3 Questions for America’s Next Ambassador to the UN

July 16, 2019 By Zach Wehrli

Ambassador Kelly Craft, the nominee to succeed Nikki Haley as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, recently appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying, “I believe that the United States must maintain its central leadership role at the United Nations… when the UN performs, it advances key American objectives including the promotion of peace and security.”

As she awaits a confirmation vote, three questions remain about her vision for American leadership at the UN:

Will she continue U.S. leadership at the UN on the growing humanitarian crises?

Former- U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley traveled frequently to refugee camps and humanitarian response mobilizations, praising UN efforts to address these crises, saying, “The UN and its specialized agencies have had numerous successes. Its health and food programs have saved millions of lives.” If confirmed, Ambassador Craft would face growing global unrest and challenges where the UN plays a key role, including the unprecedented 70.8 million people who are now estimated to be forcibly displaced worldwide.

How will she champion UN reform?

Ambassador Craft testified that UN reform would be one of her top priorities if confirmed, saying that she couldn’t ask for a “better teammate for reform” than UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Under his leadership, the United Nations launched an ambitious set of reforms, including a new management strategy to increase transparency and simplify processes and a restructuring of the UN’s peacekeeping operations, which includes new regional bureaus to improve coordination and efficacy. Together, they could help make the UN more effective, and with a committed U.S. in the driver’s seat, the next Ambassador can help ensure this momentum continues.

How will a rising China shape her work at the UN?

China is now the second largest contributor to the UN’s core budget and has assumed a greater leadership role at the UN, championing positions on human rights that run contrary to U.S. policy and values. Ambassador Craft pledged in her confirmation hearing to “remain vigilant in constraining efforts by our strategic competitors to gain influence at our expense.” From trade disputes and the proliferation of 5G technology to China’s $1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative, every aspect of Washington’s relationship with Beijing stands to benefit from American leadership at the United Nations.

All of this will depend in part on the team of professional diplomats she brings with her. Earlier this year, the U.S. Mission’s number two official, Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council Kelly Currie, left New York, and Acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen – who took over after Ambassador Nikki Haley’s departure in 2018 – has been nominated to serve as the United States Ambassador to Egypt. As a newcomer to the center stage at the UN, Craft would benefit from a team that understands the complexities of Turtle Bay and can navigate the relationships that are paramount to success.

There is no shortage of challenges that will require the next U.S. Ambassador to deftly navigate the UN bureaucracy in order to advance American interests and address global crises, but leadership on the ground in New York alone may not be enough. Ambassador Craft’s confirmation hearing highlighted that the next U.S. Ambassador must also be able to make the case in Washington, ensuring robust funding and commitment to the institution in the years to come.