United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Washington on Thursday, making the rounds on Capitol Hill in hopes that the U.N. won't fall victim too much to U.S. budget cuts. His trip comes at a time when the U.N. has become more assertive, both in Libya and in the Ivory Coast.
This week, U.N. and French helicopters bombed weapons depots in the Ivory Coast as a way to neutralize forces still loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the man who lost last year's presidential election. But as Ban arrived in Washington, Gbagbo was still holed up in his presidential compound in Abidjan, and the U.N. secretary-general sounded frustrated.
"Why 10 million people of Cote d'Ivoire should suffer from insistence and persistence of just one man who is sticking to power — it is not acceptable," he said.
Ban said the action by U.N. and French helicopters was "exactly as mandated by the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1975."
"The United Nations headquarters were under constant threat and attack, and there were many civilians killed," he said. "That is why I have authorized to take necessary military measures in full support of French troops."
Analysts looking at the moves in the Ivory Coast and Libya have said the U.N. seems to be emboldened to take stronger action. But the secretary-general said the U.N. is doing what it's supposed to do, having learned from the past.
"It is not a matter of whether the U.N. is emboldened or not — we are doing our proper work," he said. "At the same time, we have learned from the tragic lessons of the past. Look at the case of Rwandan massacre and also the massacre in Srebrenica. All these are tragic lessons that we have learned. The leaders of the world have introduced and adopted a very important principle: that is, responsibility to protect."
And Libya, he said, is the first sign that member states are taking that notion seriously – stepping in when a government fails to protect its own citizens.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban's meetings with U.S. lawmakers in Washington will include U.N. skeptics like the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Florida Republican declined an interview request. She has been calling for cuts to U.S. payments to the U.N. as a way to force management reforms, and is holding a hearing Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice told a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday that the U.S. is pushing for reforms, and she defended the Obama administration's more friendly approach to the U.N.
"As we all know, America's resources and influence are not limitless," she said. "That's why the United Nations is so important to our national security. It allows us to share the costs and burdens of tackling global problems, rather than leaving those problems to fester or the world to look to America alone."
Secretary-General Ban said he has called on all of his managers to trim budgets by 3 percent, and he has been promising other reforms. The U.N., he said, counts on U.S. support.
"The United States is the largest financial contributor," he said. "Thus, we need such a strong support — political, financial and all other developmental support."
He will also need the Obama administration's support to win another term as secretary-general – but he declined to say when he will formally announce his bid.