September 21, 2023

Biden’s top diplomat Blinken to reaffirm U.S. commitment to multilateralism on first UN visit, a break from Trump era

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a roundtable discussion with Executive Women@State via video teleconference from the U.S. Department of State in Washington
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken participates in a roundtable discussion with Executive Women@State via video teleconference from the U.S. Department of State in Washington

President Joseph R. Biden Jr.‘s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, on Monday, would reaffirm the United States’ commitment to multilateralism on his first visit to the United Nations in New York.

President Biden has pledged to work with allies and international organizations, a departure from former President Donald J. Trump’s era when his “America first” policy often looked like “America alone.”

“Secretary Blinken’s UN engagements will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to working through the multilateral system to address the world’s biggest challenges” including climate change, global health, economic growth, and defending democracy and human rights, wrote the State Department on Friday.

Meetings will cover UN Security Council (UNSC) issues, “the need for reform of the UN system,” and the U.S.’ role and vision for the UN leading up to the 76th UN General Assembly. Secretary Blinken will also chair a Security Council meeting to address the humanitarian situation and advocate for an end to the conflict in Syria.

He will meet with UN officials including Secretary-General António Guterres and President of the UN General Assembly Volkan Bozkir, and staff of the U.S. Mission to the UN including UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Indeed, after a series of bi- and multilateral visits with key partners in the Indo-Pacific and Europe – and a less welcoming visit with China in Alaska – Blinken has much to demonstrate that the U.S. is committed to working with the UN. The Trump administration had eschewed international organizations: it cut funding for some while abandoning others such as the UN Human Rights Council, which the U.S. is in the process of rejoining.  

Blinken, speaking at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday described the changed world the U.S. confronts saying,  “Threats have multiplied. Competition has stiffened. Power dynamics have shifted…. And new threats are outpacing our efforts to build the capabilities we need to defend against them.”

Though apart from revamping decades-old diplomatic machinery to meet new challenges, old ones persist: last week marked the 10th anniversary of the war in Syria.

The Security Council’s chief responsibility is “to maintain international peace and security,” but throughout the past couple of years, its members, in particular its five permanent ones, have struggled to agree on how to deal with global security issues including the conflict in Syria, leading critics to question its ability to carry out its mandate. The International Crisis Group, a think tank, describes how in 2019, the U.S. was at times at odds with European members and China increasingly asserted its opposition to “Western” initiatives.

Recently, the Security Council has focused on the Middle East. On Thursday, at a Council “Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East,” Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield outlined U.S. policy towards Israel and Palestine. Last month, under UK leadership, the Council adopted a resolution on the security situation in Yemen.

The International Crisis Group also noted “the growth in disputes over how the Council deals with crises in Africa”. Although the Council discussed Libya and Somalia in February, there has been no meeting on the conflict in Ethiopia.

The Security Council presidency will pass to Vietnam in April then to China in May.

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