August 3, 2005 | WebMemo on International Organizations

John Bolton: A Force For Change at the U.N.

The President's decision to bypass congressional obstructionists and send John Bolton to the United Nations via recess appointment should be applauded by all who support fundamental reform of the world body. As U.S. Ambassador, Bolton will arrive at the U.N. at a critically important time, when the United States is pushing a powerful reform agenda at the United Nations in the aftermath of the Oil-for-Food fiasco and the U.N. peacekeeping scandal in the Congo.


Bolton's appointment is a clear signal from the White House that cleaning up the U.N. is a priority issue. It is in the U.S. national interest for the U.N. to be an effective, accountable, and credible world body. Bolton is an astute political heavyweight who has the close ear of the President, and his views are closely in sync with congressional reform efforts led by Rep. Henry Hyde, Chairman of the House International Relations Committee.


Bolton's term of appointment, which will run through January 2007, will be a watershed period for the U.N. It will see the culmination of several major investigations into the Oil-for-Food scandal, including at least five on Capitol Hill. Under intense congressional pressure, the United Nations will be expected to implement a series of reform measures, including the establishment of an independent oversight board, a greater degree of external auditing, whistleblower protection for U.N. staff, and a streamlining of U.N. programs. The U.N. will also need to abolish its widely discredited Commission on Human Rights and completely overhaul the training and leadership of its scandal-hit peacekeeping operations.


The next 18 months will also be a critical time for the U.N. Security Council, as it confronts the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and plays an important role in an expanding global war against terrorism. As an experienced veteran of three U.S. 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 U.S. participation in the U.N.), and Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.


It is unfortunate that John Bolton, as a result of a filibuster, will not be heading to Turtle Bay with the full approval of the Senate. The fact remains, however, that he would easily have been confirmed in a simple up-or-down vote, had it been permitted. Instead, Bolton has been subject to one of the most vitriolic campaigns of character assassination against a public official in recent memory. Those who have used the Bolton nomination as a political football have done a huge disservice to American taxpayers, who are pumping $3 billion a year into the U.N. system and expect accountability and strong representation. Bolton's opponents also help to perpetuate the survival of the ancien régime at the helm of the United Nations, a bureaucracy resistant to change and submerged in a culture of corruption and anti-Americanism.


Despite efforts to undermine him, Bolton will still be a formidable force at the United Nations. The United States needs a revolutionary like Bolton at the U.N., a warrior diplomat who will aggressively pursue the national interest rather than appease an international consensus. Bolton will do what needs to be done at the United Nations: challenge the conventional wisdom, forcefully advance the U.S. national interest, and lay down markers for U.N. reform.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy of the Shelby and Kathryn Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

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

Related Issues: International Organizations