The Multilateralist

Susan Rice’s valedictory remarks at the United Nations

Susan Rice’s valedictory remarks at the United Nations

Earlier this week, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice offered some closing thoughts on her tenure as she prepares to take up her new post as President Obama’s national security advisor. Rice argued that the United States has reasserted itself at the UN, and focused, in particular, on what she described as the improved performance of the organization’s Human Rights Council and the organization’s broader work in establishing progressive international principles:

We’ve improved relations with allies, built and strengthened new partnerships, and exerted effective American leadership on issues that matter most to the United States. We’ve repaid past arrears and met our financial commitments. We joined the Human Rights Council believing that American engagement would improve its performance, and it has. We have worked constructively with a range of partners on a wide variety of important issues in the General Assembly…

We’ve together championed human rights and universal values, leading efforts to call to account the world’s worst abusers. We’ve joined with colleagues to advance women’s equality, protection, and empowerment around the world, to integrate more fully women’s issues into the work of the United Nations, including through the establishment of UN Women. Together with our partners, we’ve helped lead a remarkable shift on LGBT issues at the United Nations by winning accreditation for LGBT NGOs, opposing discrimination and violence against LGBT persons, and working to make clear to all that LGBT rights are human rights.

Rice went out of her way to laud U.S. work–spearheaded by Joseph Torsella–on improving the transparency and efficiency of the organization:

We’ve pushed for significant progress towards a more efficient and fiscally responsible UN—saving hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars for Americans and people around the world. We supported the OIOS to be a strong and independent watchdog of the United Nations and set a new standard for transparency in the UN system by securing agreement to make its internal audit reports—as well as those of the New York funds and programs—publicly available. We’ve advocated successfully for reforms to modernize how the United Nations delivers services to the field and pressed the UN to improve its personnel management policies.

She described a visit to Libya as one of the high points of her tenure:

[I] had the extraordinary privilege of visiting Libya myself in November of 2011 and meeting with the citizens of Benghazi, and Tripoli to hear the mothers and the young people express their gratitude to the Security Council for Resolution 1973, which in their judgment saved countless hundreds of thousands of lives—that obviously too will always be a source of pride and gratitude. 

She described the Security Council’s inaction on Syria as a low point of her tenure but rejected the notion that its failure reflected inadequate U.S. leadership:

[T]he Security Council has three times voted, and three times has faced a double veto—not by the United States but by Russia and China—of very mild resolutions aimed at beginning to address the situation in Syria. Those resolutions didn’t contain sanctions. They didn’t contain the treat of the use of force, much less authorize the use of force. And yet we’ve been paralyzed. And I don’t know how, in any circumstance, one would ascribe that to a failure of U.S. policy or U.S. leadership when the vast majority of the Council was ready and willing to move ahead.