This week, the U.S. will find itself in an uncomfortable position. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host foreign ministers and senior officials from the 67 nations that make up the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS – the first meeting since the Trump Administration came into office. The coalition has made great strides leading the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It is a perfect example of multilateral and bilateral foreign policy, just as the White House is calling for big cuts in funds to the United Nations.
The United States is the most powerful nation in the world. We have the largest economy, the strongest military, far-reaching soft power, and a proud history of leadership on the international stage. Out of the ashes of World War II, the U.S. gathered the world in San Francisco to build a new framework for cooperation in the hopes of fostering a more peaceful and stable world. The product of that U.S. leadership – the United Nations – remains a vital U.S. partner for American national security interests. But that leadership is at risk from extreme budget cuts and a go-it-alone attitude that will make the fight against ISIS and other future threats more difficult and expensive to solve.
One look at the agenda of this week’s meeting shows how broad and complex the fight against ISIS really is. The coalition is conducting ongoing military operations against foreign terrorist fighters, combatting counterterrorist financing and recruitment, countering ISIS propaganda, and leading stabilization efforts for areas successfully liberated from ISIS’s control. The humanitarian relief effort to help those fleeing ISIS’s reign and those newly freed from the terror group’s grip remains among the greatest challenges the world has ever faced. Simply put, the United States cannot solve this issue through military might or by going it alone.
ISIS has thrived, in part, because of its ability to recruit fighters from other nations to join them. The internet and the ease of international travel are two factors that have contributed to this phenomenon. As technology makes borders more porous, allowing threats to metastasize quickly, the international community has been required to cooperate to find solutions.
We’ve seen this cooperation in action at the United Nations, led by the United States. The UN Security Council passed a historic and legally-binding resolution requiring its 192 member states to put in place domestic laws to prosecute anyone who travels abroad to join a terrorist organization – including anyone who aids a potential terrorist by, for instance, helping to raise funds for their trip. The Council followed that resolution with another that asks all countries to share biometric and biographic information about terrorists and, where appropriate, provide official intelligence data to front-line screeners, such as immigration, customs, and border security.
The United Nations has also relied on multilateral sanctions to target individuals, groups, and entities associated with terror groups since the September 11 attacks. These sanction regimes were further strengthened in 2015 with a new resolution that criminalized all financial transactions related to terrorism. Through the United Nations, we’ve acted to block the sale of oil to finance ISIS’s operations. The Security Council has also taken steps to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Gatherings like the one we’ll see this week in Washington, and ones we see daily at the United Nations – and at NATO, the African Union, and other international organizations – are vital to the continued success in fighting ISIS and against other future threats.
The U.S. is in a better position to respond to these threats because of our work with allies, sharing information and the burdens of action. As Ministers gather this week in Washington, I hope they’ll continue to impress on the Administration that cooperation not only works, it is vital to U.S. and global security. Now, more than ever, the U.S. needs to invest in multilateralism.