Testimony of Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Congressman Engel. Distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. And thank you for being here. Thank you also for your leadership in advancing America’s national security interests and our values in the world.

Last week I traveled to Ukraine, where I had the chance to see up close what happens when the rules undergirding our international peace and security are ignored. At a shelter for displaced families in Kyiv, I met a mother who told me how her husband and two-year-old child had been killed in February when a shell struck their home in a village in eastern Ukraine. The shelling, as you all know, was part of a sustained assault by combined Russian-separatist forces – and the victims just two of the more than 6,300 people who have been killed in the Moscow-manufactured conflict. Shortly after the attack, the mother fled town with her five surviving children in a van whose roof and doors had been blasted out. Her plea – one I heard echoed by many of the displaced families I met from eastern Ukraine and occupied Crimea – was for the fighting to stop, and for their basic rights to be respected.

As the members of this Committee know, we are living in a time of daunting global crises. In the last year alone, Russia continued to train, arm, and fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine; a deadly epidemic spread across West Africa; and monstrous terrorist groups seized territory across the Middle East and North Africa, committing unspeakable atrocities. These are the kinds of threats that the United Nations exists to prevent and address. Yet it is precisely at the moment when we need the UN most that we see the flaws in the international system, some of which have been alluded to already.

This is true for the conflict in Ukraine – in which a permanent member of the UN Security Council is violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity that it was entrusted with upholding. It is true of the global health system that – despite multiple warnings of a spreading Ebola outbreak, including those from our own CDC – was slow to respond to the epidemic. And it is true of UN peacekeepers, who too often stand down or stand by when civilians they are responsible for protecting come under attack. Thus leaving populations vulnerable and sometimes open to radicalization.

Representing our nation before the United Nations, I have to confront these and other shortcomings every day. Yet though I am clear-eyed about the UN’s vulnerabilities, the central point I want to make to this Committee is that America needs the United Nations to address today’s global challenges. The United States has the most powerful set of tools in history to advance its interests, and we will always lead on the world stage. But we are more effective when we ensure that others shoulder their fair share and when we marshal multilateral support to meet our objectives. Let me quickly outline five ways we are doing that at the UN.

First, we are rallying multilateral coalitions to address transnational threats. Consider Iran. In addition to working with Congress to put in place unprecedented U.S. sanctions on the Iranian government, in 2010 the Obama Administration galvanized the UN Security Council to authorize one of the toughest multilateral sanctions regimes in history. The combination of unilateral and multilateral pressure was crucial to bringing Iran to the negotiating table, and ultimately, to laying the foundation whereby we were able to reach a framework agreement that would, if we can get a final deal, effectively cut off every pathway for the Iranian regime to develop a nuclear weapon.

Consider our response to the Ebola epidemic. Last September, as people were dying outside hospitals in West Africa, hospitals that had no beds left to treat the exploding number of Ebola patients, the United States chaired the first-ever emergency meeting of the UN Security Council dedicated to a global health issue. We pressed countries to deploy doctors and nurses, to build clinics and testing labs, and to fill other gaps that ultimately helped bend the outbreak’s exponentially rising curve. America did not just rally others to step up, we led by example, thanks also very much to the support of this Congress, deploying more than 3,500 U.S. Government civilian and military personnel to Liberia, which has been Ebola-free since early May.

Second, we are reforming UN peacekeeping to help address the threats to international peace and security that exist in the 21st century. There are more than 100,000 uniformed police and soldiers deployed in the UN’s sixteen peacekeeping missions around the world – that is a higher number than in any time in history – with more complex responsibilities also than ever before. The United States has an abiding strategic interest in resolving the conflicts where peacekeepers serve, which can quickly cause regional instability and attract extremist groups, as we have seen in Mali. Yet while we have seen peacekeepers serve with bravery and professionalism in many of the world’s most dangerous operating environments, we’ve also seen chronic problems, too often, as mentioned, including the failure to protect civilians.

We are working aggressively to address these shortfalls. To give just one example, we are persuading more advanced militaries to step up and contribute soldiers and police to UN peacekeeping. That was the aim of a summit that Vice President Biden convened at the UN last September, where Colombia, Sweden, Indonesia and more than a dozen other countries announced new troop commitments; and it is the message I took directly to European leaders in March, when I made the case in Brussels that peacekeeping is a critical way for European militaries to do their fair share in protecting our common security interests, particularly as they draw down in Afghanistan. This coming September, President Obama will convene another summit of world leaders to build on this momentum and help catalyze a new wave of commitments and generate a new set of capabilities for UN peacekeeping.

Third, we are fighting to end bias and discrimination at the UN. Day in and day out, we push back against efforts to delegitimize Israel at the UN, and we fight for its right to be treated like any other nation – from mounting a full-court diplomatic press to help secure Israel’s permanent membership into two UN groups from which it had long and unjustly been excluded, to consistently and firmly opposing one-sided actions in international bodies. In December, when a deeply unbalanced draft resolution on the Israel-Palestinian conflict was hastily put before the Security Council, the United States successfully rallied a coalition to join us in voting against it, ensuring that the resolution failed to achieve the nine votes of Security Council members required for adoption. We will continue to confront anti-Israel bias wherever we encounter it.

Fourth, we are working to use UN tools to promote human rights and affirm human dignity, as we did by working with partners to hold the first-ever Security Council meeting focused on the human rights situation in North Korea in December. We used that session to shine a light on the regime’s horrors – a light we kept shining through a panel discussion I hosted in April, with escaped victims of the regime. One woman told of being forced to watch the executions of fellow prisoners who committed the “crime” of daring to ask why they had been imprisoned, while another woman told how members from three generations of her family – her grandmother, her father, and her younger brother – had starved to death. This is important for UN Member States to hear.

Fifth, we are doing everything within our power to make the UN more fiscally responsible, more accountable, and more nimble – both because we have a responsibility to ensure American taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and because maximizing the efficiency of our contributions means saving more lives and better protecting the world’s most vulnerable people. Since the 2008 to 2009 fiscal year, we have reduced the cost-per-peacekeeper by 18 percent, and we are constantly looking for ways to right-size missions in response to conditions on the ground, as we will do this year through substantial drawdowns in Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, and Liberia, among other missions.

Let me conclude. At the outset, I spoke of my recent visit to Ukraine. Across the range of Ukrainians I met – from the mother who lost her husband and two-year-old child in the assault by combined Russian-separatist forces; to the brave students who risked their lives to take part in the Maidan protests against the kleptocratic Yanukovych government; to the young members of parliament working to fight corruption and increase transparency – what united them was the yearning for certain basic rights. And, the belief that the United States could lead other countries – and the United Nations – in helping make their aspirations a reality.

I heard the same sentiment when visiting UN-run camps of people displaced by violence in the Central African Republic, and South Sudan, and in the Ebola-affected communities of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone at the peak of the outbreak.

Some may view the expectation that America can help people overcome their greatest challenges and secure their basic rights as a burden. In fact, that expectation is one of our nation’s greatest strengths, and one we have a vested interest in striving to live up to – daunting as it may feel in the face of so many crises. But we cannot do it alone, nor should we want to. That is why it is more important than ever that we use the UN to rally the multilateral support needed to confront today’s myriad challenges.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.