Richard Grenell, former spokesman of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations from 2001 to 2008, has written another blog detailing how U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice has been less than fully engaged on advancing U.S. priorities at the U.N. Last week, Grenell criticized Amb. Rice for her infrequent attendance at crucial meetings in the U.N. Security Council and her dislike for mixing it up with other nations to advance U.S. policies. Specifically he noted that she has been
absent at many crucial Security Council meetings in New York during some of the world body’s most turbulent times. Rice was even missing from this week’s Security Council debate and vote to add new Peacekeepers to a beleaguered UN operation in Haiti. According to several UN veteran reporters and some US Mission staff, Rice has been missing from crucial negotiations on Iran too. They say that when Rice does attend UN negotiations, she is all too willing to avoid confrontation.
Grenell’s point is valid even if the U.S. was represented at these discussions and negotiations by someone other than Amb. Rice. The presence of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. sends a signal that the U.S. considers the matter under discussion to be important. The repeated absence of Amb. Rice signals the opposite. Moreover, the impression that the U.S. is unwilling to ruffle feathers at the U.N to press its priorities is far-reaching and counterproductive. Sending a substitute does little good if the policy and diplomatic approach remain constant.
Earlier this week, Grenell added some additional evidence to support his criticism. Specifically, he points to a new study by the Columbia University-affiliated Security Council Report, which concludes:
In 2009 the total number of Council decisions (resolutions and presidential statements) decreased by 26 percent from 2008. The number dropped from 113 to 83, the lowest level since 1991.
Resolutions dropped from 65 to 48 and presidential statements from 48 to 35.
This significant trend is also mirrored in a matching reduction in formal Council activity. The number of formal Council meetings decreased by 20 percent, from 243 to 194.
The number of press statements, which is one indicator of Council decision making at the informal level, also decreased by 23 percent, from 47 to 36.
To be fair, the U.N. Security Council has been increasingly expansive and willing to focus on issues only tangentially related to international peace and security – like global warming – in recent years. Focusing Security Council deliberations on issues more directly related to its core purpose of addressing threats to international peace and security is long overdue.
However, a renewed focus does not explain the decline in Security Council activity in 2009. Grenell attributes the decline in activity to a “lack of American leadership” that has let other nations avoid tough decisions and enables obfuscation and inaction. Grenell, who served under four Ambassadors during his tenure at the U.S. Mission, is as informed as any to reach that conclusion.