U.S. Congressman David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., spoke about the United States’ relationship with the United Nations in honor of United Nations Day Friday. Cicilline was joined by Director of Peacekeeping Policy at the United Nations Foundation Chandrima Das and Director of the International Relations Program Nina Tannenwald.
“I am an unabashed, unapologetic fan of the United Nations,” Cicilline said. Rejecting President Trump’s calls to disengage from the United Nations, Cicilline told The Herald that contributing to the United Nations “is in the economic interests of the American people and the long term interests of our country.”
“The interests of our country require us to be deeply involved in the rest of the world, to provide global leadership and to be deeply engaged in the community that we’re a part of.”
U.S. withdrawal from a leadership role in the United Nations “weakens our standing in the global community,” Das said. “China and Russia are happy to take on more influence” at the United Nations in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal, she added.
Cicilline and Das recently returned from a visit to the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. “It’s in our very specific self-interest” to get involved in peacekeeping missions like MINUSCA, Cicilline said. Without intervention, the Central African Republic “could easily become a safe haven for Boko Haram and other terrorist activity that could threaten our national security here in the United States,” he added. Cicilline noted that U.N. peacekeeping missions cost a fraction of U.S. military engagement.
As a member of House Foreign Affairs Committee, Cicilline is part of the Congressional movement to combat isolationist policy shaped by the Trump administration. Congress “has a very substantial role to play” in shaping foreign policy, especially through budget enactments and sanctions, Cicilline told The Herald. For the first time ever, Congress is considering “preventing the president of the United States from engaging in a first strike use of a nuclear weapon because of our concern of the unpredictable, erratic behavior of this president,” he added.
Since the Trump administration has begun “abandoning core priorities of the United States, people at other levels of government are taking” charge, such as cities and states signing climate agreements, Cicilline told The Herald. “It’s an example of why our democracy works — because the voices of the American people are (continuing) to be heard through mayors and governors,” he added.
Legislators can also play a role in diplomacy, Das told The Herald. After their trip to the Central African Republic, Cicilline helped write a letter encouraging U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to support an increased U.N. presence in the Central African Republic. European countries noticed that “there’s domestic pressure (to contribute to) these peacekeeping missions from Congress, and Congress is an equal branch of government,” Das added.
Cicilline told The Herald that the recent U.S. decision to withdraw from United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was a “terrible mistake.” The United States stopped paying dues to UNESCO when Palestine joined as a full member state in 2011, because of a 1994 law that bars the United States from funding any U.N. organization that recognizes Palestine as a full member state. Palestine has observer status at the United Nations.
UNESCO has a “long history of bias against Israel,” Cicilline told The Herald, but this is a “reason to be more deeply engaged rather than to abandon our participation.” Without a presence at UNESCO, it will be more difficult to change the organization’s actions, he added.
The event was organized by Brown’s chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. Ben Bosis ’19, interim president of Brown’s UNA-USA chapter, said the organization works to spread understanding of U.S.-U.N. relations.