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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bolton on UN Reform

Address (1:45-2:15 p.m.)
United Nations Reform
Ambassador John R. Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo gave the introduction, describing Bolton's differences from the international policy elite as a "wonderful breath of patriotism" and a "refreshing dose of humility," by putting trust in the American people and other peoples of democratic regimes.

I know that you've covered a broad array of topics, and I wish I could stay and hear the next panel. I want to talk practically about the things we do in the conduct of American foreign policy, and what people say about the "legal implications" of that policy. I think it's important that we understand when talking about the relationship between actions in foreign policy and international law to have a sense of what happens practically, because it's different from what many academics would say. It's in discussing the concrete that general principles become more applicable.

What I think history will record as one of Bush's most important initiatives: his decision to withdraw the United States from the Anti Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972. The practical security reasons for this were clear; the strategic relationship between the U.S. and what used to be the USSR no longer existed, so the treaty against developing an ABM system was simply outdated. We were the only two countries prohibited from developing an ABM system, which kept us from dealing with the new reality of WMDs in the hands of terrorists and lunatic regimes. Bush suggested that both countries withdraw from the treaty, and then withdrew unilaterally. This caused great gnashing of teeth among some international lawyers. In the case of the ABM treaty, we do have a laboratory of experiment, and the negative predictions have been proved wrong: we have no new arms race, and we haven't undercut the fabric of arms control and nonproliferation treaties that had grown up over the years. Instead, a new strategic relationship between the U.S. and Russia has been allowed to grow, and new research and development in weapons has occurred. This is an example of how the mythology of treaties might have impeded our policy.

The treaty of Moscow is the exact opposite of the arms race people predicted, but it drew criticism from the community of international legal scholars, because it was already the American intent to draw down its arsenal, and putting in treaty form what you were going to do anyway isn't a real treaty. This treaty was three pages long, and without the State Department boilerplate it would have been two pages. We were prepared to do this as a handshake deal, but the Russians because of their own internal considerations wanted it in treaty form. One would think we'd all be happy in this reduction of forces, but for those who are real international lawyers, only thousand page treaties that force us to do things we don't want to do are worthwhile. Treaties don't operate with a force independent of the underlying political realities.

At the UN now, we're in a struggle over whether we're going to achieve significant reforms in the way the UN is managed. We find that organization is deeply troubled by bad management, extensive corruption and a growing lack of confidence to carry out the missions that were given to it. Volcker's report on the oil-for-food scandal, in which a humanitarian program was corrupted by Saddam Hussein and mismanaged by the UN. This kind of corruption and mismanagement don't spring up overnight, and the problems arose from the culture of the UN itself. There's a broader investigation here in New York of UN procurement. Just a few months ago, the UN instituted a new gift restriction; the old policy allowed gifts in total value of $10,000 per year. Sexual exploitation and abuse committed by UN peacekeepers has been discussed only in the last few years, but it was pervasive for years before that, and it's a stain on the UN that these peacekeepers sent to protect the most vulnerable are exploiting them.

Trying to get these issues discussed in the UN, you would think would be a matter of significant concern to all the member governments, and it is a concern to many. But we find that the opponents of significant reform have chosen not to debate the issues about waste, fraud, abuse, sexual exploitation, but have begun to make the argument that the U.S. and other permanent members of the Security Council are encroaching on the authority of the General Assembly, which has budget authority within the UN. This is an interesting argument, since without the creation of peacekeeping forces, there would be no budget and no sexual exploitation. I wish more people in the U.S. could see this, more transparency so people could watch the debates that we go through at the UN each day. Instead of talking about corruption and mismanagement, we talk about matters people across 1st Avenue can barely understand.

Iran's nuclear weapons program. The Administration together with its allies has been trying to deal with Iran's clandestine effort to acquire nuclear weapons through the IAEA. Almost all of the substantive provisions, the Iranians have violated over the years. YOu would think the proponents of stronger international law would say that these violations should have troubling consequences for the Iranians, but ironically, many people are arguging that in fact these decisions are not binding, that only a decision by the Security Council under Ch. 7 of the UN Charter can really bind the Iranians and make it obligatory. In the world of international law, that's probably true, but in the world of actual politics, there's a curious inversion. The action of the Iranians have led to the devaluation of the IAEA itself. The Iranians are free to continue doing what they're doing now.

What it really comes down to is whether through the UN system, the IAEA or the Security Council, we're going to make Iran comply with obligations it voluntarily undertook. The U.S. has been enjoined by its allies to work through the UN system, and this is why the president has made a peaceful and diplomatic solution such a priority. But at some point, we have to ask whether we are willing to accept an Iran with nuclear weapons -- which we are not -- and what we are going to do. We will see whether in an age of proliferation and terrorism whether the UN structure will succeed. I will close with the strong view of the president that it is not acceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons.


Q: To what exent do you think the UN is impaired by the U.S. having invaded Iraq without UN support, and what do you think of the UN's role in environmental protection?

A: There was substantial opposition to the policies we were using in Iraq before we used military force, and this reflects broader attitudes in the world as a whole. But the real point of the actions we took, and I don't have any reservations about it, is that after 10 years of trying to get Saddam Hussein to comply with his obligations, including one he voluntarily accepted, there was no will on the Security Council to enforce its own resolutions. It was unquestionably correct from the perspective of America's national security. I had no doubt whatever that there was sufficient legal authority under the existing Security Council resolutions.

Q: Iranian president recently called for a Muslim seat on the Security Council.

A: I wouldn't hold my breath.

Q: Well, will there be any additions or subtractions from the Security Council likely to occur?

A: The five permanent members that were put there in 1945 are not the same we would have if we were putting nations on today. But they weren't meant to representative of the world; they were the winners of WWII. Four of them were the victorious powers, and then France was added, at the request of Churchill over FDR's objections. We have supported Japan for a permanent seat, because it has exercised its power responsibly, and it's a fault of the UN system that we can't thik of a way to get them there.

Q: If you were the Supreme Leader of the UN --

A: Not likely.

Q: -- what changes you would make? Also, when did you learn the secret of the power mustache?

A: I;m never going to divulge the last secret. There are a lot of things you could do to change the UN. Bush is very seriously committed to this and so is Secretary Rice. A lot of the problems stem from structural factors that may or may not be subject to change, such as the allocation of responsibility for paying the UN's budget. The U.S. pays 22$ of the assessed budget and 27% of the peacekeeping; the next biggest contributor is Japan. The top dozen contributors pay 80% of the budget. The 90 countries paying the lowest assessments contribute less than 1%. Yet we have one nation, one vote, which leads to countries' spending other countries' money. If you look at the best-run UN agencies over time, like UNICEF, the World Food Program, the High Commission for Refugees, are funded voluntarily. If you were going to pick one thing to look at, this thing about financing and voting power would be the one reform I would go for.


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