Since the first days of the new presidency, the Obama administration has continued to seek a definition of the US relationship to the United Nations. From the time of president’s first appearances at the General Assembly and the Security Council, his watchwords have been “engagement” and “multilateralism.” But Americans and non-Americans, allies and enemies, have wondered from the beginning just what those terms mean as actual policy of the United States of America.
In Living with the UN, Kenneth Anderson attempts to set out the meanings of multilateralism and engagement with the United Nations in a fashion that can actually guide policy. Anderson explains that there are many United Nations, for it is a collection of different institutions, organs, actors, functions, motives, and motivations. Once the multiplicity of the United Nations is on the table, he shows, it becomes possible to see that there are multiple ways of engaging (or not) with it—or with them. He then provides approximate rules of thumb that can guide US policy as the presumptive starting point for how, or how not, to engage with the United Nations in its particular parts and functions.
Anderson argues convincingly that the goal of the United States cannot be simply to make the United Nations more efficient and effective, however much one might wish it. He shows that a more responsive, better-run, and generally more effective United Nations would not always operate in America’s interest. Rather, a genuinely effective United Nations would almost certainly be, in important matters, more effectively anti-American to both its policies and its ideals. Thus the author’s ultimate answer to the question of when the United States should engage with the United Nations is a resounding sometimes. Despite the extensive and severe criticism of the United Nations that Anderson offers throughout this book, he acknowledges that the useful functions of the institution are many and varied and that the United States should support and promote them.
With unrelenting candor throughout, Living with the UN outlines a pragmatic, overarching policy framework for the United States in its long-term relations with the United Nations during the Obama administration and beyond.