Seth Wenig, Associated Press
United States President Donald Trump speaks with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley before a meeting during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017.

“It is a new day at the U.N.”

That is what Ambassador Nikki Haley, the United States representative to the United Nations, said on CNN to underscore current criticism and demand for reform of the world body by the Trump administration.

President Donald Trump directed harsh criticism and disdain at the organization during the 2016 presidential campaign. This reflects powerful currents of political and public opinion through much of the Cold War, which from time to time seemed dominant especially in the Republican Party. At the U.N., he used belligerent words against Iran and North Korea.

However, there is no suggestion of withdrawing from the U.N. Practical political realities and economic necessities reinforce our commitment to the institutions involved. If the U.S. cuts financial contributions, that has happened before.

Haley is an experienced senior politician and successful governor of South Carolina. U.N. resolutions penalizing North Korea reflect her skills.

Trump’s appearance at the annual fall session of the U.N., in fact, is the latest important evidence for enduring commitment of the U.S. to the world body as a set of institutions. The future organization was included in the declaration of the Atlantic Charter by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain. This public announcement capped their successful shipboard summit meeting off Newfoundland in August 1941 — four months before the U.S. entered World War II as a declared combatant.

The successor U.S. administrations of Presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower reconfirmed strong commitment to the U.N. When Ban Ki-moon of South Korea succeeded Kofi Annan of Ghana as secretary-general, Annan chose the Truman Library in Missouri for his formal farewell address in December 2006.

He selected the venue to highlight contrasts between Presidents Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush, especially the collective security approach of the former and the go-it-alone preferences of the latter during his first term. Truman took the U.S. to war, but as part of a U.N. coalition opposing North Korea aggression. Truman Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and George Marshall devoted enormous time and effort to constructing the Marshall Plan and the NATO alliance.

Frustration with the U.N. is understandable. The global gabfest goes on seemingly endlessly, with diplomats whose relative self-importance seems inversely related to the power of their nations. There was far-reaching financial corruption associated with U.N. supervision of the Iraq oil-for-food exchange. Former U.S. Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and staff did a magnificent job of investigating the massive corruption and fostering reforms.

Yet realism requires working with — not against — the United Nations, as Bush himself eventually recognized. He made major policy statements from the U.N. podium. As U.S. problems mounted in Iraq, the Bush administration turned to the U.N. for assistance.

The U.N. has undeniable economic importance thanks to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. They underpin the relatively open, stable and remarkably productive global economic system.

8 comments on this story

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea personified the end of a Third World majority that often sided with the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War. For the first time since Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in the 1950s, the U.N. had a chief executive committed to freedom.

Current Secretary-General António Guterres is a former prime minister of Portugal. Like Haley, he is an experienced, successful politician. He gives high priority to developing rapport with the U.S. administration.