world. 
  • Peace and security: The international community will continue to rely heavily on the work of the UN envoys to advance political tracks in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and other crisis-stricken countries. The UN will also play a leading role in consolidating peace in countries including Colombia, Iraq, and Liberia, and managing crises from South Sudan to Mali.
  • Counterterrorism and countering violent extremism: Terrorism remains one of the greatest threats we and our foreign partners face worldwide. During this UNGA, the United States will strengthen multilateral counterterrorism cooperation and capacity-building efforts by emphasizing global initiatives to counter ISIL, foreign terrorist fighters, and violent extremism. 

The U.S. commitment to multilateral diplomacy is among the themes discussed in the first episode of our new “Global Views” audio series, which I encourage you to explore here. This first episode features Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker in a conversation with the newly selected U.S. Youth Observer to the UN, Nicol Perez.

In this episode, Ms. Crocker and Ms. Perez discuss what we should expect in the upcoming UN General Assembly, the purpose of the Youth Observer program, and why young people anywhere in the world should be interested and engaged in global issues. The 71st session of the UN General Assembly opened on September 13. UNGA high-Level meetings and events, including President Obama’s address, are set for September 19 through September 23, 2016. 

About the Author: Megan Mattson serves as the Senior Public Affairs Officer in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

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