Why John Bolton Is Right for the United Nations

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Why John Bolton Is Right for the United Nations

May 13th, 2005 3 min read
Brett D. Schaefer

Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs

Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at Heritage's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

If you tilt your head to the left, you may be deafened by the cries of woe over the possibility that John Bolton could be confirmed as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations. According to The New York Times, "Mr. Bolton stands out because he is not only bad in a policy sense, but also unqualified for the post."

What is the basis for this conclusion? Certainly not because Bolton lacks knowledge or experience. As Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs from 1989 to 1993, he gained an intimate knowledge of the United Nations and how it works. While there, he helped achieve a diplomatic triumph in the U.S.-led effort to repeal the odious General Assembly "Zionism is racism" resolution.

Knowing that Bolton is qualified professionally, critics allege that he has mistreated staff and distorted intelligence. These accusations led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to delay its vote on Bolton by several weeks in order to investigate them.

Subsequent investigation has discredited allegations of mistreatment as being unfounded, lacking corroborating evidence or motivated by those with questionable character. Remaining charges boil down to his expressing anger in several instances, voicing criticism at improper conduct, and hanging up on an ambassador. Not the stuff to kill a nomination.

As a result, opponents of Bolton have increasingly focused on charges that he manipulated intelligence. It seems clear that he challenged the intelligence conclusions presented to him by personnel at State and other intelligence agencies. He did what we should hope every high-level official does -- he examined the facts and reached his own conclusions. He argued his views. In the end, however, every public statement Bolton made while at the State Department was cleared through proper channels. And no one who clashed with Bolton was fired.

The fading credibility of these charges is quickly leading the debate to the true source of the opposition to Bolton -- opponents disagree with his views on the U.N.

Bolton is a critic of the U.N. He stated in 1994 that, "If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a difference." He testified in 1999 that the "U.N. is simply one among many -- and certainly no better than other -- possible instruments to deal with international problems."

It is statements like these, brutally frank and reminiscent of statements made by previous U.S. representatives such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, that led Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., to note that Bolton's "antipathy to the U.N. will prevent him from effectively discharging his duties as our ambassador."

Yet recent events portend that conciliatory diplomacy isn't what the U.N. needs -- what it needs is reform. Since the end of the Cold War, U.N. member states have asked the organization to assume greater responsibilities, including managing the Iraq Oil for Food Program, expanding its peacekeeping role, overseeing large humanitarian operations, and directing "special political missions" intended to prevent or end conflicts. The numerous scandals involving Oil for Food, mismanagement at the U.N., and terrible abuses committed by U.N. peacekeepers amply illustrate that the world body remains incapable of meeting these mandates.

There have been dozens of proposals, from the U.S. and elsewhere, to reform the United Nations since its founding in 1945. Even Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledges that the organization has failed to live up to expectations and needs substantial reform.

The train on U.N. reform has left the station. A U.N.-appointed High Level Panel has offered more than 100 reforms. The Secretary General has put forth his own plan. The General Assembly will consider reform proposals this fall. The United States has radically different ideas for reform than do other nations and the Secretary General. Some proposals would greatly damage U.S. interests. America needs an ambassador in New York who already understands the complexities of the organization and is determined to advance U.S. priorities in reform.

John Bolton is that person. The U.N. is a fixture in international relations, and its flaws hinder U.S. foreign policy. Bolton wants to fix those flaws. His willingness to face a tough confirmation process speaks volumes of the importance he sees in the United Nations for the peace and future security of the world.

The committee narrowly voted to send Bolton's nomination without recommendation to the full Senate for a vote. While admittedly controversial, Bolton possesses the direct experience and knowledge of the inner workings of the United Nations that make him an ideal selection for Permanent U.S. Representative to the U.N. Regardless of which way you tilt your head, there is agreement that fundamental reform is necessary. Without question, Bolton is the best person to pursue that goal.

Brett D. Schaefer is the Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire