And all we got was this lousy paragraph

United States President Barack Obama presented his 52-page long National Security Strategy expressing the need to reassert U.S. leadership in shaping a new "international order." So where does the United Nations fit in this new world order? There’s no mention of it in the president’s preface. But if you keep reading all the way through ...

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AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

United States President Barack Obama presented his 52-page long National Security Strategy expressing the need to reassert U.S. leadership in shaping a new "international order." So where does the United Nations fit in this new world order? There's no mention of it in the president's preface. But if you keep reading all the way through to page 46 you'll find the sole paragraph devoted exclusively to the United Nations. The section - entitled Enhance Cooperation and Strengthen the United Nations and containing calls for improving - is concise enough to include here in full without disrupting the flow of this blog post.

We are enhancing our coordination with the U.N. and its agencies. We need a U.N. capable of fulfilling its founding purpose-maintaining international peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights. To this end, we are paying our bills. We are intensifying efforts with partners on and outside the U.N. Security

Council to ensure timely, robust, and credible Council action to address threats to peace and security. We favor Security Council reform that enhances the U.N.'s overall performance, credibility, and legitimacy. Across the broader U.N. system we support reforms that promote effective and efficient leadership and management of the U.N.'s international civil service, and we are working with U.N. personnel and member

United States President Barack Obama presented his 52-page long National Security Strategy expressing the need to reassert U.S. leadership in shaping a new "international order." So where does the United Nations fit in this new world order? There’s no mention of it in the president’s preface. But if you keep reading all the way through to page 46 you’ll find the sole paragraph devoted exclusively to the United Nations. The section – entitled Enhance Cooperation and Strengthen the United Nations and containing calls for improving – is concise enough to include here in full without disrupting the flow of this blog post.

We are enhancing our coordination with the U.N. and its agencies. We need a U.N. capable of fulfilling its founding purpose-maintaining international peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights. To this end, we are paying our bills. We are intensifying efforts with partners on and outside the U.N. Security

Council to ensure timely, robust, and credible Council action to address threats to peace and security. We favor Security Council reform that enhances the U.N.’s overall performance, credibility, and legitimacy. Across the broader U.N. system we support reforms that promote effective and efficient leadership and management of the U.N.’s international civil service, and we are working with U.N. personnel and member

states to strengthen the U.N.’s leadership and operational capacity in peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, post-disaster recovery, development assistance, and the promotion of human rights. And we are supporting new U.N. frameworks and capacities for combating transnational threats like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, infectious disease, drug-trafficking, and counterterrorism.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations challenged the notion that the U.N. got short shrift in the strategy paper. "The United Nations, and multilateralism more broadly, is fundamental to our ability to deal with the complex and shared threats that we face, " said Mark Kornblau, the United States’ top spokesman at the mission. "This national security strategy recognizes that and includes the important notion that we need to work to improve those institutions so they can more capably deal with those threats."

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, assured representatives of the U.N. community today that the U.S. does appreciate the U.N.’s contributions to world security, and recognizes that "no nations can meet global challenges alone."

"We will strengthen old alliances, build up mutually beneficial relationships with emerging powers in every region, and support institutions, such as the United Nations and its peacekeeping forces, that can help meet the complex challenges of our times, " she told a gathering of U.N. peacekeeping officials, and military and policy attachés from foreign governments at a reception on the USS Iwo Jima. "It is important to pause and remind ourselves that U.N. peacekeeping saves lives-and the better it works, the more lives we can save."

In fairness, the strategy paper does highlight the importance of numerous U.N. activities, including peacekeeping and a passing reference to the impact of U.N. war crimes on Yugoslavia and Liberia, whose former President Charles Taylor, is defending himself before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague. And it makes the standard references to reinvigorating the international institutions that have helped define international institutions since the 1940s.

But the United Nations isn’t even mentioned in sections dealing with global issues like climate change or the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it sometimes refers to the United Nations in the way one might talk about a wonderful old relative who has passed his prime but doesn’t deserve to be thrown out into the cold, and may even still have some useful contributions to make. To wit:

Today, we need to be clear eyed about the strengths and shortcomings of international institutions that were developed to deal with the challenges of an earlier times and the shortage of political well that has at times stymied the enforcement of international norms. Yet it would be destructive to both American national security and global security if the United States used the emergence of new challenges and the shortcomings of the international system as a reason to walk away from it.

This is precisely the sort of tone that may have uneasy U.N. officials wondering, ‘who mentioned walking away from the international system?’

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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