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What will Donald Trump’s relationship with the UN look like?

President-elect Donald Trump criticized the United Nations as ineffective days after the Security Council failed to block a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. What kind of relationship will he have with the global organization going forward?

Members of the United Nations Security council vote at the United Nations headquarters on Friday, Dec. 23,in favor of condemning Israel for its practice of establishing settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. In a striking rupture with past practice, the U.S. allowed the vote, not exercising its veto.
Manuel Elias/The United Nations/AP | Caption

President-elect Donald Trump isn’t happy that the United Nations doesn’t live up to its “great potential.”

In a tweet Monday, noting that the global organization has “such great potential,” the billionaire businessman referred to the UN as "just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!"

The comments came just days after the UN voted to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Mr. Trump had put pressure on President Obama to oppose the vote and vocally criticized the move, marking his first real foray into international proceedings as a political leader.

"As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th," he tweeted on Friday, after the Security Council allowed the resolution to pass.  

Trump’s unexpected victory left many around the world reeling, but those in the UN weren’t quite sure how to react, as the president-elect hadn’t directed his brazen rhetoric and often harsh criticism toward the organization on the campaign trail. Others have decried the bureaucracy behind the UN as a burden on operations before, sometimes leading to tense relationships between administrations and the 193-nation organization, but facilitating reform throughout the expanding bureaucracy hasn’t proven an easy task.

As for Trump’s administration, details of the future relationship with the UN remain cloudy. He has appointed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to serve as ambassador to the UN, and her lack of international experience and opposition to both the Iran deal and settlement of refugees in her state leave some wondering how she will approach the position. She was a vocal critic of the president-elect's campaign promise to place a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants, calling the policy proposal “un-American,” which places her more in line with mainstream opinions in the organization.

Some worry that Trump’s own campaign trail promises could clash with key UN principles and resolutions that many view as great global compromises. He has referred to climate change as a hoax and threatened to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement while also vowing to bar refugees and immigrants from countries with high rates of terrorism, a policy that could violate international law.

Still, there’s an opportunity for the Trump administration to make deals and international agreements that could sway the global conversation further in the United States's favor, and cooperating with the organization’s leaders rather than denouncing them could work in his favor.

“He prides himself on making deals,” Sarah Cliffe, a former UN assistant secretary general who is now director of the Center on International Cooperation, a research organization at New York University, told The New York Times last month. “The U.N. is the forum where countries make deals in their own national interests but that also does some collective good.”

Despite its inherent flaws brought on by underlying organizational complexities, 2016 was a time of progress for the global organization.

The UN’s Security Council, of which the US is a permanent member, approved some 70 resolutions, such as sanctions on North Korea and others that boosted global peacekeeping operations. The General Assembly concurrently worked to approve dozens of resolutions, condemning human rights violations in Iran and North Korea and authorizing an investigation into war crimes in Syria.

Trump is far from the first leader to criticize the organization; John R. Bolton, the George W. Bush administration’s ambassador to the UN, once said the organization would be more effective if it got rid of its top 10 floors, where the senior leaders work. The president-elect briefly considered Mr. Bolton for secretary of state.

But the billionaire businessman hasn’t always been a critic of the UN. In 2005, he spoke at a Senate hearing, saying that “the concept of the United Nations and the fact that the United Nations is in New York is very important to me and very important to the world as far as I am concerned.”

As a businessman, Trump offered to renovate the UN building in New York, saying he would only charge half price for costs. But it’s unclear if he could play any role in reforming the inner workings of the organization.

“There is no single institution that I found more exhilarating at its best, yet more debilitatingly frustrating at its worst, than the United Nations,” Gareth Evans, a former foreign minister of Australia previously told The Guardian. He said his efforts to reform the organization “were about as quixotic and unproductive as anything I have ever tried to do.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.