Retail Diplomacy

Retail Diplomacy

Mini Teaser: The successful U.S. campaign to convince 188 other nations to cut its annual dues obligation provides a model for success in other multilateral negotiations.

by Author(s): Suzanne Nossel

After September 11, the Congress moved swiftly to discharge payment, and the frustration dissipated, though it did not disappear. Rather than riding off the momentum reached in U.S.-UN relations when the December deal was announced, the administration was faced with a risky standing start, having first to put a new ambassador in the driver's seat and then to accelerate from zero to ninety in mere seconds. In the first few weeks it appeared as though we had pulled it off, but we must avert such situations in the future. Our multilateral behavior should be aimed to ensure that, whatever befalls us, we can approach the UN free of baggage, as a trusted, respected leader able to mobilize support from around the world.

Whether it ever truly existed or not, the era of the United States as unchallenged global agenda-setter is over. In a globalized setting with competing centers of power, the United States must learn how to maximize its influence by bringing others on board, rather than trying to shove them off to the side as we press ahead. The surest way to dissolve the fragile international coalition we have assembled for the fight against terrorism is to take it for granted. Impatience or arrogance toward the UN will signal the world that the newfound U.S. focus on multilateralism is a passing fancy that will last only as long as the current crisis. Now is the time for a genuine change of course, built on the understanding that to win in the multilateral arena, the United States must rely not on power alone but on hard work--patient persuasion, alliance politics and targeted leverage. A failure to sharpen these tools may mean that an increasingly interdependent world hews less and less to American interests.

1 Note, for example, the formulation suggested above by Joseph Nye in "Seven Tests."

Suzanne Nossel was Deputy to the Ambassador for UN Management and Reform at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations (1999-2001).

Essay Types: Essay