Where and how future US envoy can have the biggest impact at UN

From left to right: Samantha Power, nominee for United Nations ambassador, Susan Rice, current U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and U.S. President Barack Obama before attending a wreath-laying ceremony for a U.N. staff killed in Iraq in 2009. Photo by: White House

President Barack Obama has picked Samantha Power to lead U.S. interests at the United Nations, where the United States hopes to become a powerful voice on budget austerities, the post-2015 dialogue and of course, the next secretary-general.

But how and where can Power really make an impact?

William Davis, director of the U.N. Development Program’s Washington, D.C. office, tells Devex that she will better advance U.S. interests by steering conversations on how the U.N. can stay relevant amid belt tightening and burgeoning global issues in the years ahead.

“Obviously, she’s leading the cause in making sure U.N. works well, that it is functioning effectively as possible, particularly in the area of budget austerity,” said Davis, who dealt with Power during her time at the National Security Council.

He added: “With the U.S. budget coming under serious pressure, they, the U.S. government, want to make sure that every dollar that goes to the United Nations will be spent wisely.”

Mandate reform, post-2015 agenda

Power, Davis expects, could productively revive discussions on the U.N.’s mandate review initiative, which has bogged down over the past years as member states fought for their favorite programs not to be trimmed down, even if many of them are outdated and no longer relevant today.

“The U.S. has been advocating that under sucessive administrations. It wouldn’t surprise me if they continued that,” he said.

Davis noted that Power will also play a big role in leading the U.S. position on the post-2015 frameworks to the Millennium Development Goal.

“Interestingly, the calendar kind of aligns,” he commented.

Likewise Power will presumably still be representing the United States at the U.N.’s general headquarters in New York just as Obama’s and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s second terms will conclude.

“Obviously, there will be lots of campaigning and deliberations on who will be the successor of Secretary General Ban might be. The campaign will take place in 2016,” Davis said.

Navigating the bureaucracy

But how can Power’s persuasive voice be heard loud and clear in the labyrinth of U.N. bureaucracy?

For one, according to Davis, she is not a bureaucrat who rose to power by working in the U.S. government or the United Nations: “She’s not wedded to the processes or organization charts. She would not lose her way sometimes in the bureaucratic turf fighting and jumble of acronyms.”

Power also happens to know a lot of the senior people at the United Nations after her stint as a journalist and following the life of the late U.N. special representative in Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello for a book she wrote.

Davis stresses she is ready for a top U.N. post, especially now that Power is “no longer a humanitarian person” and has embraced the full spectrum of U.N. issues in the last four years working in the Obama administration as multilateral affairs advisor.

“She had meetings from gender promotion to development issues to human rights to migration and refugee issues [so now Power has a] holistic view of the system,” he explained.

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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.