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September 11, 09

NEWS / Nonproliferation, Climate Change Top U.S. Issues for U.N. Meeting

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington —The Obama administration is considering global issues such as climate change and food security to be immediate security challenges, along with more traditional security topics like nonproliferation and arms control, as the U.S. delegation prepares for the 64th United Nations General Assembly, opening September 19 in New York.

The common theme among nonproliferation, women in conflict, food security and climate change is that those types of issues “have an impact on real people” as well as on governments and have immediate impacts on security, says the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for International Organizations Esther Brimmer.

The Obama administration has said it is pursuing a more multilateral approach to achieving its major foreign policy goals than its predecessor did, and Brimmer told that the main source for the new emphasis is the president himself.

“Definitely the U.S. is back on multilateral affairs,” she said, and President Obama “in his own understanding of international affairs and foreign policy, realizes that in order to advance key goals you need to work both multilaterally and bilaterally … to advance major U.S. foreign policy goals.”

The major challenges of the 21st century are “transnational in character” and “have to be dealt with by working with other states,” she said.

In addition, the administration believes that the greatest periods of success for the United States have been “when the U.S. has been an international leader able to advance both its interests and to bring others along to support its views.”

The United States no longer approaches climate change from only a health-and-science point of view. “The administration also recognizes that there are immediate security implications as well,” Brimmer said, such as mass migrations of people due to drought and other factors, as well as disputes over water.

Food security also constitutes an immediate security issue. “Millions of people across the globe face long-term hunger issues,” and recent spikes in food prices have not only caused human tragedies but also incurred local security costs due to food riots, she said. The assistant secretary said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plan to co-host an event at the United Nations to highlight the issue.

“The idea of putting an emphasis on food security highlights the administration’s food security initiative, which draws on what we consider to be country-led plans,” Brimmer said. “Each country needs to put forward its own program for how it wants to address food security issues and then marry that up with multilateral support which includes an important component or role for the international food agencies.”

Clinton also plans to attend a U.N. Security Council session scheduled for September 30 to create new measures to prevent violence against women in combat zones. The secretary “has taken a really deep personal interest in what the international community … can do on this issue,” Brimmer said. Clinton took opportunities on her recent trip to Africa to speak with victims and caregivers to “understand directly what the impact of this type of violence is, and [she] is trying to think seriously about how do we combat these egregious forms of attacks and violence against civilians.”

The Security Council session could create a task force to investigate how to expand the protection of women in combat zones, propose an annual report and appoint a senior envoy for the issue. “The idea is to create institutional mechanisms to continue to document what’s going on, get information, and also to help actually get support on the ground for helping the victims,” Brimmer said.

Obama’s decision to chair a September 24 U.N. Security Council summit on nuclear nonproliferation is “quite striking,” Brimmer said. “There have only been five sessions which were held at the summit level,” and this would be the first to be chaired by a U.S. president.

“He’s trying to give real support and show at the highest level that dealing with nuclear nonproliferation is the highest priority for leaders across the globe,” Brimmer said. Obama’s chairmanship is, in a sense, “the kickoff for a whole year when we’ll really be highlighting nonproliferation issues,” including the planned review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in spring 2010.

The assistant secretary also said Obama’s ability to bring various communities together could lend itself to a renewed U.S. leadership on human rights in the United Nations. Human rights issues “have been the most acrimonious area” among member states, and the United States is looking for possibilities to work with key states and organizations “to have a more positive conversation on freedom of expression, to which many different countries from many different parts of the globe could support.”

The U.S. participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council, which formally begins in September, will be “both new and old at the same time,” she said. Although the council itself is new, the United States has been an active leader in U.N. human rights efforts in the past. “In a sense we are actually recovering our historic role, albeit in a new type of venue,” Brimmer said.

The Obama administration will also continue to pursue U.N. reform in the upcoming session. “You want to have a transparent organization because you want the U.N. to work [and] be well managed and functioning well,” she said. However, the U.S. approach to reform will be “more like a consultant who comes in to talk to you about things you can do better, rather than a prosecutor who comes and says you are doing things wrong and we are going to punish you.”


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