Nikki Haley departure could challenge US-UN relationship, experts say

Nikki Haley departure could challenge US-UN relationship, experts say
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a brief press availability at United Nations headquarters, January 2, 2018 in New York City. She discussed protests in Iran and the North Korea nuclear threat. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The sudden departure of Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, leaves open questions about the future of already fragile U.S.-U.N. relations, according to foreign policy and development experts.

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, announced Tuesday that she would be leaving her post at the end of the year, nearly two years after President Donald Trump first appointed her to the job. Her resignation has reportedly come as a shock to some U.N. colleagues and foreign counterparts, who have, by and large, regarded her work highly.

While speculation swirls around the reasons and timing behind Haley’s departure, some experts say that the turnover could lead to further strain in U.S.-U.N. relations and U.S. support for foreign aid.

“Haley’s demands that the U.N. should shape up created serious political momentum for the secretary-general’s development and secretariat reforms. The Guterres-Haley relationship has been strong,” said Richard Gowan, a senior fellow and U.N. expert at United Nations University.

Haley, alongside the Trump administration, had pushed for U.N. management, peacekeeping, and development reforms — now underway and set to roll out in January. She also famously said the U.S. is “taking names” following a Security Council resolution vote to recognize Jerusalem as the state of Israel in early 2018. The U.S. later withdrew all funding to the U.N. Palestinian refugee aid organization, UNRWA.

Haley was more amiable to compromise, though, than she perhaps appeared in public, Gowan said.

“It is not guaranteed that the next U.S. ambassador at the U.N. will work so closely with the secretary-general, especially if they are from the John Bolton wing of the administration. Haley was tough on U.N. budgets, but stepped back from completely undercutting U.N. peace operations and the secretariat. She was more willing to compromise than she said in public,” Gowan explained.

“The real concern is that Trump will pick a new ambassador with a very clear mandate to enforce big budget cuts on the U.N. that Haley has largely dodged.”

The U.S. left the Human Rights Council in June under Haley’s leadership — a departure that groups including Human Rights Watch have said will help define her “disappointing” legacy.

“Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will not be remembered as a staunch defender of human rights when she resigns at the end of the year. She vigorously defended egregious Israeli abuses like the unlawful use of lethal force that killed over 150 protesters in Gaza this year,” Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director of HRW, wrote this week. “But her main legacy will be leading the US withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council, dismissing it as an ineffective institution that criticized Israel too much.”

Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and advocacy at Oxfam America, echoed Gowan’s concerns regarding the impact Haley’s resignation could have on the U.S.-U.N. relationship.

“We were disappointed with Ambassador Haley’s embrace of ‘America First,’ and in particular her proposal to overhaul aid to punish poor countries that don’t vote with the U.S. We are even more concerned that with her departure, the Trump administration will play the populist fiddle louder, denying essential funds to the United Nations and seeking to work only with nations whose leaders agree with him,” O’Brien said. “This would do untold damage to emergency relief efforts and the legitimacy of the United Nations more generally.”

But Trump’s new appointee could also come as a welcome surprise.

“While we are concerned, the president could surprise us yet again and appoint a U.N. representative who understands both the challenges and benefits of the U.S. participation at the United Nations,” O’Brien said.


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