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Sat, Oct. 19

Guest Commentary: The United States and the United Nations

When the United Nations was first conceived after the end of World War II, its purpose was to maintain international peace and security.

Unfortunately, the U.N. today is spending very little time devoting its resources to these noble goals, and seems more interested in rhetoric without action.

The U.S. is by far the largest contributor to the U.N.'s budget - it pays roughly 22 percent of the cost for most U.N. agencies, and 27 percent of all peacekeeping costs - but this substantial contribution has yet to earn the U.S. its fair share of goodwill.

John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently spoke at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar about his experience as an ambassador.

He spoke of the problems with the U.N. and why numerous attempts at real reform have failed.

The U.S. is often criticized by other countries for trying to advance its own interests within the U.N., but, he noted, every country that is a member of U.N. is trying to further its interests in some way.

A common idea at the U.N. is that U.S. foreign policy should be based on some sort of "international consensus" - often referred to as "norming."

As Bolton said, the international community believes that the U.S. should be made to, "demonstrate the legitimacy of its foreign policy decisions by getting the approval of the U.N. Security Council or some other international body."

For example, the U.N. spends most of its time trying to pass resolutions that it hopes will force the U.S. to take actions that the U.N. deems appropriate; as Bolton points out, "These are the kind of 'norming' exercises by which foreign governments hope, over time, to build up a coral reef of U.N. resolutions and pronouncements that can be used to manipulate U.S. policy."

This practice undermines our sovereignty and is contrary to our Constitution, which must always be the ultimate guideline by which we measure our decisions.

It produces initiatives like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would provide U.N.-created bodies sweeping powers of revenue collection and invasive authorities over the United States, thereby diminishing our sovereignty.

That is why I have been working to ensure the Senate does not ratify this treaty.

The U.N. has a host of problems, including its general mismanagement of funds, its general inability to self-govern, and its inability to send even one peacekeeping force to Darfur.

These problems can manifest themselves in destructive ways, as they did with the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, in which U.N. bureaucrats enabled the failure of the U.N. sanctions against Iraq in return for personal pecuniary gain.

The U.N. can't even agree on a definition of terrorism, and according to Bolton, "The U.N. is incapable of doing this, even to this day, because several member governments think there is good terrorism and bad terrorism."

Instead, it has wasted its time pursuing an agenda against Israel, one of the few constitutional democracies, and a constant victim of terrorism.

The U.N. seems uninterested in pursuing goals that will lead to fulfilling its true intent, as evidenced by the recent vote to reject reforms suggested after the oil-for-food scandal.

As Bolton relates, these reforms were voted down by a margin of two-to-one, but "the countries voting in favor of the reforms contribute 90 percent of the U.N.'s budget, whereas the countries voting against them contribute under 10 percent."

Something is clearly wrong with this picture.

The U.S. contributes about a quarter of the total budget for the U.N., yet it is given very little say in how the U.N. is managed.

Why not, as Bolton suggests, contribute what we want and demand a return for our money?

All member countries of the U.N. should expect it to pursue the goals of its charter: keeping international peace and security. Right now, it is failing at this most basic level.

U.S. Senator Jon Kyl is the Assistant Republican Leader and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website at

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