Secretary Antony J. Blinken Virtual Remarks at the UN Security Council Open Debate on Multilateralism

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good morning, good afternoon, good evening.  Let me start by thanking China and Foreign Minister Wang for initiating this critical discussion on the future of the United Nations and the international order.  And thank you as well to the President of the General Assembly Bozkir for your leadership.

When countries came together after World War II to form the United Nations, virtually all of human history up till then indicated that might made right.  Competition inevitably led to collision.  The rise of a nation or group of nations necessitated the fall of others.

Then our nations united in choosing a different path.  We adopted a set of principles to prevent conflict and alleviate human suffering; to recognize and defend human rights; to foster an ongoing dialogue to uphold and improve a system aimed at benefiting all people.

The most powerful countries bound themselves to these principles.  They agreed to a form of self-restraint – as President Truman put it, to deny themselves the license to do always as they pleased – because they recognized that this would ultimately serve not only humanity’s interests, but their own.  The United States did this, even though it was by far the most powerful nation on Earth at the time.  It was enlightened self-interest.  We believed other nations’ success was critical to ours.  And we didn’t want less powerful countries feeling threatened and obliged to band together against us.

In the years since, we’ve faced daunting challenges, from the divisions of the Cold War, the vestiges of colonialism, and the times the world stood by in the face of mass atrocities.  And today, conflicts, injustice, and suffering around the globe underscore how many of our aspirations remain unfulfilled.

But no period in modern history has been more peaceful or prosperous than the one since the United Nations was created.  We avoided armed conflict between nuclear powers.  We helped millions of people emerge from poverty.  We advanced human rights as never before.

This bold endeavor, whatever its imperfections, has been an unprecedented achievement.  And it’s endured because the overwhelming majority of people and nations continue to see it as representing their interests, their values, their hopes.

But now it’s in serious jeopardy.

Nationalism is resurgent, repression is rising, rivalries among countries are deepening – and attacks against the rules-based order are intensifying.  Now, some question whether multilateral cooperation is still possible.

The United States believes it is not only possible, it is imperative.

Multilateralism is still our best tool for tackling big global challenges – like the one that’s forcing us to gather on a screen today rather than around a table.  The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life as we know it across the planet, with millions of deaths and devastating impacts on economies, health, education, social progress.

The climate crisis is another massive threat.  If we don’t move swiftly to cut emissions, the results will be catastrophic.

We built the multilateral system in part to solve big, complex problems like these, where the fates of people around the world are tied together and where no single country – no matter how powerful – can address the challenges alone.

That’s why the United States will work through multilateral institutions to stop COVID-19 and tackle the climate crisis, and we will abide by the core principles of the international order as we do.

We’ll also work with any country on these issues – including those with whom we have serious differences.  The stakes are too high to let differences stand in the way of our cooperation.  The same holds true for stemming the spread and use of nuclear weapons, delivering life-saving humanitarian assistance, managing deadly conflicts.

At the same time, we will continue to push back forcefully when we see countries undermine the international order, pretend that the rules we’ve all agreed to don’t exist, or simply violate them at will.  Because for the system to deliver, all countries must abide by it and put in the work for its success.

There are three ways we can do that.

First, all members should meet their commitments – particularly the legally binding ones.  That includes the UN Charter, treaties and conventions, UN Security Council resolutions, international humanitarian law, and the rules and standards agreed to under the auspices of the World Trade Organization and numerous international standard-setting organizations.

Let me be clear – the United States is not seeking to uphold this rules-based order to keep other nations down.  The international order we helped build and defend has enabled the rise of some of our fiercest competitors.  Our aim is simply to defend, uphold, and revitalize that order.

Second, human rights and dignity must stay at the core of the international order.  The foundational unit of the United Nations – from the first sentence of the Charter – is not just the nation state.  It’s also the human being.  Some argue that what governments do within their own borders is their own business, and that human rights are subjective values that vary from one society to another.  But the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with the word “universal” because our nations agreed there are certain rights to which every person, everywhere, is entitled.  Asserting domestic jurisdiction doesn’t give any state a blank check to enslave, torture, disappear, ethnically cleanse their people, or violate their human rights in any other way.

And this leads me to my third point, which is that the United Nations is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of its member-states.

A state does not respect that principle when it purports to redraw the borders of another; or seeks to resolve territorial disputes by using or threatening force; or when a state claims it’s entitled to a sphere of influence to dictate or coerce the choices and decisions of another country.  And a state shows contempt for that principle when it targets another with disinformation or weaponized corruption, undermines other countries’ free and fair elections and democratic institutions, or goes after journalists or dissidents abroad.

These hostile actions can also threaten the international peace and security that the United Nations Charter obliges this body to maintain.

When UN member-states – particularly permanent members of the Security Council – flout these rules and block attempts to hold accountable those who violate international law, it sends the message that others can break those rules with impunity.

All of us must accept the scrutiny, however difficult, that comes with the commitments we have freely made.  That includes the United States.

I know that some of our actions in recent years have undermined the rules-based order and led others to question whether we are still committed to it.  Rather than take our word for it, we ask the world to judge our commitment by our actions.

Under the Biden-Harris administration, the United States has already re-engaged vigorously in multilateral institutions.  We have rejoined the Paris climate accord, recommitted to the World Health Organization, and we’re seeking to rejoin the Human Rights Council.  We’re engaged in diplomacy to return to mutual compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime.  We are by far the largest contributor to COVAX, the best vehicle for the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, and we’re making tens of millions of doses available to others without political considerations.

We’re also taking steps, with great humility, to address the inequities and injustices in our own democracy.  We do so openly and transparently for people around the world to see, even when it’s ugly, even when it’s painful.  And we will emerge stronger and better for doing so.

Likewise, it’s not enough simply to defend the rules-based order we have now.  We should improve and build upon it.  We need to take into account the change in power dynamics over the past eight decades, not only between countries but within them.  We need to address legitimate grievances – particularly unfair trading practices – that have provoked a backlash against an open international economic order in many countries, including in the United States.  And we must ensure that this order is equipped to address new problems – like national security and human rights concerns raised by new technologies, from cyber attacks to surveillance to discriminatory algorithms.

Finally, we need to modernize the way we build coalitions and who we include in our diplomacy and development efforts.  That means forging non-traditional partnerships across regional lines, bringing together cities, the private sector, foundations, civil society, and social and youth movements.

And we must improve equity within and between our countries and close economic, political, and social gaps that persist based on race, gender, and other parts of our identity that make us who we are.

At the founding of this institution, President Truman said, “This Charter was not the work of any single nation or group of nations, large or small.  It was the result of a spirit of give-and-take, of tolerance for the views and interests of others.”  He said it was proof that nations can state their differences, face them, and find common ground on which to stand.

We continue to have profound differences – among the UN member-states and within this Council.  But the United States will spare no effort to find and stand on that common ground with any country that upholds its commitments to the order we founded together, and which we must defend and revitalize together.

That’s the great test of this moment.  Let’s meet it together.

Thank you.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    In U.S GAO News
    In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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