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Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Multilateral Engagement: Benefits to American Citizens

Fact Sheet
Bureau of International Organization Affairs
March 18, 2010


“…the time has come for the world to move in a new direction. We must embrace a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and our work must begin now.”  --President Barack Obama

The United States is deeply engaged with the United Nations and other international organizations to promote U.S. national interests, particularly through U.S. leadership at the United Nations as part of the Security Council and as a leading voice in support of human rights, economic development, security and global health. In addition, the United States derives many other far-reaching and positive benefits from U.S. engagement with international organizations.


By facilitating free and unrestricted exchange of weather-and climate-related data, products, and services in real or near-real time among members, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) contributes to U.S. economic interests by protecting U.S. life and property from severe weather, particularly in the agriculture, aviation, shipping, energy, and defense sectors. Coordinating data also makes it possible for the National Weather Service to issue the ten-day weather forecasts that Americans use every day.


Every year, post offices in the U.S. and around the world handle in excess of 400 billion letters and packages, under a legal and procedural framework overseen by the Universal Postal Union (UPU). The UPU sets guidelines for international mail exchanges and ensures that Americans can communicate by mail with friends, family, customers, and colleagues in all corners of the world. Without the UPU, the United States would need more than 200 bilateral postal agreements, likely resulting in considerably higher international postage rates for Americans. Postal services in the U.S. private sector generate an estimated $900 billion in revenue each year, employing approximately nine million people nationwide.


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) promotes critical U.S. interests in nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear security, and nuclear safety, while also helping to share the peaceful benefits of nuclear energy and medicine to countries around the world. With more than 430 nuclear power plants in operation around the world, more than 50 more under construction, and hundreds more planned or proposed, IAEA inspectors help ensure that countries –for example Iran –do not secretly use civilian nuclear facilities for military purposes, and IAEA nuclear safety and security standards reduce the risks of dangerous accidents or threats. IAEA technical cooperation projects promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the application of nuclear techniques for sustainable development in areas such as agriculture, the environment, human health, and water resources.


Because today’s major public health challenges know no borders, the World Health Organization (WHO) plays a crucial role in combating pandemic influenza (including H1N1), malaria, HIV/AIDS, and polio, while also working to improve child and maternal health and strengthen health systems around the world. Established in 1948, the WHO establishes norms and standards, monitors and assesses health trends, and provides countries with much-needed technical assistance to improve their own health systems. WHO programs have provided hundreds of millions of children in dozens of countries with key immunizations, including for polio, measles, and other crippling but vaccine-preventable diseases. The U.S. works closely with the WHO to support effective responses to public health challenges.


Through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United States is working cooperatively with other governments to stabilize greenhouse gas levels, and to develop and deploy key technologies that reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and prevent the dangerous environmental consequences of climate change. In addition, the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) monitors global environmental threats and helps governments address cross-border environmental problems that impact the health and prosperity of U.S. citizens and the interests of U.S. industry. UNEP also establishes international standards for the management of chemicals and harmful substances, thus promoting the health and prosperity of U.S. citizens while safeguarding the interests of U.S. industry. U.S. participation in international conservation organizations supports efforts to counter black markets for illegal timber and wildlife products, and helps conserve global natural resources and protect biodiversity.


Since 1865, the international community has cooperated to develop and coordinate new communication tools. When the telegraph gave way to communication by telephone and radio, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was born to coordinate international standards of electronic communication, and its important work in support of radio spectrum management, telecommunications standards, and Internet governance continues today. ITU’s management of the radio spectrum and advancement of global standards is worth billions of dollars to the U.S. telecommunications industry, impacts job creation and is vitally important to U.S. defense, intelligence, and aeronautics agencies.


U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO) significantly benefits the U.S. economy, through tariff reductions and trade rules that have enabled U.S. farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers to export over $1.8 trillion in goods and services in 2008. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum facilitates increased trade in the region by simplifying complicated customs procedures, improving enforcement of intellectual property rights, and speeding the movement of goods across and within borders. U.S. participation in APEC benefits agricultural interests in America with its plant disease protection efforts and helping to set standards to contain the spread of animal diseases such as avian influenza.


Every year international counterfeiting and intellectual property (IP) piracy cost the United States hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars annually. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is a specialized UN agency that protects intellectual property (IP) rights, which in turn encourages creativity, innovation, and economic development. U.S. representation in WIPO benefits U.S. innovators and entrepreneurs by protecting their ability to file for and obtain IP protection outside the United States, and the United States consistently submits more international patents than any other country, including more than 45,000 in 2009 alone. WIPO’s protection and enforcement of international patents, copyrights, and trademarks is vitally important to the economic interests of these thousands of U.S. patent and trademark filers, including U.S. manufacturers, innovators, researchers, and the entertainment industry.


Founded in 1947, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) helps ensure the safety and security of the thousands of commercial, cargo, and other aircraft that take to the skies every day –totaling more than 1.2 million international flights to or from the United States in 2009 alone. ICAO also contributes to the economic and environmental efficiency of civil aviation in the United States and helps protect U.S. territory from terrorist attacks using commercial airliners.


Because American military and civilian personnel cannot be deployed to stop every armed conflict, UN peacekeeping plays a critical role in helping to stop wars from escalating and spreading, protecting civilians from violent armed conflict, and encouraging the peaceful resolution of international disputes. UN peacekeeping is also cost effective in comparison to deploying American soldiers because the UN’s emphasis on burden-sharing means that the United States pays only around 27 cents out of every dollar spent on peacekeeping operations.


Because labor abuses in other countries not only violate workers’ rights but also unfairly disadvantage Americans, the international labor standards set and monitored by the International Labor Organization (ILO) help level the playing field for U.S. workers and employers while protecting the right to organize and bargain collectively and the freedom from forced labor, child labor, and employment discrimination. In addition to providing for fairer economic competition, the ILO contributes to building democratic societies and prosperous market economies.


The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) helps to protect our cultural and natural property and landmarks, strives to keep sports doping-free, and promotes educational exchanges around the world. UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention attracts international visitors to our national parks and monuments, and helps ensure that those sites are protected for future generations. The International Convention Against Doping in Sport helps keep performance enhancing drugs out of sports, and ensure that only participants can bid to host the Olympic Games. The UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network, which includes more than 8,500 educational institutions in 180 countries, provides U.S. schools with opportunities to engage with their peers all over the world, including through programs on international understanding, intercultural dialogue, human rights education, and sustainable development.


Approximately 90% of U.S. overseas trade is waterborne, carried on more than 45,000 merchant ships, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) guides this enormous shipping industry on matters relating to safety and environmental standards, security, legal issues, and efficiency. IMO treaties, standards, and guidelines have significant benefits for American business, and directly serve U.S. national security by applying security requirements to foreign vessels entering U.S. ports. Additionally, the International Labor Organization (ILO) has established comprehensive requirements for seafarers’ working conditions, thereby improving both the safety and security of maritime commerce.


Thousands of Americans are hired by the UN and the entire array of UN agencies, bringing U.S. values and work ethic to the Secretariats of UN system agencies.

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