On Friday, February 7th, a gathering of several hundred members, students and distinguished guests attended the 6th Annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference and United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) Members’ Day at the United Nations North Lawn Building, U.N. Headquarters in New York City. The day was filled with presentations from U.N. officials, non-governmental organization (NGO) members and students. The theme for this year’s conference was “The United Nations: Building Peace in an Age of Upheaval”, and as in previous years the day was well received by all.
To jump start the event, Chris Whatley, UNA-USA’s new Executive Director, provided the opening remarks by addressing the audience regarding the importance of the work of the U.N., and discussed an exciting new partnership with the U.N. Federal Credit Union. Pamela K. Agnone, Senior Vice President of the U.N. Federal Credit Union, explained the benefits and nuances of the program to all those in attendance.
U.N. Welcome and Address
Maher Nasser, Director of the Outreach Division, U.N. Department of Public Information, formally welcomed the conference participants to the U.N. by reading prepared remarks by the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was in Sochi, Russia for the opening of the Winter Olympics. The U.N. official discussed the importance of peace, security and development, as well as talked about the soon to be released Security Council guide for rules of procedure. In addition, Mr. Nasser spoke about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in fighting poverty and achieving universal education. He presented the audience with one rather alarming figure as it pertains to education: Presently, there are 61 million children in the world today who are not in school, usually as a result of conflict in their native country. This, of course, is unacceptable and it only places added emphasis on the post-2015 development agenda.
“Making Peace, Keeping Peace, Building Peace”
The first panel discussion was moderated by Board Chair of the UNA Princeton/Trenton Area Chapter Jeffrey Laurenti, who is also a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. As is normally the case when Mr. Laurenti moderates a panel discussion at Members’ Day, his questions are always very probing and engages the audience to think “outside the box” on the topic at hand.
The panelists for this session included Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute and former editor and foreign correspondent for The New York Times, and Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Morocco to the U.N. Mohammed Loulichki.
The initial topic of discussion proposed by the moderator Mr. Laurenti was one that has been indelibly etched in the minds of those in attendance for a number of years: Syria. The question before the panel: What are the power resources the U.S. and Russia can bring? What resources can the U.N. bring?
Mr. Feltman led off by stating that the U.N. is the “poster child for when the international community is divided.” The tools at the disposal of the U.N. are arms embargoes and economic sanctions; however, he said, only the U.N. Security Council can “unlock the toolbox.” We know from following this issue closely that Russia has been unwilling to “unlock the toolbox” as a Permanent Member of the Security Council. It is important to build consensus and unity on the issue, according to Mr. Feltman. The U.N. official said that Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, is the ultimate facilitator and builder of consensus and he is a good man for the role of mediation in this matter.
Ambassador Loulichki believes, with respect to Syria, that the thought of Libya is clearly in the back of many official’s minds. There must be a political and moral will from the international community to resolve this issue as the Geneva-2 Conference on Syria continues. To date, the violence has escalated and the parties to the conference – the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition – remain deadlocked. The humanitarian crisis is dire and the need for a solution grows increasingly urgent.
Mr. Hoge indicated that problems, like Syria, that are unable to be resolved by states often come to the U.N., and that “great expectations bump into limitations.” For example, the refugee crisis in Syria is “the worse crisis ever seen”, Mr Hoge said. The U.N. Charter is “not neutral, this implies no values; it is impartial”, as in one of the three core principles of U.N. peacekeeping.
The panelists briefly discussed the ongoing crises on the continent of Africa: the Central African Republic, Somalia, Mali, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As Mr. Feltman pointed out, Africa dominates the affairs of the Security Council. It is important, he said, to be a proactive in these areas of the world to act upon situations before they blossom into conflict.
Finally, the audience had the opportunity to pose their questions to the panelists. There were a number of good questions asked, and with the time remaining, the distinguished guests answered as many as possible.
The audience members wanted to know: What is being done to prevent a failed state, which can become a breeding ground for terrorists? Does the U.N. take sides? How can conflicts be forestalled? This panel covered quite a bit of ground and it was a very informative session.
What World Do We Want? The Post-2015 Development Agenda
second panel of the day was moderated by Marcia Brewster, President, UNA-USA Westchester Chapter. The panelists participating in this discussion were: Jeanne Betsock Stillman, President, UNA-USA Southern New York State Division and Conference Co-Chair, Chris Whatley, Conference Co-Chair and Paul Ladd, Head, Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Bureau for Development Policy, U.N. Development Programme.
Mr. Ladd began by discussing the fact that poverty has seen its fastest decline, and the U.N. is striving to “[eradicate] all the faces of poverty.” Mr. Ladd discussed the economic growth of countries like Brazil, China and India and we are “moving to an era of universality.” He spoke about climate change, massive changes in technology, increasing employment and educational opportunities and expanding access to healthcare for all as part of the post-2015 development agenda. One important point the panelist wished to stress as it pertains to these issues is in order to implement them the key is making certain there is “good governance.”
The Executive Director of UNA-USA, Chris Whatley, addressed the My World 2015 Global Survey http://www.myworld2015.org/ that he urged everyone to look at and participate. He spoke of “universality of aspirations” in relation to development assistance, education, water and energy efficiency. He specified that climate change be made a priority because all other problems follow from it. Sustainable development and investing in women and girls is extremely important as well.
The other Conference Co-Chair, Jeanne Betsock Stillman, followed up with Mr. Whatley’s points and she addressed each briefly. Ms. Stillman spoke of education, health, food and agriculture, good governance, water and proper sanitation, climate change, energy efficiency, urbanization with the increasing numbers of people moving to the worlds’ cities seeking a better life and the importance of human rights. She quoted FDR’s Four Freedoms Speech as well; an important note of reference as this speech is a foundational principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an issue Eleanor Roosevelt held so dearly.
Mr. Ladd followed up by indicating there are thirty-six (36) goals in the post-2015 development agenda, and it is important that they be consolidated and streamlined as this many goals becomes quite unwieldy.
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
The third panel consisted of three high-ranking officials at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. Christopher Klein, Political Minister Counselor, Stephen Lieberman, U.N. Management and Reform Minister Counselor and Teri L. Robl, Deputy U.S. Representative, Economic and Social Council. This panel was moderated by Mary-Frances Wain, Deputy Executive Director, UNA-USA, U.N. Foundation.
Mr. Lieberman began this session, and the question he posed was: How can the U.N. be made more effective through the U.S.? For many who do not know, the U.S. contribution to the global organization is $7.5B. The Management and Reform Minister Counselor discussed four pillars of reform that he is directly involved in implementing.
The four pillars are:
1. Economy- reforming the budget process, modernizing U.N. peacekeeping operations through economies of scale.
2. Accountability- Increasing the level of transparency in the organization.
3. Integrity- Acting swiftly against any actions that occur that would undermine the credibility of the global body.
4. Excellence- U.N. that delivers results.
Mr. Klein gave an excellent presentation on how the political section of the U.S. Mission is divided. There are three primary areas of responsibility:
1. Africa- Two-thirds of the issues in the Security Council deal with Africa. At present, the Central African Republic and South Sudan are the hotspots.
2. Middle East, Asia, Latin America- Syria, as we know, is the hot topic at the moment.
3. Sanctions and terrorism
A significant amount of time is spent by the staff at the U.S Mission preparing Ambassadors Samantha Power, Rosemary DiCarlo and Jeffrey DeLaurentis for negotiations and handling their press statements.
Ms. Robl spoke of her duties as the representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in dealing with development and humanitarian assistance matters, internet governance and working on post-MDG issues
Anticipating Members’ Day in 2015
As the renovation and restoration of the U.N. continues, the excitement and anticipation builds for 2015 Members’ Day as the hope is to hold the annual conference in the new U.N. General Assembly Hall. According to recent estimates, the work should be done in time for General Debate in September 2014. It certainly appears that it will be worth the wait.