June 30, 2021 | Monograph

A Better Blueprint for International Organizations

Advancing American Interests on the Global Stage
June 30, 2021 | Monograph

A Better Blueprint for International Organizations

Advancing American Interests on the Global Stage

Download Monograph

What the United States Can – and Cannot – Expect at the United Nations

By Ambassador Nikki R. Haley

The United Nations has much promise – and many problems. Understanding this strange dynamic is necessary for the United States to make the most of its membership in that flawed organization and its many satellite agencies.

Any discussion of the United Nations must start with a simple fact: The United States has nothing to prove at the United Nations. We have already saved the world multiple times in multiple ways. Thanks to our leadership, humanity has risen to historically unimaginable heights of peace, prosperity, and personal freedom. We do not need the United Nations to validate or even support our efforts to spur even greater progress. Conversely, the United Nations is too dysfunctional, too divided, and too mired in tyranny for us to rely on it.

Even so, we must continue to wield the United Nations to make our case. And whatever the reaction, we should push forward with what we know is right.

As history shows us, and as I personally saw at Turtle Bay, the United States is at its best at the United Nations when we stand strong. We must stand up to our adversaries, unmistakably and unapologetically. We should stand by our friends, boldly and bravely. And we must stand for our principles, confidently and clearly. The moment we fail at any of these tasks, we undermine our interests and our ideals. That is never a good thing, but it is especially dangerous when so many other countries are using the United Nations for evil purposes.

Our adversaries know how to use the United Nations’ structure and flaws to their advantage. Take Russia. As a permanent member of the Security Council, it can stand in the way of almost anything serious we pursue at the United Nations.

I saw it happen many times. In 2017, Russia covered for Syria’s chemical attack, which killed about 400 people, including 25 children. Knowing full well that Russia would veto our resolution condemning the attack, I stood in the Security Council chambers and showed the world the pictures of those dead children. It would not change the Russian ambassador’s mind, but it did demonstrate that the United States would shine a spotlight on their crimes and complicity. Moscow will continue to thwart efforts to hold Russia and its minions accountable. When it does, the United States must confront Russia and criticize it as forcefully as possible.

Illustrations by Daniel Ackerman/FDD

The United States must also be wary of Communist China. Like Russia, Beijing uses its seat on the Security Council to block justified and moral measures. Equally concerning, China is quietly working to corrupt the United Nations from top to bottom. Beijing is pursuing control of virtually every UN agency. Its actions are malicious and often disastrous.

There is no better proof than the World Health Organization (WHO). For years, China gained significant leverage over the WHO through a combination of funding and pressure. Beijing then manipulated the agency during the coronavirus pandemic. The WHO adopted the Chinese party line despite being banned from entering the country during the initial outbreak. It praised China’s response despite clear evidence of a cover-up. And it continues to cooperate with China despite the country’s unwillingness to share key information on the virus’ origins and spread. China’s stranglehold on the WHO contributed to the death of more than 3 million people, including at least 500,000 Americans.

The United States must call out China’s attempts to co-opt the United Nations and its agencies. We should rally other countries to oppose China’s influence. As ambassador, I lost track of how many countries expressed their fear of China’s bullying. They are counting on us to have their backs – and to push back, hard.

The WHO’s struggles illustrate another sad reality: Many UN agencies are broken. The United States should try to fix them where possible. Yet we cannot fall into the trap of mistaking process for progress. Some parts of the United Nations just cannot be salvaged. Sometimes we are better off leaving them behind.

An obvious example is the UN Human Rights Council, which is a cesspool of human rights violators – from Cuba to China to Venezuela to Russia. I pressed our allies and partners to demand reforms, but they were content with the status quo. So I led the effort to withdraw the United States from the council. We care too much about human rights and individual freedom to be part of a group that undermines both. Our principles are too important to get lost in the endless and pointless process that UN bureaucrats prefer.

We also withdrew from the Human Rights Council because the United States stands with our friends. The council spent the vast majority of its time condemning Israel – a free and democratic country. It has a standing agenda item devoted to Israel. It has passed 10 times as many resolutions condemning Israel as it has for China, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba combined. Friends do not sit still while their friends get attacked, so we walked away. We stopped funding the UN Relief and Works Agency for similar reasons. That agency does more to foster hatred toward Israel than it does to support actual Palestinian refugees. So much of the United Nations has an insane fixation on Israel. In fact, when it comes to Israel, there is no clearer sign of the United Nations’ profound shortcomings.

It was my privilege to tackle those shortcomings as ambassador. We made headway in many areas. But I have no illusions that we can solve all the United Nations’ problems. We should make progress where we can, walk away when we cannot, and hold the line when we must.

Amb. Nikki R. Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, 2017–2019


By Richard Goldberg

Despite America’s status as the leader of the free world, a champion of human rights, and the largest financial contributor to the UN system, the authoritarian regimes that rule China, Russia, Iran, and other rogue states increasingly exploit the systems Washington created to maintain a peaceful international order after World War II.

While China’s and Russia’s disruptive efforts to upend the U.S.-led international order are on full display at the UN Security Council, where both countries wield their permanent-member vetoes freely, their malign actions within smaller, lesser-known organizations pose an even bigger challenge.

China pursues a sophisticated, multi-pronged strategy to exploit international organizations: seeking control of key standard-setting bodies, advancing its Belt and Road Initiative, whitewashing its misdeeds, and isolating Taiwan. Beijing’s power and influence within the UN system has grown dramatically in recent years, with China winning elections to lead four of the 15 UN specialized agencies, gaining seats on international tribunals and councils, joining the UN Board of Auditors, and deploying more troops to peacekeeping missions. Russia, meanwhile, has worked tirelessly to cover up its own illicit conduct and non-compliance with multilateral agreements, while shielding rogue states such as Syria and Iran from international accountability for their human rights atrocities and breach of chemical and nuclear weapons regimes.

At the same time, many international organizations suffer from an obsession with the State of Israel that moves beyond fair critique to unbridled antisemitism. Double standards abound, with agencies singling out Israel for scrutiny while ignoring grave abuses by others. Some agencies enable anti-Israel extremists to abuse their agendas, events, and legal procedures.

Every year, Congress appropriates billions of dollars to the United Nations and related bodies.1 These contributions often lack sufficient U.S. oversight. They are also devoid of a comprehensive U.S. strategy to advance U.S. interests and those of our closest allies.

As Congress now considers President Joe Biden’s first International Affairs Budget,2 one question looms large: What is America’s strategy to counter the exploitation of international organizations by dictatorships hostile to freedom and democracy, while defending U.S. sovereignty, vital interests, democratic allies, and fundamental values?

Policymakers must not confuse participation with leadership. Accommodation is not a strategy. Talking about reform is not the same as achieving it. Engaging in diplomacy is not the same as achieving an outcome that strengthens America’s national security and economic prosperity.

Many international organizations can serve an important function that if managed with integrity and proper oversight, can advance U.S. security and economic interests. Any one of these organizations can, however, be corrupted – either by its leadership or by its bureaucracy. In that vein, this monograph explores the challenges facing the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Trade Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Other organizations were established with good intentions but were quickly hijacked. U.S. participation or funding alone cannot save them, because their structures prevent oversight and reform. Such bodies may need a comprehensive reboot or simple dismantlement. They include the UN Relief and Works Agency, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the International Criminal Court (ICC), and a handful of Palestinian-related entities. This report explores their failings, too.

To be clear, this monograph is not exhaustive; the organizations detailed here are a representative sample of agencies posing challenges to U.S. interests. The ITU, for example, is one of several standard-setting bodies in Beijing’s sights. UNIFIL is one of several peacekeeping missions that wastes American taxpayer dollars. The ICC is one of several organizations implementing a convention to which the United States is not a party – and where adversaries challenge the sovereignty of the United States and its closest democratic allies. Russia’s malign influence in the nonproliferation arena extends beyond the IAEA and OPCW – just as China’s ambitions to advance its Belt and Road Initiative extend beyond the UN Secretariat to important economic agencies and committees.

Policymakers concerned about the exploitation of international organizations need a plan for action. Past promises that American participation alone would encourage reform now lack credibility. The State Department and Congress – working with like-minded nations – must wage reform battles on an agency-by-agency basis to restore the U.S.-led order. This monograph offers 11 places to begin. But the effort to advance American interests and counter our adversaries within international organizations will be a long one. And it will require commitment from Democrats and Republicans alike.

International Organization Assessments

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By Richard Goldberg

It is impossible to publish this monograph without acknowledging its historic context. Many parts of the world are still struggling to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and its terrible consequences amidst ongoing investigations into the true origins of the virus and the international mechanisms that failed us along the way.

These investigations must be prioritized. It is only a matter of time before a co-opted multilateral agency fails to address another regional or global crisis. American policymakers must learn the lessons of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) COVID-19 cover-up. Failure to do so could lead to greater loss of life and economic devastation in the future.

Policymakers can take critical steps to protect Americans now – but that will require a readiness to hold international organizations to account rather than writing more blank checks and hoping for the best. This monograph, while not exhaustive, delivers a series of international organization political battleplans for Congress and the Biden administration to execute – driving reforms where possible and scrapping agencies where necessary.

For many in Washington, “multilateral engagement” is an end in itself. Rest assured, it is not. Multilateral engagement is not the same as actively pushing for outcomes that strengthen America’s national security and promote its values.

At the same time, unilateral disengagement absent a coherent strategy to fix, dismantle, or replace ailing organizations can be an invitation for U.S. adversaries to improve their international standing and challenge American interests. Short-term political wins ought not be confused with long-term systemic reforms.

Whether working with allies or mounting the fight alone, the United States must wage a campaign of reform battles, agency by agency, to restore the U.S.-led order – fixing where possible and nixing when necessary. Our enemies and adversaries are relentless. But they are no match for an American government that leads with its values and founding principles.

We cannot allow U.S. policy toward the WHO – or toward any number of other Chinese Communist Party-influenced agencies – to return to pre-pandemic autopilot mode. With elections for the WHO’s and International Telecommunication Union’s top jobs just around the corner, now is the time for the Biden administration, backed by Congress, to demonstrate true American leadership. A U.S.-led international order is not just in the interest of American citizens; it is in the interest of all freedom-loving democracies around the world.

Any organization that puts the world’s greatest force for freedom on an equal playing field with the world’s great forces for repression is likely an organization that undermines U.S. national security. Now is the time to lead our allies through a dangerous 21st century. The battle to advance American interests and counter our adversaries within international organizations will require tenacity and commitment. And that commitment must come from both sides of the political aisle.

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A Better Blueprint for International Organizations


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