Haley says she will help UN reform

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during her visit to South Sudan. Photo by: Nektarios Markogiannis / U.N.

WASHINGTON — Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, started the job with a mission to help reform the U.N. and has focused on peacekeeping, financing, and operational reform, in concert with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, she told a crowd of foreign aid advocates on Tuesday.

At the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s annual Tribute Dinner, where she was honored, Haley spoke about her approach to U.N. reform, a recent meeting with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, and U.S. humanitarian aid.

When she took on the job at the U.N., she said she knew U.S. taxpayers were unhappy with the institution and that “I had to prove to them they were getting a return on investment,” she said. “In order for that to happen we needed to see some cultural changes, we needed to see some financial changes, and we needed to see some overall operational changes within the United Nations. It was great because I came in at the same time as the secretary-general, who was very reform minded, so we could start together along what that process was going to be.”

“The bottom line is the United States has carried this burden a very long time and we do it because we know it’s morally right, because that’s who we are as a country: we support, we help, we lift people up — but we don’t need to be taken for granted.”

— Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations

Thus far, one of the biggest accomplishments has been the peacekeeping process, she said, where changes have saved about $700 million and made missions better. The problem was that peacekeeping missions that were facing challenges were often just allocated more troops, without the mandate being evaluated or ensuring that they had training or were communicating and coordinating well, she said.

The U.S. is also supporting Guterres’ efforts to reform U.N. bureaucracy, Haley said. “It’s gotten very bloated … and something needs to change,” she said, adding that it’s not the services that the U.N. provides, but often the size of the staff it uses to perform them that is the problem.

Haley also emphasized that the U.S. is looking to shift the balance at the U.N. and close the gap between its contributions and those of other countries, which means that other countries need to increase contributions, troops, or services.

“The bottom line is the United States has carried this burden a very long time and we do it because we know it’s morally right, because that’s who we are as a country: we support, we help, we lift people up — but we don’t need to be taken for granted.” she said.

While she’s been leading a new era of U.S. engagement at the U.N., Haley has also been taking on diplomatic duties for the U.S. government, particularly in countries facing humanitarian crises. In October, Haley met with South Sudanese President Kiir and pushed him to allow complete humanitarian access within the country. Last month, Kiir ordered that humanitarian aid convoys be allowed to move freely.

“I think a lot of it is we have to mean what we say,” Haley said, recounting that she talked to Kiir about what she’d seen in refugee camps and stressed the potential future dangers of the generation of children growing up amid the violence and with him as the only idea of what leadership is.

“The United States has invested over $11 billion into South Sudan. We are not getting the return on investment that we expected, we are not getting free and fair elections, we are not getting freedom across that country — and so what I did was just tell him that either he change or the U.S. would change, and he had a choice,” she said.

Haley said that while the U.S. would never stop humanitarian support to South Sudan, in part because “President Kiir doesn’t care about that one way or the other,” it should “absolutely hit him where his money comes from” if he doesn’t comply.

Kiir is showing that he is trying, she said, but she is waiting to see if that holds, and will hold him accountable, she said.

Read more Devex coverage about the future of U.S. aid and development policy under the Trump administration.