As U.S. Ambassador to the United
Nations, John Bolton has proven a forceful advocate of American
interests, a powerful voice for U.N. reform, and a staunch defender
of the cause of human rights. He has worked closely with Congress,
testifying no less than six times before House and Senate
committees. Bolton has been an outspoken critic of corruption,
mismanagement, waste, and inefficiency at a world body that
receives several billion dollars a year from U.S. taxpayers. He has
shaken up an institution that has for decades resisted change and
cast a revealing light on an elite U.N. establishment that has long
thrived amid a culture of complacency and secrecy.
Due to Senate gridlock, President
George W. Bush sent John Bolton to the United Nations in August
2005 as a recess appointment. The recess appointment expires when
the new Congress convenes in January 2007, and the President has
resubmitted Bolton for confirmation. The Senate Foreign Relations
Committee is expected to vote on Bolton's nomination in early
Outstanding Record at the U.N.
Bolton's record has been outstanding in three key
areas: international security, human rights, and U.N. reform. He
has dramatically raised the profile of issues from peacekeeping
abuses to the need for increased transparency, accountability, and
effectiveness at the United Nations. His commitment to both the
advancement of U.S. interests and the cause of international
freedom and security has not wavered.
The United States, along with the rest
of the free world, must confront Iran and North Korea and defend
Israel and its democracy while working to bring stability to the
entire Middle East and Darfur. Should the president choose to
renominate [Bolton], I cannot imagine a worse message to send to
the terrorists - and to other nations deciding whether to engage in
this effort - than to drag out a possible renomination process or
even replace the person our president has entrusted to lead the
nation at the United Nations at a time when we are working on these
-Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)
Senator Voinovich, who did not
support Bolton's original nomination in 2005, correctly points out
that another drawn-out confirmation debate over John Bolton would
only weaken America's position on the international stage at a time
when the world is facing an array of crises, from Tehran's
insistence on developing nuclear weapons to Pyongyang's
increasingly aggressive stance. The United States does not need a
weakened ambassador on the U.N. Security Council as it embarks on
some of the toughest negotiations since the end of the Cold
Bolton, who served as Under Secretary of State for
Arms Control and International Security from 2001 to 2005, brings a
wealth of experience in dealing with rogue regimes and the unique
threat they pose to global security. He possesses a steady pair of
hands at a time of great international tension. Bolton successfully
led U.S. efforts to rally international support for U.N. Security
Council Resolution 1718, which imposed military and economic
sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear test in
On Iran, Bolton has played a key role
in warning the international community of Tehran's continuing
enrichment of uranium and has consistently pressured the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to toughen its position
on Iran's nuclear activities. Bolton was nominated by former
Swedish deputy Prime Minister Per Ahlmark for the Nobel Peace Prize
for his role in helping expose Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons
Bolton is also a figure of authority
on the Middle East, and with the growing threat posed by terrorist
groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, he is central to Washington's
efforts to bring long-term peace and security to a region bedeviled
by terrorism and totalitarianism.
As U.S. Ambassador, John Bolton has
placed human rights firmly at the center of Washington's agenda at
the U.N. He was instrumental in steering the Bush Administration
away from joining the U.N.'s new Human Rights Council, set up this
year to replace the hugely discredited Commission on Human Rights,
because that body was not a substantial improvement over its
The Council's lack of membership
criteria rendered it open to participation and manipulation by the
world's worst human rights abusers. Tyrannical regimes such as
Burma, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Zimbabwe all voted in favor of
establishing the Council, in the face of strong U.S. opposition.
The brutal North Korean dictatorship also gave the Council its
ringing endorsement. When Council elections were held in May,
leading human rights abusers Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan,
Russia, and Saudi Arabia were all elected.
In a disheartening repeat of one of
the old Commission's worst failings, the Human Rights Council
decided to hold its first "Special Session" on Israel and adopted a
one-sided resolution condemning that nation and ignoring the
provocations of Palestinian armed groups. The Council convened its
second "Special Session" on August 11, 2006, during which it
adopted a resolution-27 to 11 with 8 abstentions-that strongly
condemned Israel for "violations of human rights and breaches of
international humanitarian law in Lebanon" and again ignored
provocations by Hezbollah. The Council convened its third "Special
Session" on November 15-again on Israel.
Meanwhile, the Council ignored
ongoing state-sanctioned human rights abuses in Belarus, Burma,
Cuba, China, Iran, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, and other places.
This brief, disappointing record vindicates the decision by the
U.S.-supported by Bolton-to adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward
the Council before running for a seat.
While campaigning for a higher human
rights standard at the U.N., Bolton has also worked tirelessly to
push for greater action by the U.N. Security Council and the
international community over the genocide in the Darfur region of
the Sudan, which has claimed over 200,000 lives. He has played a
key role in Security Council negotiations, pressing for greater
protection for refugees fleeing Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militias
and for targeted sanctions against Sudanese officials implicated in
Well-publicized scandals, such as the
Oil-for-Food and procurement scandals, and allegations of
widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo have
greatly undermined the standing of the United Nations in the eyes
of the American people. In addition, the failure of the
organization to address ongoing issues, such as genocide in Sudan
and the pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran, has caused immense
damage to the U.N.'s reputation in the United States.
According to a March 2006 Gallup
poll, 64 percent of Americans believed the United Nations was
"doing a poor job," the worst rating for the U.N. in its history.
Just 30 percent had a positive image of the U.N.'s job
A poll by Luntz and Maslansky in
September 2006 revealed considerable dissatisfaction with the
performance and effectiveness of the U.N., with 75 percent
believing that the U.N. is no longer "effective" and "needs to be
held more accountable" and 71 percent believing that the U.N.
"needs to be considerably reformed." Only 26 percent believed
America gets "good value for all the money we contribute to the
United Nations every year," and 71 percent supported cutting
America's financial contribution to the U.N. According to the poll,
57 percent agreed that if "the U.N. cannot be reformed and made
more effective, it should be scrapped altogether and a more
effective international organization should take its place."
A Rasmussen Research poll in
September 2006 found that 45 percent of Americans have an
unfavorable opinion of the United Nations while 31 percent have a
favorable opinion. According to Rasmussen, "Those numbers reflect
an erosion of support for the world body in this country. Two years
ago opinion on the United Nations was evenly divided--44% favorable
and 42% unfavorable."
While most Americans see the United
Nations as a potentially useful organization, they recognize that
it is doing a poor job and want it to perform better. John Bolton
has been at the forefront of U.S. efforts to reform the U.N. He has
an intimate knowledge of the U.N. organization and its weaknesses.
He understands the divisions and tactics of those opposed to change
in the world body. Most importantly, he is not held captive by
diplomatic niceties that are used to delay or water down reform
Bolton helped achieve General Assembly consensus on
reforming the U.N. resource management and budget process,
improving oversight, reviewing United Nations mandates, and
reforming human resources management. He successfully led an effort
to cap the U.N. budget at $950 million, pending progress on U.N.
reform. In part due to Bolton's efforts, the U.N. created an Ethics
Office, mandated financial disclosure for U.N. officials, and
increased resources for the Office of Internal Oversight
In the face of strong opposition by
the Group of 77 nations (G-77), Ambassador Bolton forged a
50-member coalition (representing 87 percent of the U.N. regular
budget) to advance management reform. Nonetheless, G-77 opposition
ultimately succeeded in delaying and blocking the reform effort,
with the General Assembly eventually approving a U.N. budget beyond
the $950 million cap.
Resistance to reform inside the U.N.
Secretariat and among many U.N. member states remains firmly
entrenched. The few reform successes that have been
achieved are, to a significant degree, the result of Ambassador
The debate in the Senate is expected
to be ferocious, with strong partisan opposition likely. While
emotions will undoubtedly run high, Bolton should be judged on his
track record and his commitment to ensuring that U.S. interests are
powerfully advanced at the United Nations. Positive testimonials of
Bolton's performance abound, even among his critics:
Senator George Voinovich, who opposed the Bolton nomination last
June, has expressed his support for the U.S. Ambassador based on
his performance over the past year. In a recent opinion
editorial, Voinovich noted, "My observations are that while Bolton
is not perfect he has demonstrated his ability, especially in
recent months, to work with others and follow the president's lead
by working multilaterally."
Bolton has also won the grudging respect of other U.N. ambassadors.
The Romanian Ambassador to the U.N. acknowledged to The Los
Angeles Times that "[Bolton] is having a definite impact
… Others wish they could do things the same way," and the
Algerian Ambassador observed that "[Bolton] has an agenda, and he's
pursuing it with a conviction that is uncommon here…."
Even the New York Times, which opposed Bolton's nomination
last year, reluctantly acknowledged earlier this year that "Bolton
has strongly supported reform at the United Nations. He has rightly
insisted that crucial reforms should not be picked apart or watered
down into meaninglessness. And he is right now to insist that there
can be no yielding on the core point of shifting basic management
authority from the General Assembly to the secretary general."
During his time at the U.N., John
Bolton has been a hugely valuable asset to U.S. foreign policy and
has proven his critics wrong. Bolton may not be the most popular
figure at the United Nations, but he is greatly respected and
viewed by both friend and foe as a formidable advocate for U.S.
interests. U.S. participation at the United Nations is not about
winning popularity contests or engaging in feel-good, back-slapping
exercises. It is about steadfast leadership and the advancement of
clear principles and ideals. It is in the U.S. national interest to
have a United Nations that is free of corruption, fraud, and
mismanagement. And it is in the national interest to have a world
body that actually stands for human rights, rejects terrorism, and
advances rather than hinders international security.
Bolton has not been afraid to speak his mind and
upset the status quo. Nor has he been unwilling to call a dictator
a dictator, expose the rampant hypocrisy of the U.N.'s human rights
apparatus, or condemn the actions of dangerous rogue regimes.
Effective diplomacy requires forceful leadership and the
willingness to back up tough words with action. As former British
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher observed in a letter of support
for John Bolton, "A capacity for straight talking rather than
peddling half-truths is a strength and not a disadvantage in
diplomacy. In the case of a great power like America, it is
essential that people know where you stand and assume you know what
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.,
is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow and Director of, and Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham
Fellow in, the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. Heritage Foundation intern
Peter Cuthbertson assisted with research for this paper.
Eyes on Nobel Peace Possibilities," BBC News Online, October 12,
"First special session of the Human
Rights Council, 5-6 July 2006," Human Rights Council, at .
Special session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 11 August
2006," Human Rights Council, at
Special session on Israeli military incursions in Occupied
Palestinian Territory, 15 November 2006," Human Rights Council,
"Americans' Ratings of United Nations
Among Worst Ever," Gallup Poll News Service, March
Luntz and Maslansky Strategic Research, "Americans Grade the U.N.:
"Get It Together or Get Out," Survey concluding September 5, 2006,
Rasmussen Reports, "Just 31% Have
Favorable Opinion of U.N.," September 27, 2006, at
Only incremental progress has been made toward reform objectives
since this vote, largely limited to uncontroversial measures such
as replacing the information technology system, establishing a
Chief Information Technology Officer, and giving very limited
discretion to the Secretary-General to shift budget resources.
See Brett D. Schaefer, "A Progress
Report on U.N. Reform," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No.
1937, May 19, 2006, at
While the U.S. did not vote against the
resolution, it disassociated itself from the consensus position.
United Nations General Assembly, Department of Public Information,
"General Assembly Lifts Spending Cap, Allowing United Nations
Operations to Continue for Remainder of 2006, 2007," GA/10480, June
30, 2006, at . "Statement by
John R. Bolton, Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations
In Explanation of Position On Program Budget for the Biennium
2006-2007 Document A/C.5/60/L.44," U.S.U.N. Press Release #140
(06), June 28, 2006, at http://www.usunnewyork.usmission.gov/06_140.htm.
Voinovich, "Why I'll Vote for
Maggie Farley, "U.N. Hit By A Bolt From
The Right," Los Angeles Times, December 23,