Democratic critics of John Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations have concentrated on personal attacks, rather than on policy differences because they know that if the confirmation debate is about policy, the public will support Bolton as a strong advocate of U.S. interests at the UN. Liberals must hide their ideological embrace of the UN as a supranational font of moral authority and a constraint on American power. During the run up to the Iraq War, opponents of a Congressional resolution to use force did not question intelligence assessments or the dangerous nature of the Iraq regime. Instead, they complained that the U.S. was “acting alone” because the Bush Administration had not gotten UN permission to go to war. This line of argument failed, both on Capitol Hill and in middle America, so Democrats have avoided making the argument again, even though the sentiment still motivates their actions.
Among the Democrat’s core constituents on the left, however, there is no such restraint. There was plenty of rhetoric about the abuse of American power, and the flaunting of world opinion and “international law” at the April 4, 2005 National Press Club news conference held by a coalition protesting the Bolton nomination. Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Society),. The Union of Concerned Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Peace Action, the American Progress Action Fund, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, 20/20 Vision and George Soros” Open Society Institute were all in attendance.
One group, however, was only indirectly represented; the United Nations Association of the United States (UNA). Unlike the openly radical “peace” groups, the UNA tries to maintain a moderate, mainstream image. It is best known as the sponsor of Model UN programs in schools across the country. The UNA has a long history, having evolved from the League of Nations Non-partisan Association founded in 1923. The abject failure of the League of Nations did not stop the ideal of world governance. In 1944, the LNNA became the American Association for the United Nations, with Eleanor Roosevelt as a leading activist. In 1964, the AAUN merged with the US Committee for the United Nations, to form the current UNA. It claims 20,000 members in 175 local chapters, has a staff of 50 at offices in New York and Washington, and an annual budget of $8 million. It is also a member fo the World Federation of United Nations Associations.
Many distinguished, high-level foreign policy officials have worked with the UNA. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford are co-chairs of its National Council. Among those given special tribute: “Cyrus Vance gave more than two decades of policy work to UNA. President Carter's Secretary of State from 1977-80, he resigned in protest of the handling of the Iran hostage crisis.” It should be noted that Vance did not resign because Carter was too soft in dealing with the Iran of Ayatollah Khomeini, but because Carter mounted a military mission to rescue the Americans who were being held by Muslim fanatics.
The UNA’s official statement (March 8, 2005) implied rather than proclaimed its concern about the Bolton nomination, “The nomination of John R. Bolton to be the next United States ambassador to the United Nations will test statements by the President that identify ‘building effective multinational and multilateral institutions and supporting effective multilateral action’ as major goals of the administration’s second-term foreign policy....Mr. Bolton, who served as Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, has expressed strenuous opposition to the UN and has been a vocal critic of international laws, conventions and treaties that are important to US interests.”
There are, however, interlocking directorates among left-wing foreign policy groups. Tracing these links can give a fuller understanding of the movement. John Whitehead is a former chairman of the UNA. He is currently a director of the Friends of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, while remaining a UNA vice-chairman. A former senior partner and co-chairman of the international financial powerhouse Goldman, Sachs & Co., Whitehead’s name now adorns Seton Hall University's School of Diplomacy and International Relations which has a “strategic partnership” with the UNA. He is also honorary chairman of the Leadership Council of the New America Foundation. The New America Foundation is home to several vocal critics of the Bush Administration and the Iraq War, among them senior fellow Steven Clemons.
Clemons took an active part in the April 4 anti-Bolton press conference. In an April 12 column for United Press International, he called Bolton a “loose cannon” and claimed that “Bolton's commentary and offhand remarks regarding North Korea, its behavior and leadership were viewed to be the single-largest factor inhibiting progress in the six-party talks.” The bellicose nature of the Pyongyang dictatorship apparently has nothing to do with the stalled talks----which North Korea has been boycotting, nor is China’s continued support for the regime a major factor in Clemons’ view.
Another New American Foundation scholar is Michael Lind, who holds the title of Whitehead Senior Fellow. In the April 17, 2003 issue of the British journal New Statesman, he included Bolton as one of “the weird men behind George W. Bush's war.” Lind has also written in the New Statesmen of “the atrocities committed by US forces in Iraq” (May 31, 2004).
Another activist with UNA ties who took part in the April press conference was Jonathan Dean, an “adviser on global security issues” for The Union of Concerned Scientists. A former Foreign Service officer whose resume goes back to the Kennedy Administration, Dean is a past president of the influential National Capital Area chapter of the UNA. He has also been a leader in the NGO Committee on Disarmament at the United Nations.
It is not at all surprising that people attracted to the UNA would be opposed to Bolton’s nomination given the organization’s stance on major foreign policy issues.
In December 2004, UNA issued a policy brief on “Strengthening the United Nations to Provide Collective Security for the 21st Century” by Stephen Stedman. The author was a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies who had been appointed research director for the UN's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. His UNA paper reflected the UN panel’s dubious but standard leftist view of what produces terrorism and rogue regimes, “development is the first line of defense for collective security....development is the antidote to the most pressing human security threats, including poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation.” The brief then goes on to discuss how to respond to threats, arguing
On the one hand, under international law there is no right to the use of preventive force. On the other hand, no state today would want to wait to the point where a threat—such as terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons—becomes imminent. The panel recommends a collective response in these cases. When a state faces a threat that is not imminent, it should take the matter to the Security Council.
The panel recommends the following five criteria to guide the Security Council in deciding whether to authorize the use of force: the seriousness of a threat; proper purpose; last resort; proportional means; and balance of consequences (i.e., whether military action is likely to have better or worse results than inaction).
The problem, of course, is that all of the recommended criteria are open to subjective evaluations, which will be used by each member of the Security Council to justify whatever it deems to be in its own national interest in a world of contending states. Meanwhile, the country actually being threatened is to sit on its hands and wait for other governments to decide what it may do or not do to defend itself. It is precisely this dilemma which makes collective security in general, and the UN in particular, unworkable when the stakes are at their highest.
The UNA unwavering faith in the UN leads it to advocate that it take the lead in managing Iraq. In February, 2004, the group issued the following principles: “internationalize the transition's political process; establish a multilateral peace operation authorized by the United Nations; preserve the independence of the UN's role; establish a more secure environment for UN's and other international workers; include Iraq's neighbors in the political process; politically isolate the insurgents; and maintain the objective of forming an independent Iraq supported by the UN and the major and regional powers.” The main thrust of this plan is to place the United States under the authority of the UN, which is the core of all UNA positions. Washington’s current role was termed that of an “occupying power.” It is difficult to imagine, however, how security could be improved by substituting any new “multilateral” UN command in Iraq for the U.S.-led coalition forces. And how can the insurgents be “isolated” if Iraq’s neighbors are to be given a role in Baghdad? Syria and Iran are both backing the insurgency and wish to overthrow the new Iraqi government.
But then, on April 12, 2005, the UNA sponsored a lecture by Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s U.N. ambassador. It is a regular feature of UNA programs to give representatives of governments which are at odds with US policy a forum to explain to an American audience why they are right and Washington is wrong.
The main purpose of the UNA is to defend the United Nations from criticism by Americans. Consulting Editor Barbara Crossette (a former New York Times United Nations Bureau Chief), writing in the Spring 2005 issue of the UNA flagship journal The InterDependent, blames American distrust of the UN on “attack dog journalism.” She writes,
"never before in the history of relations between the United Nations and the United States has the organization been in greater need of the support of ordinary Americans—foremost among them the active members of UNA chapters, foreign policy groups and teachers of current affairs. Their actions will mean far more than those of a few foreign-policy specialists and academics who have been rushing to defend SG [Secretary-General] Annan."
The challenge goes well beyond writing letters to newspapers and telling opinion polltakers that the UN is a “good thing.” Unless Americans all over the country can begin to make a dent in the breathtaking ignorance of the UN that motivates so many around the country—including newspaper editors, politicians at all levels of government and the voters who elect them—half-truths and misperceptions will be firmly and unfairly fixed in popular history as reality.
But are American suspicions of the UN really unfounded? And is the UNA itself a credible defender of the institution?
On March 30, it issued a press release under the headline “UNA Welcomes Volcker Committee’s Report: ‘No Evidence’ of Corruption by Secretary-General.” The release claimed “After a thorough investigation, the Committee found no evidence to support the allegation that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan engaged in unethical or illegal conduct in connection with the Oil-for-Food Programme.”Yet, Paul Volcker has himself disputed this conclusion, as have members of his investigative team, as well as those in Congress examining the scandal. The UN allowed Saddam Hussein to skim billions of dollars from oil revenues that were supposed to go to humanitarian use. Instead, the money went to prop up his regime at home and to buy diplomatic support overseas.
That the UNA was eager to find “reassuring conclusions” in the UN report may have something to do which who finances the organization. According to the UNA’s own website [www.unausa.org], one of the top contributors among its Business Council for the United Nations (BCUN) is Platinum Member BNP [Banque Nationale de Paris] Paribas. BNP Paribus is the French banking group that held the escrow account through which all of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food money flowed. That such a foreign entity wants to help spread the UNA message should certainly raise eyebrows across the United States.
Platinum Members have donated $50,000 or more to the UNA. The only other Platinum member listed is Metromedia International Group, a telecommunications conglomerate active in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union (especially Georgia) and Eastern Europe. The other major contributors among the BCUN are heavy with international bankers, including J. P. Morgan Chase, Fidelity Investments, CitiGroup, AIG and the Bank of China. Major transnational corporations Unilever, Xerox, Nike and Merck & Co., along with media supporters of globalization like The Economist Newspaper Group and Time Magazine, have given tens of thousands of dollars. A number of foundations and law firms with international clientele also provide financial backing, as does the AARP. The UNA quotes Kofi Annan, “The United Nations needs the world's businessmen and businesswomen: as promoters of trade and investment; as employers and entrepreneurs; as experts on globalization; in short, as full partners in our global mission of peace and development.”
Perhaps there is more truth in what UNA activists say than even they realize. Former ambassador William H. Luers is the current president. In a May 2005 statement, he conceded “the cliché that, ‘if the United Nations didn’t exist, we would have to invent it,’ is simply rubbish. There is no way that a new world organization could be created today—all one needs to do to understand that is to look at how seemingly impossible it has been to enlarge the UN Security Council. If the UN ceased to exist, all of its good work would be washed away. The world’s only credible forum would disappear.”
The United Nations was founded on the idea of collective security by the Allied powers who had defeated the Axis powers in World War II. Like the Concert of Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the League of Nations after World War I, the winners sought to establish a framework to maintain the status quo created by their victory. However, the world is too dynamic for such coalitions to last. The rapid onset of the Cold War shattered this illusion even more quickly that in previous cases, as allies and enemies rapidly changed partners. This endless waltz of power politics has become even more animated since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
This is why it would be impossible to recreate the UN today, and also why the UN is unworkable. Clashing ideological and national interests prevented the forming of a consensus when the stakes are high. China is supporting Brazil for a seat on the Security Council, because it has a left-wing government that supports Beijing’s claim to Taiwan. Beijing is not supporting Japan, because Tokyo is an ally of the United States; which is why Washington is backing Japan for a seat. Reforming the UN by adding more states to the Security Council will only further demonstrate that the nations of the world are not united. Instead, the world works as it always has, by dynamic combinations of cooperation and conflict, rivalry and alliances.
The UN may be a useful venue for diplomats to conduct their business of forming “coalitions of the willing” who can take action in their own behalf, but the UN is not a collective authority in and of itself, nor a source of morality. It is merely another political arena. Therefore, the U.S. must send to New York an ambassador who understands his mission is to protect and serve the interests of Washington. Effective diplomacy often requires compromise and the seeking of common ground. But to subordinate America to the dictates of foreign bureaucrats or the demands of rival governments as the UNA advocates is not the way to maintain the preeminence in world affairs that the United States today enjoys.