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Mon. January 30, 2023
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IA-Forum Interview: Gillian Sorensen
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International Affairs Forum: What do you think will be the impact on U.N.-U.S. relations of a Democratic White House, given similar sounding claims by both candidates that they would prioritize multilateral solutions to global problems? Gillian Sorensen: I think that when we have a new President, there will be significant changes in the U.S.-U.N. relationship. I believe either of the Democratic candidates will be more supportive, more interested, and more respectful. Both of them understand that the U.N. is a valuable instrument in our arsenal of foreign policy options. I am sure both of them will nominate someone who is experienced and committed to the success of the United Nations as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.. Both of the Democrats have answered detailed questionnaires about their views on the United Nations. They are multilateralists, they understand the value of international cooperation, and they understand that the U.N. is imperfect but indispensable. So I think there will be a very different relationship not only with the appointment of the U.N. Ambassador but also other key posts: the U.S. Representative in Geneva, those within key committees and commissions – it will be quite a different situation. The U.N. will welcome that. IA-Forum: What about a McCain White House, in light of his plans to build a 'League of Democracies' which some have suggested is aimed at "killing the U.N."? Ms. Sorensen: I do not support a “League of Democracies”. There is an evolving group of democracies in the United Nations. I do not think anything is served by creating yet another international organization. I don’t know who would fund that, or how you would define or select the democracies that would join. I don’t think the United States could expect a League of Democracies to automatically support everything the U.S. believes in. For instance, India is a democracy but has some very significant differences of view with the United States. Furthermore, how would you choose or select emerging democracies or fragile democracies or countries that were democracies but have fallen back. I think it’s an impossible selection process. It would not be useful and would be harmful to the United Nations. Everyone is present in the U.N., democracies and others. Our task is to build on that democratic progress within the existing United Nations. There is every possibility to do just that and we should make the most of it. IA-Forum: What will be the U.N.'s role in Iraq over the next 12 months? Is there a danger that the U.N.'s mandate and practical influence will be heavily constrained by U.S. decisions on troop numbers, insofar as they alone appear to be capable of providing security for the U.N.? Ms. Sorensen: The U.N. has done a great deal in Iraq at the behest of the United States. They have worked with Iraqi refuges and prepared and monitored elections across the country, led in forming the governing coalition, and organized regional discussions among the neighboring states. The U.N. is now asked to be the lead on overall reconstruction of Iraq in the future. That is a subject of great discussion and debate. Because those terms – meaning what authority and what resources will be there and whether the United Nations will be given what is necessary to succeed is very much in question. First, the United States has to find a conclusion to the war that we started. That has to precede the United Nations taking over some of the reconstruction efforts. The U.N. has done a huge amount on assisting refugees but there are limits to that. The United Nations has assisted on the preparation of the Constitution. So the U.N. has done a lot in Iraq but what the future brings is an open question, those discussions are very much under way but the security concerns are real. The United States has the responsibility to resolve, to the extent that it can, the civil war that is under way there. IA-Forum: Do you see the possibility of a Cold War-type situation returning, in which two blocs within the P5 (comprising America, France and Britain on the one hand, and China and Russia on the other) effectively neutralize the other and weaken the U.N.'s ability to act robustly? Ms. Sorensen: I don’t see a Cold War situation returning. The block you describe (America, France, Britain) and China and Russia on the other… seem not to hold. It is a very different situation now than it was 10-15 years ago. The booming economy of China, the many connections it has have with the United States and the rest of the world lead me to think it would not be making an alliance with Russia against the rest of the world. There is too much at stake. China is seizing possibilities everywhere particularly for trade and investment but also for diplomatic and cultural and other connections. Russia is feeling beleaguered but I don’t think sees an advantage to going back to the Cold War. There too, we have strong differences. But we also have a great many common concerns and common efforts. That will keep us moving forward. It won’t be easy and we should expect that there will be differences of opinion but we should never give up, never say we won’t talk. Our obligation as smart diplomats who understand history and have a vision of the future is that we need to find ways to work together, ways to leverage our influence, but also to convey a measure of respect for these countries and what they’re coping with and to look for opportunities to assist and support and cooperate however we can Gillian Martin Sorensen is a senior advisor at the United Nations Foundation. From 1997 to 2003, she served as Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations on appointment by Secretary General Kofi Annan. Prior to that, she was a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government (Institute of Politics) at Harvard University. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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