The Multilateralist

Jobs, jobs, jobs: the case for the UN

With anti-UN sentiment bubbling again on Capitol Hill, a top U.S. State Department official is defending the organization–in terms of American jobs. Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, made the case in conjunction with a recent visit to Wall Street: First, the UN helps sustain the global economic landscape that U.S. ...

With anti-UN sentiment bubbling again on Capitol Hill, a top U.S. State Department official is defending the organization–in terms of American jobs. Esther Brimmer, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, made the case in conjunction with a recent visit to Wall Street:

First, the UN helps sustain the global economic landscape that U.S. companies depend on. UN offices help protect American patents and intellectual property around the world. UN agencies promote global standards for things like international shipping, civil aviation, telecommunications, and postal services. Basically, if you’re an American company doing business across borders, odds are, you’re benefiting from the work the United States does in the UN.

Second, the UN spends hundreds of millions of dollars every year procuring goods and services from American companies. They spend more money here than in any other country in the world — more than $1.5 billion dollars last year alone. So, American companies in places like Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and elsewhere know that the UN is a significant source of income and jobs for small, medium, and large U.S. companies.

Third, the UN is a boost for New York’s economy. Aside from the thousands of diplomats and UN staff, the UN brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. That means billions of dollars for local hotels, restaurants, and other businesses.

Brimmer’s dollars-and-cents approach meshes with other recent attempts to pitch the UN to skeptical Americans as a fundamentally cost-saving enterprise. Even as they do so, however, U.S. officials are chiding UN officials for recent spending decisions. Via Bloomberg:

The U.S. ambassador for UN management and reform, Joseph M. Torsella, said today that the proposed $5.2 billion UN budget for the next two years would scrap only 44 jobs, a 0.4 percent reduction. After an “onslaught” of add-ons, the 2012-13 budget would rise more than 2 percent to $5.5 billion, he said.

“That is not a break from ‘business as usual’ but a continuation of it,” Torsella said in a speech in New York to the UN’s administrative and budgetary committee. “How does management intend to bring these numbers and costs back in line?”

There’s a bit of tension between the two lines of argument. After all, don’t more UN positions and higher UN salaries mean more spending on New York restaurants?

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