U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, given a recess appointment by President Bush in August after Senate Democrats blocked his confirmation with a filibuster, has wasted little time pressing the UN to reform in the wake of its oil-for-food corruption scandal.
During an interview with the editors of HUMAN EVENTS, Bolton said he believes a properly functioning United Nations can be an effective instrument for advancing U.S. interests in world politics.
What are the most significant issues facing you at the United Nations today?
UN AMBASSADOR JOHN BOLTON: The basic issue for the United States is the effort to make the United Nations more effective, so it can better serve American foreign policy interests. I think we have had examples in the past when use of the Security Council or other United Nations organs has been very beneficial to us. In my own personal experience in the first Persian Gulf War, the ability of the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker to assemble an international coalition to support the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait was very vital. You’ll recall the Security Council authorized the use of force there before the U.S. Congress.
There are a lot of other UN agencies that do important work and humanitarian relief in other areas such as the AIDS crisis and so on. There’s no doubt that a properly functioning United Nations can serve American foreign policy interests. But the issue is whether we can make significant reforms within the organization so that it’s more dependable than not. We see the UN as one of a series of options for American foreign policy—not the preferred option, but one of many. And if it’s ineffective as an option, it becomes much less desirable.
Do you see issues of corruption under Kofi Annan undermining his ability to be the secretary-general?
BOLTON: Our view has been stated by Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice, who has said that we work with the secretary-general, and we’re going to do that for the rest of his term. On the subject of corruption, the oil-for-food scandal is a very tangible reminder of both the management and the ethical problems that face the United Nations. For most Americans, when you talk about UN reform and UN management, it’s not a very high-priority subject.
But I think all of us understand what happened in oil-for-food and the importance of correcting the underlying culture that allowed these abuses to take place. The oil-for-food scandal didn’t arise out of thin air. The practices that we’ve now learned about came from a culture that accepted this kind of activity. That’s why the oil-for-food program is so important to us as part of our campaign for UN reform. It’s clearly understandable. It’s a pattern of behavior that we would find unacceptable in government in this country, and properly so, and we should find it unacceptable in the conduct of UN work.
Is the oil-for-food investigation done?
BOLTON: The [Paul] Volker investigation is coming to an end very soon. He has one more report that will name a substantial number of corporations that his commission found benefited from kickbacks or bribes or participated in that kind of activity.
Can you spell out some of the reforms you think are crucial to the United Nations?
BOLTON: The way in which the UN has evolved over 60 years has led to a lot of inefficiency in decision-making in governments. A lot of people talk about management reform as the main emphasis, and that’s certainly important, but I think what we have in mind is finding a way for the United States to exert the kind of influence within the UN system it should be entitled to as a result of the size of its contribution and the importance of the American role in providing security in the world.
A large part of that means making the Security Council more effective. I think we were very disappointed before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein that the Security Council wasn’t willing to enforce the multiple resolutions it had passed earlier calling on Saddam to comply with the cease-fire resolution with UN weapons inspectors. That goes really to the credibility of the Security Council and its effectiveness.
Today, the question is whether the Security Council can deal with the main threats to our security—terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A lot needs to be done to see if we can make the council more effective for that purpose. But also, within the huge UN system, there is a lot of duplication and overlap and a lot the work member governments should do to make the organization function in a more responsive and accountable manner—those are really the reforms we’re talking about.
On terrorism and proliferation, what specific things can you do to better deal with those problems?
BOLTON: We’ve done some things in Resolution 1540 of the Security Council, which was adopted at President Bush’s suggestion following the 2003 opening of the General Assembly. It called on governments to upgrade their export-control laws to prevent international trafficking in components of weapons of mass destruction, and to also criminalize within their national boundaries the treaty obligations they undertook to give up chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The anomaly here is that 150 or more governments subscribe to the Biological Weapons Convention, which purports to bar the use of biological weapons, and then within their own territory, it is not criminal to manufacture or possess biological weapons. Those were important. Resolution 1540 endorsed the idea of the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is one of the President’s main efforts to stop international trafficking in WMD components. That was an example of positive Security Council action.
In your testimony before Rep. Henry Hyde’s International Relations Committee, you said you opposed some of the reforms he’s put forward—
BOLTON: No, no.
Or rather that the Bush Administration isn’t in favor of all of them. Can you explain?
BOLTON: The Hyde bill [HR 2745], I’m oversimplifying somewhat, says if the secretary of State cannot certify that the UN has accomplished, or at least made progress in, 32 out of 39 specified reforms, there will be an automatic reduction of 50% in the United States’ assessed contribution to UN agencies funded by assessed contributions. The [Rep. Tom] Lantos alternative to the Hyde bill says that if the secretary of State cannot certify that progress in 32 out of 39, the secretary has discretion to reduce the assessed contribution. That’s a difference between an automatic reduction of funds in assessed contributions and giving the secretary discretion.
What I said in the testimony before the committee is that it’s really fairly remarkable that there’s essentially unanimous agreement in the House on the list of reforms that Congress wants done. The disagreement is over the issue of the cutoff of funds. The administration opposes the Hyde automatic fund cutoff because the executive branch has historically, and for constitutional reasons, opposed mandatory direction by the legislative branch. Invariably, in a case like that, the executive branch favors granting the executive discretion rather than binding its hands. That’s the disagreement over the source of the mechanism.
But what I also said at the hearing is that another way to look at this is not to look at the disagreement between mandatory cutoffs and discretionary cutoffs, but to look at the distinction between assessed contributions and voluntary contributions. The idea behind assessed contributions is a way of saying the U.S. owes a certain amount every year regardless of what the budget is.
Our percentage of the assessed contribution is now 22%. Before the Helms-Biden legislation of 1999, our share had been 25% of the regular budget. Our share is 27% of peacekeeping, and before Helms-Biden it was about 30% of peacekeeping. Under that theory, we have to pay 22% of whatever the UN’s regular budget is, as opposed to agencies that are funded by voluntary contributions, such as the World Food Program or UNICEF or the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, where we decide each year what our contribution is.
I have quoted Catherine Bertini, who was an American who was executive director of the World Food Program and also UN under-secretary-general for management. Her quotation says that the incentives are very different at the World Food Program, where they know they have to satisfy what the donors want or they don’t contribute. Whereas, at the UN, under the assessed budget, the incentives are completely different. What I’ve said is that we need to study this question of assessed vs. voluntary contributions because the two systems are really very different.