Senate should confirm Biden picks for top multilateral postings

Great power competition has come to the multilateral system. There are legitimate concerns among Republicans in the Senate about parts of President Biden’s foreign policy and domestic agendas. Some Republican Senators have put holds on appointments to multilateral institutions that require Senate confirmation. But, if both Republicans and Democrats agree that China is openly exploiting the multilateral system to advance its interests, then the U.S. Senate should quickly confirm key nominations to these various international organizations.

There are many high-level openings that the Biden administration is seeking to fill. These include posts within the United Nations system and multilateral development banks (MDBs). These vacancies sound trivial – and many of these agencies most people in Washington have never heard of — but these seemingly obscure roles are quite important.

Within the MDB system, one vacant position is the U.S. Executive Director to the Asian Development Bank. The nominee is the well qualified Chantale Wong, who has over 30 years of experience in international finance, technology, and the environment. The ADB is a strategic asset to the United States, an important source of funding for both physical and digital infrastructure and the West’s real answer to China’s Belt and Road.

Another vacant position is the U.S. Executive Director (ED) for the for the World Bank. President Biden nominated Dr. Adriana Kugler, a professor at Georgetown University. The lack of a confirmed executive director was likely the reason why we “lost” the Doing Business indicators. The U.S. has “equities” that an ED needs to protect, including the upcoming “IDA replenishment” (ensuring a “fair” burden-sharing from other aid donors). There may be a leadership turnover when current WB President David Malpass’s term ends in 2024. Given past precedent, President Biden will likely want to name his own president of the World Bank. The next U.S. ED will play a key role ensuring that the WB presidency remains an American position.

Another critical MDB position is the U.S. Executive Director to the InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB). The Biden administration has nominated Leopoldo Martínez Nucete who was previously a Venezuelan congress member. Given the upcoming Summit of Americas next year, COVID-19, Central America and Haiti, a confirmed ED at the IDB right now would be useful. The IDB is the best collective action vehicle to respond to regional problems.

The Organization of American States (OAS) is an important institution that is often overlooked. The OAS has significant moral authority in the region. There are a number of bad actors that are currently threatening to leave the OAS. We should support the excellent Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, just as Nicaragua is taking steps to leave the organization. To accomplish this, the Senate should confirm Francisco O. Mora, Biden’s nominee for Permanent Representative of the U.S. to the OAS.

Within the UN system, an important position is the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The former head of the ICAO was a Chinese national, Dr. Fang Liu, and she was in the role for six years. Under Dr. Liu, ICAO targeted Taiwan by excluding it from the agency’s multilateral COVID-19 response efforts, and after receiving criticism, the ICAO social media manager (also a Chinese national) blocked critical tweets. The new U.S. representative should be an advocate for Taiwan at ICAO. The ICAO has new leadership with the election of Juan Carlos Salazar, a Colombian national. The Biden administration put forward Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the hero who successfully landed a commercial flight on the Hudson River in 2009. A former Air Force pilot, Sullenberger is qualified and should be confirmed.

Another vacancy is U.S. Representative to the UN and Other International Organizations in Geneva. The nominee, Bathsheba Nell Crocker, previously served as assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. Ms. Crocker, if confirmed, would be our “quarterback” to make sure the outstanding American candidate — Doreen Bogdan Martin — wins the crucial International Telecommunications Union (ITU) race late next year. Bogdan Martin faces a credible Russian candidate. The ITU election is a complex many-step process that will take 12 months to play out, and we need Crocker in the game right now. 

Another important role at the United Nations is the U.S. Representative for Management and Reform. The Biden administration’s nominee is Chris Lu, who was a former deputy secretary of labor. The United States is the largest financial contributor to the UN, providing 22 percent of the general budget. UN budget negotiations — where it is determined what country pays what amount — are going on now. A number of countries should pay more, such as Singapore or Saudi Arabia. The 22 percent contribution that we pay impacts what we pay for big ticket peacekeeping expenses because the General Assembly allocates funding for UN peacekeeping based on a formula linked to member countries’ general UN contributions.

If Republicans want more burden-sharing from other countries to the United Nations, then we need to make sure we have someone at the negotiating table to ensure we get others to pay a higher share of the UN budget. Having a less senior person at the negotiating table almost ensures we will get rolled.

The United States needs to fill its representation on the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN. ECOSOC is a prime platform where China seeks to advance its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) propaganda. Having someone senior in the chair would help us put a stop to China using ECOSOC as a vehicle for shenanigans. A recent report claims that China’s “extensive investment of human resources in ECOSOC” has contributed to an increase in “earmarked extrabudgetary contributions.” The Biden administration has put forward the very qualified Lisa Carty to fill this role.

In an era of increased authoritarianism and Russian aggression, the mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is as important as it has ever been. The OSCE plays a crucial role in coordinating regional security in Europe to achieve stability, peace, and democracy. Michael Carpenter, is President Biden’s nominee for U.S. Representative to the OSCE. Carpenter is a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, and has also held posts at the State Department and the National Security Council.

Finally, President Biden’s nominee for U.S. Representative to the Vienna Office of the UN and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is Laura Holgate. Holgate is currently the vice president for materials risk management at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Given the key role that the IAEA plays in managing nuclear issues in Iran and North Korea, the Senate should move forward with Holgate’s confirmation.

Having strong people in these chairs is a big part of how we push back against China in the multilateral system. Without these qualified nominees, we are confronting China with one hand tied behind our back.

Originally published on on November 28, 2021.

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