As United Nations ambassador Samantha Power transitions from advocate to her new role as diplomat the question of the U.N.'s relevancy comes into play, a New York University professor argues.
Since taking office in August, Power has been faced with the crisis in Ukraine, the chaos in South Sudan, and the civil war in Syria, and according to Richard Gowan, research director at NYU's Center on International Cooperation, "she has hit the mark more often than not," he writes in an opinion piece for Politico.
Gowan says Power is well liked by her diplomatic counterparts, who prefer her style to that of her predecessor, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, saying that she seems to be following the example of her "late mentor Richard Holbrooke" and others who "enjoyed charming their diplomatic counterparts and Washington power brokers alike."
In spite of the major issues President Barack Obama's U.N. envoy has had to tackle, she has also pushed issues that have "scored points among left-leaning NGOs," such as highlighting human rights issue in places like the Central African Republic and North Korea. Gowan said "no other council member would have dared raise the topic alone."
These efforts have also shown that the U.N. often lacks the power to effectively tackle any of these problems.
"But while Power's public and private diplomatic skills impress, she is playing a very difficult hand," Gowan explains. "During her tenure at the U.N. to date the organization has shown its limitations as a tool of American statecraft, whether in managing first-order confrontations with Russia or second-order crises in Africa."
"The Obama administration as a whole seems constantly undecided as to whether it views the U.N. as an asset or a burden," he adds.
Gowan argues that the U.N.'s impotence was on display during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis when the U.N. "had let the Syrian war run out of control (a process in which the United States had arguably been complicit)" and Powers pushed for military action.
"The Security Council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the Security Council we have," Power said at the time.
The U.N.'s lack of effectiveness was also on display when fighting broke out in South Sudan, which "shocked an ill-prepared blue-helmet peacekeeping force U.S. diplomats had helped design in 2011."
Power helped put together a resolution to send 6,000 reinforcements to the area, but they "deployed slowly and often without their vehicles and other essential equipment."
Since then, "South Sudan has remained in a state of de facto civil war — last week a U.N. base came under attack and reports of new ethnic killings are rising."
Gowan argues that Power knows that the situation there is likely to worsen and wants to fix the "U.N. peacekeeping's flaws," but has been force to focus on the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
This has been a concern for European diplomats who have "worried that Power, though well-versed in far-flung war zones, had little experience of Moscow's wily diplomacy," Gowan says, who is also a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"If Power is to be an effective voice for the administration on grand strategic issues, she needs to ensure that these 'lesser' crises don't undermine both the organization and her own political and moral standing," Gowan concludes.
"If Power can balance these tasks, she may re-establish the U.N.'s status as a strategic tool for the United States — or at least prevent it from sliding into even deeper irrelevance."
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