How Samantha Power can help push US foreign policy at UN

Samantha Power, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for United Nations ambassador. The U.S. needs a representative who knows the U.N. system both as an "outsider looking in and an insider looking out," says Peter Yeo of Better World Campaign. Photo by: Angela Radulescu / CC BY-NC-SA

Nine years ago, Samantha Power said that the United Nations was a broken institution – its actions too deliberative, its system too business-as-usual.

So if she is confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to the world body, how can she become effective in an institution she is, or at least was, critical of?

Peter Yeo, executive director at the Better World Campaign, tells Devex that Power’s nomination by President Barack Obama personifies the changing landscape of U.S. foreign policy, as the United States has shifted from the Bush administration’s unilateralism and mistrust of the United Nations’ coexistence with other world powers, the very foundation of the multilateral diplomacy the world body stands for.

By placing one of his closest allies at the United Nations, Obama is showing how he sees the institution as an essential tool for U.S. diplomacy, says Yeo.

The United States, he adds, needs to be represented at the United Nation by someone who knows the system as both an outsider looking in and an insider looking out in order to maintain its wide influence at the world body, and Power fits the bill.

Experienced, knowledgeable

Yeo looked back the first time Power took part in a panel about the role of the United Nations after she was appointed director of multilateral affairs at the National Security Council and special advisor on human rights by Obama.

“A lot of Obama administration officials were still learning their portfolio [but] Samantha Power came in [and] she knew the portfolio already. She wowed the audience with her detailed knowledge of the complexity of the United Nations and the importance of genocide prevention,” he recalls.

Power’s government position provided her a perfect view of the challenges of “getting action from [the] Security Council and getting the United Nations [to move] quickly,” and her knowledge of the world body’s labyrinth bureaucracy made her successful in pushing for instance for action on Libya, and by extension embedding in the United Nations’ DNA her doctrine of persuading nations to act — preemptively if necessary — to avert the killing of innocent people.

“When you look at what happened in Libya, the toppling of Moammar Gaddafi, it definitely has Samantha Power’s fingerprints all over it,” says the executive director of Better World Campaign, which advocated for stronger U.S.-U.N. ties.

Power, Yeo explains, knows the United States cannot do the job alone and putting greater pressure on countries that brutalize and kill civilians can be done multilaterally. She understands the need to recruit as many allies as possible, and that sets her apart from other people in Washington, possibly stemming from her background as a journalist, when she wrote firsthand accounts of the genocide in Bosnia before publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about U.S. historical inaction against genocide worldwide.

“When you think of Samantha Power and her work, she is passionate about protecting civilians and I think that remains the core of her work: ensuring that the United Nations and United States work closely with civilian protection issues,” Yeo says.

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About the author

  • Alliage profile

    John Alliage Morales

    As a staff writer, John Alliage Morales covers the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community - from Capitol Hill to Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom to the downtown headquarters of USAID, the World Bank and Millennium Challenge Corp. Prior to joining Devex, Alliage worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.