Ambassador Kelly Craft Is Confirmed: What Will She Be Up Against?
August 14, 2019
On July 31, the Senate voted mostly along party lines to confirm Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN). In her written testimony , Ambassador Craft outlined her initial priorities including UN reform, augmenting public-private partnerships in international assistance programming, and increasing overall funding for humanitarian aid by encouraging increased contributions from other member states. The CSIS Humanitarian Agenda looks at the most pressing humanitarian challenges facing Ambassador Craft as she takes on the critically important role representing the United States at the UN.
Q1: What immediate challenges will Ambassador Craft face upon arrival in New York?
A1: Ambassador Craft will confront challenges for humanitarian action that go beyond just funding levels, specifically the intersection between counterterrorism efforts and humanitarian assistance. Recently, the government of Kenya initiated a process to add al-Shabaab to a UN sanctions regime targeting al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Many humanitarian organizations, former diplomats, and national security experts are deeply concerned about the humanitarian implications of this effort. Al-Shabaab is already subject to different UN sanctions that generate the same restrictions, including asset freezes, travel bans, and an arms embargo. Critically, the current sanctions program includes an exemption for humanitarian assistance, which allows humanitarian organizations to work in areas under al-Shabaab’s control. As Somalia is heading toward another painful period, with agricultural projections portending an impending food crisis, maintaining the humanitarian exemption is critical for life-saving assistance to be able to reach vulnerable populations.
This presents an important opportunity for Ambassador Craft to reinforce the position of the United States in favor of humanitarian exemptions for humanitarian action in Somalia and elsewhere. Just last week, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control released guidance affirming exemptions for humanitarian assistance from sanctions on Venezuela. Similar guidance exists for humanitarian programming generally. Ambassador Craft has multiple options to preserve the humanitarian exemption for Somalia, including through quiet talks with Kenyan diplomats, expressing a U.S. position on the importance of the exemption in Somalia through a public statement, or using the U.S. seat on the Security Council to formally object to the maneuver. Clearly asserting the U.S. position, whether publicly or privately, would provide important clarity for humanitarian actors in Somalia and demonstrate learning across administrations, as the delayed humanitarian response to the Somalia famine in 2011 still looms in the back of people’s minds.
Q2: What does last week’s hold on foreign assistance programming mean for future U.S. funding at the UN?
A2: Ambassador Craft should expect to receive a lot of questions from her peers regarding the announcement by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget of a potential rescission of funding for 10 different foreign assistance programs. The United States remains the largest donor to the United Nations and many of its agencies in absolute terms, but U.S. funding processes are often opaque. While the White House has lifted the hold on the foreign assistance funding, Ambassador Craft will be expected to clarify the administration’s positions on U.S. contributions to UN funding, including for peacekeeping missions. Member states will especially be curious for the rationale behind the announcement, given the timing coincided with Secretary Pompeo’s overseas travel, and coming a year after Congress rejected administration efforts on rescission for similar accounts.
Q3: What long-term challenges await Ambassador Craft with regards to humanitarian issues?
A3: The key issues facing Ambassador Craft include the importance of upholding international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians in armed conflict, reducing forced migration and displacement by finding political solutions to armed conflicts, and increasing humanitarian funding. These challenges are echoed in this year’s annual report, published last month by the Secretary General to the UN Economic and Social Council, called Strengthening Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Programs. This report shows that over the last five years, despite an overall increase in contributions, the gap between appeals and contributions for humanitarian assistance has remained at approximately a 40 percent shortfall. U.S. funding remains critical for humanitarian programming. For aid organizations working in humanitarian emergencies, having a clear picture of funding levels is essential for planning. Ambassador Craft has an important opportunity to clarify the U.S. position on funding of these vital accounts.
Ambassador Craft will also be dealing with the increased insecurity facing civilians and humanitarian aid workers. The recent disappearances of six aid workers in northeast Nigeria are the latest example of active violence against aid workers. Ambassador Craft can play a critical role in defending the safety of civilians and aid workers by supporting future resolutions like Resolution 2474, passed in June of this year, expressing urgency around the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Q4: Is this administration committed to multilateral engagement on humanitarian issues?
A4: In the written statement at her nomination hearing, Ambassador Craft highlighted the importance of U.S. leadership on humanitarian assistance drawing directly from the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy. In the strategy, the administration outlines a rationale for humanitarian assistance that serves critical U.S. national interests. Congress and the administration recognize humanitarian programming can address the root causes of conflict by saving lives and reducing human suffering. The most effective way to address humanitarian crises entails engagement with UN agencies and other donor governments.
However, the administration has sent conflicting signals. Ambassadors Craft’s predecessor was criticized for comments implying U.S. assistance be conditional on political support at the UN. Ambassador Haley’s comments were representative of President Trump’s “America First” foreign assistance policies, expressed clearly in his 2018 State of the Union that the United States should “ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests and only go to America’s friends.” During the Trump administration, the United States has withdrawn from the Human Rights Council and cut the U.S. contribution to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which is responsible for providing critical humanitarian and development aid to over 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
As a result, part of Ambassador Craft’s role at the UN will include reassuring allies and UN agencies of U.S. commitment to humanitarian issues. To do so, Ambassador Craft will need to walk a delicate line between adhering to statements coming out of Washington while fostering mutually beneficial cooperation in New York.
Jacob Kurtzer is the deputy director and senior fellow with the Humanitarian Agenda at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. John Goodrick is the program manager and research associate with the Humanitarian Agenda at CSIS.
Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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