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The relationship between the United States and the United Nations is in desperate need of repair. Although the United Nations owes its existence to the post-World War II leadership of America and its allies, in recent years the U.S.–U.N. relationship has spiraled downward into one that is too often dysfunctional. While the relationship has never been without tension, having endured Cold War-related polarization and other political disagreements, much of the breakdown has happened over the past decade—with the U.N. Secretariat, U.N. member states, and the U.S. executive and legislative branches all deserving a share of the blame. A significant part of the problem, however, has been the failure of the United States to provide sufficient support and leadership for the world body.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse. The United States needs the United Nations more than ever to help tackle a range of transnational challenges that directly threaten U.S. national security interests. The dire situations in Iraq and Darfur, the continuing threat of global terrorism, the nuclear standoff in Iran, and the ongoing civil strife in Lebanon are just a few of the problems that cannot be adequately addressed without robust United Nations involvement.

Without an engaged and supportive United States, the United Nations will be unable to fulfill its mission. Fundamentally, without a strong and capable United Nations, the United States will be unable to accomplish many of its own strategic objectives.

The good news is that with a new Congress, a new U.N. Secretary-General, and a new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations there is a unique opportunity for positive change in this troubled relationship. While it may be difficult to fully repair U.S.–U.N. relations before a new U.S. administration can make a fresh start in 2009, there are several steps that the 110th Congress can take in the short run to demonstrate leadership and improve relations, thus improving the chances of pushing forward needed U.N. Secretariat, management, and budget reforms that affect U.S. interests.