Welcome to UNGA

Posted by Brian H. Hook
September 22, 2008
United Nations Building

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.



New Mexico, USA
September 23, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Assistant Secretary Hook,

Sir, it is only fitting that the UN be located where freedom of speech prevails, and one hallmark of the UN is it's strict adherance to an old New Mexican tradition.

That when a person is bound and determined to hang themselves with thir own words, we'll (as good host will) lend them all the rope they need.

Best regards.

Florida, USA
September 23, 2008

Susan in Florida writes:

The United Nations has long sought to champion the children of the world, through UNICEF and other organizations. With the AIDs tragedy leaving millions of children, around the world, orphans, how successful has the UN been in addressing this global crisis? I realize that the UN charter and the sovereignty of the member nations probably limit progress, which must be frustrating. This brings me to my question, what changes could the UN members make to help the UN be more effective, especially in noncombatant situations? I do want to thank the UN peacemakers who put themselves in harm's way to try and deal with many of these overwhelming problems.

New Mexico, USA
September 24, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Susan, I think you'll find your question's been answered by President Bush in his address before the UNGA.

And a good one it was to ask, for sure.

As long as member states aren't living up to their responsibilities there will inevitably be question regarding the UN's effectiveness.

New Mexico, USA
September 26, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

(response to post on question of the week, submitted too late for posting on that thread.)


Babar in Pakistan, thanks for your post. Let me suggest something to you and see if it makes sense to you.

Lot has been made of the soveregnity of Pakistan in protest of US military action against al quaida safe havens in Waristan.

As I look at Pakistan's situation, internally and externally, the soveregnity of your nation has already been compromised by Taleban and al quaida's presence on your soil.

Pakistan has national responsibilities as outlined by UN resolutions to confront terrorism, and eliminate safe haven.

Your nation is at risk, your soveregnity is out the window, and you need our help to create the democracy Pakistanis have long strived for.

Let us do the job we are good at, so you can regain your soveregnity and eliminate the intenal threat to your nation.

We'd much rather do it in partnership with your military and political leadership, but I must say that because your soveregnity alone is not the only one at risk here, that my nation will do what it must, regardless of the level of cooperation your leadership offers us.

So in order that Pakistanis don't get angry for the wrong reasons, I think they need to understand why we do what we do, and why it is in your nation's interests that we do what we do.

The alternative is that you do it yourselves, but it should be quite obvious that if your nation was capable of this on their own, you would't be having these problems today.

Your nation has never exerted soverign control over those provinces, and does not now. It's really a poor excuse by your leadership to say your soveregnity has been violated by the US to hide you nation's ineffectiveness in the war on terror.

It is their responsibility to tell the truth to their own people, and unfortunate that they don't in this matter.


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