March 10, 2005 | Commentary on International Organizations

Why Bolton will be good for the UN

John Bolton's nomination as US ambassador to the United Nations could not have come at a more critical time for the world organization. In the wake of the oil-for-food scandal and allegations of widespread abuse by peacekeepers in the Congo, American public confidence in the UN has plummeted to a new low. The UN is an institution in deep crisis and in dire need of vigorous new American leadership.

Bolton, who knows the UN system from past assignments, may win no popularity contests at UN headquarters at Turtle Bay. He will, however, be a force to be reckoned with in New York and will aggressively pursue the US national interest, which includes forcing accountability and transparency in the world body.

The nomination of Bolton should be viewed not as a slap in the face of the UN but as a symbol of the importance the Bush administration attaches to reforming the world's largest multilateral institution. His nomination also is a recognition of the need for strong American leadership at the United Nations.

As a veteran of three US administrations, Bolton would bring to New York a distinguished record as a diplomat and public servant, having served as undersecretary for arms control and international security, assistant secretary for international organization affairs (where he oversaw US participation in the UN), and assistant administrator in the US Agency for International Development.

Bolton is a heavyweight figure in Washington and is respected among many lawmakers on Capitol Hill. His views are in synch with the growing calls from Congress for the UN to be held accountable to the American taxpayer. There are at least five major congressional inquiries into the UN's management of the Iraq oil-for-food program as well as a wide-ranging investigation by the House International Relations Committee into the UN's international operations, including peacekeeping.

Bolton's appointment should be seen as a signal by the White House that the role of the United Nations will be central, not peripheral, to US strategic thinking over the next four years. It is in the US national interest for the UN to be an effective, accountable, and credible world body.

With the growing threat posed to international security by rogue regimes such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria, the role of the Security Council is likely to become increasingly important, and Bolton will be a key figure in any negotiations that take place.

The United States also will be urging the UN to do more to address the genocide in the Sudan and to take a clear stand when it comes to human rights worldwide. One of Bolton's great strengths is his willingness to confront tyrannical dictators, from Pyongyang to Tehran. The clarity of moral insight that Bolton would bring to the United Nations would be a breath of fresh air. For example, a key priority of the new ambassador should be a shake-up of the UN's Commission on Human Rights, whose current membership include some of the world's worst human rights violators.

The nomination of Bolton as the next US ambassador to the United Nations should be welcomed by all who are serious about transforming the UN from a poorly managed bureaucracy into a streamlined multilateral institution for the 21st century. Bolton will do what needs to be done at the UN: challenge the conventional wisdom, forcefully advance the US national interest, and lay down markers for UN reform.

Above all, Bolton will be a powerful force for change in an institution that has largely lost the confidence of the American people.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is a fellow in Anglo-American security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in the Boston Globe