The United Nations is not only imperfect, it is also misunderstood. Somewhat predictably, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans unleashed a torrent of criticism against the UN Security Council’s adoption of a resolution on December 23 condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. To express his disapproval, Trump described the institution as “just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time” and went on to suggest that “if it is causing problems rather than solving them … it will be a waste of time and money if it doesn't start living up to its potential.” Several U.S. lawmakers have since demanded that the United States restrict its funding for the global body over the Security Council vote and former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin even went as far as to call on the United States to leave the UN.
The United Nations’ failures, of course, are well known. Less known is what it gets right, and on this score even Trump should find much to love in the institution. Indeed, if his administration hopes to, as he says, work with all “freedom loving partners” to eradicate terrorism, he will need the UN, warts and all.
In the post–9/11 era—and often at the behest of U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama—the UN has played a central role in globalizing the fight against terrorism and strengthening international cooperation and capacities to defeat al Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS), and other terrorist groups. Less than three weeks after 9/11, Bush relied on the UN Security Council to require all countries to reboot or upgrade their counterterrorism laws. As a result, dozens of nations put in place new legal measures to crack down on terrorists and their financiers. Obama likewise went to the UN when he sought to tighten sanctions against and cut off financial flows to ISIS and to push the White House agenda to counter violent extremism around world. Critical U.S. partners, including China, India, and Russia, and Muslim-majority countries ranging from Egypt to Indonesia, now generally insist that all nonmilitary counterterrorism measures (such as the tightening of border controls, investigating and prosecuting terrorists, or countering radicalization at home) be grounded in some way on the UN counterterrorism framework that evolved rapidly after 9/11. This framework is seen as being in compliance with international law and therefore carries broad global legitimacy, in large part because it is derived from the UN Charter itself.
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