In the run-up to the Iraq War in spring 2003, the United Nations Security Council refused to authorize the use of force by the United States against Iraq. However, this setback did not prevent the United States from invading the country and toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein, supported only by a small ‘coalition of the willing’. As a consequence, the United Nations found itself in a stalemate, being criticized from various sides. The ‘hawks’ condemned the organization for failing to bless the war, while opponents criticized its failure to block it. Having lost the confidence of its most powerful memberstate, the UN seemed to have reached the brink of irrelevance where important decisions in international politics were made preferably outside the UN framework. But should the crucial events on the international stage that surrounded the war in Iraq really be seen as a turning point in the relation between the United States and the UN? Was the Security Council’s refusal to authorize the invasion of Iraq the breakdown of a long and harmonious friendship between the most powerful country of the world and the most important international organization?
The purpose of this paper is to examine this relationship in greater
detail starting with the foundation of the UN in 1945. An analysis of the
Cold War period as well as of the post-Cold War era will show that the
relation between the US and the UN has always been rather ambigous, experiencing
various ‘ups and downs’ over time.
Particular attention will be given to the initial concept and purposes of the United States at the creation of the UN in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Was it the original intention of the US to create a ‘puppet’ which they could use as an instrument of their own foreign policy? Whatever the purpose was at the time of its creation, a closer look on the development of the UN in the years and decades afterwards will show that it was not an easy task to keep this organization ‘under control’. Moreover, the UN went beyond its original purpose and successfully resisted and still resists being a mere instrument of any nation.
II. The Birth of the United Nations
The following section shall provide an overview of the foundation of the United Nations with a particular focus on the role of the United States during this process.
Foundation of the United Nations.
Already in the early stages of the Second World War, policy planners among the Allies started to think about a new world political order that would follow the war. At a series of summits held between 1941 and 1945, plans were sketched for a postwar international organization (Schaller et al. 1996: 17).
The nature of what was decided was determined by the reality of wartime cooperation: The UN was based on the concept of the Four Policemen – that is, the USA, USSR, the UK and China as protectors of the world against a recurrence of Axis aggression (Archer 1992: 25).
As a written constitution, the UN Charter provides the UN´s organizational structure, principles, powers, and functions. However, it is important to note that the United Nations is, at most, a weak confederation and therefore the members´ obligations are limited and only their cooperation can bring about the implementation of UN functions. The organization has no means of enforcing its measures, unlike individual governments, and even the final interpretation of Charter obligations is made by its members (Bennett 1991: 52).
The Role of the United States.
It is undeniable that the United States played a very dominant role throughout the process of the planning and the foundation of the United Nations. The process of constructing a post-Second World War international order is largely based on the ideas and concepts of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill. It was Roosevelt’s secretary of state, Cordell Hull, who discussed with his Soviet and British counterparts at a meeting in Moscow the proposal for the formation of an international organization for ‘the maintenance of international peace and security’. Not only the final location of its headquarters, but also all the important meetings and negotians on the creation of the UN took place in the United States. It was at the Dumbarton Oaks estate in Washington, DC, where the ‘four policemen’ endorsed the proposal for its establishment. On 25 April 1945, representatives of fifty governments gathered in San Francisco to discuss the proposed body (Hanahoe 2003: 133).
The following section will examine the possible reasons for why
the United States’ gave such a high priority to the creation of this international
As Tom Hanahoe (2003: 135) points out, the US foreign policy was influenced by a small number of elitist groups that were looking for strategies to ensure US global supremacy after the war. The most influential among these groups was the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This council was created in 1921 mainly as a consensus-seeking and policy-planning forum for corporate-America. The basic idea was to have aspirants from such a forum that could successfully collaborate in bringing similar pro-corporate and pro-wealth views into the political decision-making process. The CFR is a New York-based, corporate-dominated organization that has close ties to the Rockefellers (Hanahoe 2003: 81).
According to Tom Hanahoe (2003: 134), the CFR played a major role
in shaping the post-Second World War world, including the creation of the
United Nations. This role began following a 12 September 1939 meeting between
three CFR members – Assistant Secretary of State George S. Messersmith,
CFR executive director Walter H. Mallory and CFR director Hamilton F. Armstrong.
They drew up plans for shaping a post-war global order over which Pax Americana
could reign supreme and their reports were sent to the State Department
and President Roosevelt for consideration (Shoup et al. 1977: 119).
In the following years, still during the ongoing war, the CFR had effectively been merged into the State Department’s post-war planning structure, with the group’s research secretaries becoming consultants to the State Department. A key objective was the establishment of a US-manipulable international forum through which US supremacy could be imposed, the United Nations (Shoup et al. 1977: 156).
At a May 1942 CFR meeting, Isaiah Bowman, a director of the CFR since its inception in 1921, suggested that US hegemony could be accomplished in the post-war era through creating a United Nations body. Such a scheme, he believed, would avoid the taint of ‘conventional forms of imperialism’, since Washington could exercise its power globally under the aegis of the proposed multilateral United Nations organization, rather than exercising its power unilaterally (Shoup et al. 1977: 169).
To ensure that the proposed UN would be susceptible to manipulative influences by Washington would require a US-friendly UN charter. Proposals conceived by CFR-dominated planning groups formed the basis for the US-sponsored charter draft. CFR members were also present in considerable numbers at the founding conference of the UN in san Francisco to lobby for acceptance of this draft. One of them, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs Nelson Rockefeller, arrived in San Francisco accompanying Latin American diplomats, who constituted the largest and most important voting bloc at the meeting. His assignment was to liaise with delegates from the region to secure their support for US proposals (Josephson 1952: 400).
Articles 51 and 52 of the UN charter owe their existence to Nelson Rockefeller. In his ‘diary file’, former Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle noted how Rockefeller ‘was able to compel the inclusion in the charter of the United Nations’ of the two articles and ‘as a result the present structure of American foreign policy has taken form’. Article 51, he observed, was ‘Nelson Rockefeller’s personal achievement’ (Berle et al. 1973: 475).
Also the location of the UN headquarters in New York City was due to a significant contribution by the Rockefeller family. In late 1946, Nelson’s father presented the large site for the infant United Nations , thereby ensuring that the United States would be the permanent home of the international body’s principal organs (Hanahoe 2003: 136).
According to Tom Hanahoe (2003: 138),Washington had created a
United Nations-body that was deliberately undemocratic, disempowering Third
World countries whose citizens constitute the great majority of mankind.
Whole world regions such as Latin America and Africa were not allowed to
have even one permanent member in the Security Council. India was barred
from permanent membership although its population comprises one-sixth of
the earth’s total population, larger than the combined populations of four
of the ‘Perm Five’ (meaning the five countries with permanent seats in
the Security Council: the US, the UK, Russia, France and China).
However, as the following chapters of this paper will show, the founders of the UN probably underestimated the dynamics that their creation would develop in the years and decades to come. Although the structure of the Security Council with the veto-power of the ‘Perm Five’ has never been changed, several other historical developments led to an ‘emancipation’ of the United Nations and a growing alienation from Washington.
III. US-UN Relations During the Cold War
The following section will provide an overview of the relation between the United States and the UN in the first four decades after its creation. Due to the limited scope of this paper this section will only focus on a few major events during that long time period of the Cold War. The main question to be examined shall be whether the UN worked the way the United States intended it to work, meaning it to be a useful tool for its own foreign policy. As will be seen the pattern is rather ambiguous. For a while, the UN seemed to perfectly fulfill its purpose, but gradually it also managed to emancipate itself from its most powerful creator.
Highly influenced by the United States
The Korean war can be seen as an early climax in the relation between the UN and the United States. This war followed a June 1950 invasion of US-dominated South Korea by troops from communist North Korea. A series of UN Security Council sittings followed, which the North Koreans were not allowed to address. Ultimately, a resolution was passed requesting UN member states to provide military forces for service in Korea under US leadership, thereby legitimating US military action in the country under the UN banner. The forces were commanded by an American general, Douglas MacArthur, who received his orders from Washington, not from the Security Council (Hanahoe 2003: 140).
Further proofs for the closeness between the American superpower and the UN can be found in several situations where the United Nations decided not to act.
One example is the invasion of East Timor by Indonesian forces on 7 December 1975. Since then, according to Amnesty International, at least 200,000 East-Timorese or one-third of the population, have been killed or died of starvation. As Hanahoe (2003: 144) points out, life in Indonesian-ruled East Timor was marked by the destruction of villages, the torture of civilians, the castration, decapitation or detention of suspected opponents in concentration camps, the raping of women and butchery on a massive scale. However, resolutions approved in the UN General Assembly and Security Council calling for the withdrawal of the Indonesian forces were ignored by the United States. US support for Indonesia’s president, General Suharto, one of the worst mass-murderers of the twentieth century, ensured that no UN sanctions were applied and no UN-mandated forces were dispatched to oust his forces from East Timor. The US ambassador to the UN at that time, Daniel P. Moynihan, admitted the intentions of his government quite bluntly: ‘The United States wished things to turn out [in East Timor] as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success’ (Moynihan 1978: 247).
Indonesia and East Timor, North- and South Korea – two annexations,
two contrasting UN and US responses. According to Hanahoe (2003: 146),
the dissimilar United Nations actions speak volumes about the organization
and about its record as a manipulable tool of US foreign policy. No one
seriously expected the UN to take meaningful action against US-supported
despots such as Indonesia’s Suharto or Angola’s Jonas Savimbi. Two of history’s
monsters, the former was responsible for the killing of up to one million
Indonesians and 200,000 East Timorese and the latter for a war which cost
over one million people their lives and which displaced perhaps five million.
According to a comment by Professor Leland M. Goodrich of Columbia University,
a CFR member, ‘no important action can be undertaken by the United Nations
with any reasonable prospect of success in the face of United States opposition’
(Beichmann 1968: 30).
However, as the following section will show, on a growing number of occassions the UN refused to be a mere instrument to Washington’s foreign policy.
Soon after their successful achievement of a Security Council resolution to enter the war on the Korean peninsula and to push back the North Korean forces, the United States realized that their harmonious relation with the UN was more of a short honeymoon than a stable longterm pattern. Several developments that shall be presented in the following section led to a growing alienation between the United States and the UN. As a result, the United States increasingly decided to act outside the UN framework.
The early success of the American foreign policy through the authorization of the use of force by the Security Council in the case of Korea proved soon to be a pyrrhic victory. In fact, it should have been the last authorization of its kind during the whole remaining period of the emerging Cold War. As Schaller (1996: 84) points out, the situation in the UN Security Council during the crucial days after the North Korean invasion was rather exceptional. The Soviet delegate to the United Nations was boycotting UN meetings in order to protest America’s refusal to seat the Chinese Communist delegation. Thus, with no Russian opposition, the US was able to secure quick United Nations support for military aid to South Korea. With hindsight, this meant a rather fortunate window of opportunity for the United States that was quickly closed with the return of the Soviet delegate to the Security Council.
The following decades were dominated by the Cold War that created a sharp division between a Soviet-led bloc and a United States-led bloc that was very quickly mirrored by the United Nations. This led to restrictions placed on the functioning of the UN, especially due to the veto-power of the ‘Perm Five’ in the Security Council, and led to the creation of bloc-oriented organizations such as the NATO or the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Archer 1992: 31).
The process of decolonization that began shortly after the end of the Second World War, having its peak in the 1960s and 70s, had also crucial influence on the US-UN relations. This process led to an increase in the number of states and to a growing importance of the Afro-Asian-Latin American states, often called the Third World (Archer 1992: 31). The newly emerging countries gradually ‘took over’ the UN, and especially the General Assembly. In 1964, the Group of 77 (G-77) was established as the largest Third World coalition in the United Nations and their membership has increased to 135 countries as of December 2003 being more than two-thirds of the UN’s membership. As Michael Glennon (2003: 20) points out, the UN experienced a growing division between the nations of the North and West from those of the South and East on the most fundamental issues. Particularly the United States as the most powerful nation in the Western hemisphere faced growing opposition within the UN.
Another development that led to strong tensions between the US and the UN was caused by a political phenomenon within the United States, namely the paranoia of a Communist threat or conspiracy during the so called McCarthy era. During his anti-Communist witchhunt, the Wisconsinite Republican senator, Joseph McCarthy, also targeted the UN headquarters in New York. He accused the United Nations Secretariat of having employed US citizens with Communist affiliations and started public hearings to investigate their loyalty. As Dean Acheson (1996: 698), by then US Secretary of State in the Truman administration, recalls, ‘the result was highly unfavorable opinion of the United Nations in the United States and of the United States in the United Nations. If I needed confirmation of my opposition to having the UN headquarters in New York – which I did not – we had plenty of it during the autumn of 1952.’
US turns unilateral.
The growing hostilities against the United States among UN member states strengthened the tendency in the American foreign policy to ignore the UN as a useful instrument for their purposes and to act frequently outside the UN framework. This tendency was particularly obvious in Latin America and the Caribbean which were traditionally considered as the ‘backyard’ of the United States where unilateral US foreign policy was the rule rather than the exception.
Cuba can be seen as a prominent example for US influence in the
region. The United States imposed an economic and trade blockade, engaged
in economic sabotage, attempted to assassinate political leaders and invaded
the island at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961. All these actions were violations
of the UN Charter, as also is the continuing US occupation of Cuban territory
at Guantanamo Bay – the very bay where the United States nowadays keeps
imprisoned suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters as ‘unlawful combatants’,
denying them official prisoner-of-war status and the most rudimentary human
rights. Beginning in 1992, each year the UN General Assembly voted in favor
of resolutions asking Washington to lift its embargo. Although the United
States was almost totally alone on this issue – in 1998 the vote was 157-2
(US, Israel) – Washington continued its illegal extra-territorial economic
warfare against its neighbor (Hanahoe 2003: 150).
But Cuba was far from being an exception. A huge number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean faced direct or indirect intervention from the United States – Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti - to mention a few.
Following almost all major post-1970 US interventions in the American
hemisphere, UN General Assembly resolutions condemned the aggression. Washington
ignored them, and Security Council resolutions condemning the interventions
were often vetoed by the United States (Hanahoe 2003: 150).
IV. US-UN Relations Since the End of the Cold War
“There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interests to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests, we will not.” (John Bolton, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs in the George H. Bush administration, in early 1994, quoted in: Boutros-Ghali 1999: 321)
Since the early 1990s a couple of major events took place that reshaped the international order and heavily influenced the UN-US relationship. For a while, following the end of the Cold War, a ‘New World Order’ seemed to have emerged with a powerful United Nations at its centre that was free at last from the decades-long Soviet veto-blockade. But the enthusiastic supporters of such a vision experienced huge setbacks and disappointments in the most recent history. The war in Kosovo in 1999 and in particular the Iraq War in 2003 were both launched without clear UN authorization. It was US President George W. Bush in the fall of 2002 who bluntly warned the Security Council of becoming ‘irrelevant’ should it not approve the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein’s regime. However, as this paper argues, the opposite was the case. The Security Council and the UN as a whole remained highly relevant because they did not subdue themselves to the most powerful memberstate. The United Nations remain the sole internationally respected source of legitimacy and not least the devastating situation in postwar-Iraq shows its continuing relevance.
The US keeps strong influence.
The Gulf War in 1991 followed the occupation of Kuwait by troops from neighboring Iraq. For the second time in history, the UN Security Council authorized the use of force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to liberate Kuwait and push back the aggressor. George Bush senior’s ‘New World Order’, meaning a change in the balance of power after the end of the Cold War, also revived the UN Security Council. The formerly veto-deadlocked council gained more freedom and flexibility as old international alliances broke up and new hadn’t yet been stabilized. For Washington this meant a new opportunity to make use of the international body as a source of legitimacy for its foreign policy goals.
As Noam Chomsky (1994: 11) points out, the standard explanation for this sudden conversion to ‘good behavior’ by the Security Council was that the Soviet Union had collapsed and would therefor no longer obtsruct Washington’s efforts to implement the noble ideals of the founders. This is a rather questionable interpretation of UN history given the fact that the United States had been far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions, with the U.K. a strong second and France a distant third, ever since the UN fell out of US control with decolonization and the growing independence of other states.
According to Tom Hanahoe (2003: 141) the Korean and Gulf wars, especially, present case studies of how the United States can ‘hijack’ the UN for its own ends. Both wars, although under the auspices of the UN, were not UN wars. They were US wars. Like the Korean War, at every stage of the Gulf War’s development after the invasion of Kuwait, the crisis was stagemanaged by Washington. The White House determined when the war began, how it was waged and when it would end. The ‘hijacking’ of the Security Council was also facilitated by Washington’s ‘carrot-and-stick-strategy’ in dealing with the non-permanent members of the council, mainly the use or threat of economic pressure or financial incentives. In the run up to the Gulf War, the government of Kuwait helped out by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to buy Security Council votes (Chomsky 1994: 11).
As Tom Hanahoe (2003: 153) explains, money is a major factor in the UN’s susceptibility to US pressures. Through withholding its assessed annual dues from the financially strapped organization, Washington can hold the UN hostage to its dictates. By the end of 1999, US arrears to the UN totalled around $1.6 billion. By paying back its debts to the UN at tactically advantegeous times, the United States can frustrate or facilitate the organization in carrying out its operations. This ‘impoverishment’ of the UN increases the body’s dependence on its major funding source, the United States, and thus renders the UN even more vulnerable to pressures from Washington.
According to former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, the ‘first priority of a secretary-general […] has to be the relationship between the United States and the United Nations’. In order to please Washington, he had appointed numerous Americans ‘to UN jobs at Washington’s request over the objections of other UN member states. I had done so […] because I wanted American support to succeed in my job’ (Boutros-Ghali 1999: 6). As a cynical move of history Boutros-Ghali was the very same secretary-general that should lose his job over growing tensions with the Clinton administration that vetoed his reelection in the Security Council.
The next section will show that most recently, in the run up phase to the second Iraq War in spring 2003, the United States might have gone too far. Acting occasionally outside the UN framework and ‘hijacking’ the international body for own policy goals is one thing, but declaring the Security Council ‘irrelevant’ and pursuing a national security doctrine that clearly and openly contradicts international law as laid down in the UN Charter is hard to swallow, even for America’s closest allies. This paper will argue that even a superpower like the United States can’t afford in the longterm to act unilaterally or only with a small ‘coalition of the willing’, basically ignoring world opinion as reflected by the UN system.
Two major events in most recent history threatened to rupture the UN-based international order that was so enthusiastically welcomed in the early 1990s. The war in Kosovo in 1999 and more recently the war in Iraq were both waged by Western powers without clear UN authorization. The war in Kosovo can be seen as the precedent for a new foreign policy approach that basically ignores the United Nations when it comes to ‘hard politics’ of war and peace. By powerful Western memberstates, the UN is more and more seen a millstone around the neck that is heavily deadlocked and prolongs conflict rather than helps solving it. The United Nations are criticized of being hopelessly oldfashioned with their institutions reflecting much more the international order of 1945 rather than the one as of today. The balance between the two principles of ‘national sovereignty’ and ‘human rights’ is at the core of this conflict. The UN Charter clearly emphasizes the sovereignty of nation states as a fundamental principle of international order. Article 2(7) of the Charter forbids the UN to ‘intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state’ and article 2(4) acknowledges states’ ‘territorial integrity or political independence’. However, some of the most powerful UN member states claim that state sovereignty should not have such a high priority nowadays. Instead it should be replaced by a principle of ‘universal human rights’ that would be enforced by so-called humanitarian interventions wherever these rights are abused.
The war in Kosovo can be seen as the first precedent of this new
doctrine. US President Clinton said Kosovo was a ‘test of whether civilised
nations awoke to the warning signs of evil before it was too late’ (Mason
1999). Western leaders frequently declared their new willingness for humanitarian
interventions in other countries even without the clear backing of the
United Nations. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated in March
1998 that ‘we believe that in 1991 the international community stood by
and watched ethnic cleansing [in Bosnia]…We don´t want that to happen
again this time’ (quoted in Wheeler 2000).
The major shift in the foreign policy of the United States is most obvious by comparing the war in Kosovo to the Gulf War that took place only eight years before. Ironically, this first big issue on the international agenda after the end of the Cold War was strongly connected to the idea of defending state sovereignty and not to the idea of human rights. US President George Bush’s ‘New World Order’ proposed that armed coalitions authorized by the UN Security Council should guarantee the sovereignty of all UN member states. This was in fact the strongest possible reassertion of the established order.
Despite the break with this traditional international order that was marked by the intervention in the province of Kosovo, opposition towards the war was comparatively limited. This can be best explained by the consensus at least among Western powers – it was a large international coalition that waged the war under the umbrella of NATO, among them the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
The Iraq War in 2003 was another major war in most recent history that was fought by Western powers without the authorization of the Security Council. However, several differences to the war in Kosovo made this one much more controversial. Instead of being supported by a large international force, this war was waged by the United States with only a small ‘coalition of the willing’. Key allies like France or Germany strongly opposed the military action, splitting the Western powers in two blocs. In contrast to the intervention in Kosovo, the military campaign was this time largely seen as unilateral action by the United States following its new doctrine of ‘preemptive strikes’. According to James Rubin (2003: 57), in the run-up to the war, the United States failed to lay even the most basic diplomatic groundwork. According to him (2003: 58), international relations are a lot like interpersonal relations. ‘Every country has a certain amount of goodwill on deposit with others. Unfortunately, by last fall, the United States’ goodwill account had been exhausted.’ Rubin mentions a range of issues that had already divided the United States from its allies before the Iraq War finally broke out: among them the repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol, the withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, its rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, its repudiation of the protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention, the US policy on the International Criminal Court, the imprisonment of ‘unlawful combatants’ on Guantanamo, and Washington’s ignorance towards NATO after the September 11 terrorist-attacks. Another reason for the lack of support were the shifting rationales for war. The evolution of the administration’s arguments – from the threat of weapons of mass destruction, to the link to al Qaeda, to the Wilsonian claims about human rights abuses and democracy in the Middle East – convinced many that President Bush was determined to invade no matter what. The result is what Rubin (2003:63) calls a ‘diplomatic defeat of the highest order for American foreign policy’ that caused major problems not only for the war itself but in particular for the post-war era. The overall problem can be seen in the total lack of international legitimacy for the United States’ actions – a factor that was fatally underestimated by Washington.
The United Nations as the world’s preeminent international organization remains the only source that can provide such international legitimacy. When the UN Security Council passes a resolution, it is seen as speaking for humanity as a whole, and in so doing it confers a legitimacy that is respected by the world’s governments, and usually by their publics. According to Shashi Tharoor (2003: 69), ‘the composition of the council that passes a particular resolution is no more relevant to its legitimacy than that of a national parliament that passes a law. […] The legitimacy of the UN inheres in its universality and not in its structural details […]. Universality of membership also allows the world to view the UN as something more than the sum of its parts, as an entity that transcends the interests of any one member state […]. It is precisely because the UN is the chief guardian of both these sacrosanct principles that it alone is allowed to approve derogations from them. Thus when the UN, in particular the Security Council, legislates an intervention in a sovereign state, it is still seen as upholding the basic principles even while approving a departure from them. When an individual state acts in defiance of the UN, on the other hand, it merely violates these principles.’
There is no reason to suggest that the United Nations has become irrelevant because the Security Council rejected to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The fact that the council did not ultimately agree strengthens, rather than dilutes, the rationale for approaching it in such situations. The council’s refusal to serve as a rubber stamp for Washington will give any future support it lends to the United States greater credibility.
The mistake of the ‘new unilateralists’ in the United States as Joseph S. Nye (2003: 63) calls them is the ignorance towards such legitimacy. They believe that today Washington faces new threats of such a dire nature that it must escape the constraints of the multilateral structures it helped build after World War II. In their obsession to fight international terrorism they focus too heavily on US military power alone. According to Nye (2003: 65), the unilateralists underestimate the fact that suppressing terrorism will take years of patient, unspectacular civilian cooperation with other countries in areas such as intelligence sharing, police work, tracing financial flows, and border controls. Toppling an oppressive and weak government in a poor country is the easiest part of the problem, while the ‘best response to transnational terrorist networks is networks of cooperating government agencies’ (Nye 2003: 65). They new unilateralists tend to ignore what Nye calls the soft power. This power lies in the ability to attract and persuade others rather than coerce. It means that others want what the United States wants, and there is less need to use carrots and sticks. International institutions, and in particular the United Nations, build the basis for soft power. In the absence of international institutions through which others can feel consulted and involved, the imperial imposition of values may neither attract others nor produce soft power.
Impossible to ‘go it alone’.
The United States could only afford to ignore the UN if they were also able to solve today’s global problems unilaterally. However, as Nye (2003: 72) points out, the United States lacks both the international and the domestic capacity to resolve conflicts that are internal to other societies and to monitor and control transnational developments that threaten Americans at home. On many of today’s key issues, such as international financial stability, drug trafficking, the spread of diseases, and especially the new terrorism, military power alone simply cannot produce success, and its use can sometimes be counterproductive. According to Shashi Tharoor (2003: 71), unilateralism is always more expensive than its alternative. Even when a Security Council resolution is not legally required for an action, it can still prove extremely useful for the United States. For the governments of many US allies it is easier to sell a policy to their publics if they can describe it as a response to a UN resolution. The UN system offers the United States the assurance that other countries would not feel the need to develop coalitions to balance its power. Instead, the UN could provide a framework for them to work in partnership with the United States.
An overview of the ambiguous relationship between the UN and the United States showed that differences and problems in this relation were the rule rather than the exception. To a growing extent, the United Nations ‘emancipated’ itself from the powerful ‘founding father’ and took on a life of its own. But instead of mourning about their ‘lost child’, American politicians should rather focus on the advantages of this development for their own goals. Only the United Nations as a genuinely independent international organization can provide the US foreign policy with the legitimacy it urgently needs to deal with today’s various problems on the world stage.
Only by making clever use of the United Nations system, the United States will be able to maintain their global hegemonic position in the long term. It’s unrealistic to expect a large country to be purely multilateralist, but the United States should incline to multilateralism whenever possible as a way to legitimize its power and to gain broad acceptance of its foreign policy.
It is therefor not in the US interest to discredit the UN or the Security Council. For every rare occasion when the council thwarts Washington, there are a dozen more when it acts in accordance with US wishes and compels other countries to do the same. The United States must be careful not to treat the United Nations as a mere instrument to its own foreign policy. American leaders need to accept that the United Nations became far more independent and emancipated than it was ever envisaged at its creation. It remains an indispensable source of international legitimacy and if Washington uses it wisely, the UN can serve US interests in a variety of practical ways.
Acheson, Dean, 1969: Present at the Creation. My Years in the State Department. W.W. Norton: New York.
Archer, Clive, 1992: International Organizations. Routledge: New York.
Bennett, A.LeRoy, 1991: International Organizations. Principles & Issues. 5th edition. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs.
Beichmann, Arnold, 1968: The ‘Other’ State Department: The United States Mission to the United Nations – Its Role in the Making of Foreign Policy. Basic Books: New York.
Berle, Beatrice B / Jacobs, Travis B (eds.), 1973: Navigating the Rapids 1918-1971: From the Papers of Adolf A. Berle. Hartcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York.
Boutros-Ghali, Boutros, 1999: Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga. I.B. Tauris: London.
Chomsky, Noam, 1994: World Orders, Old and New. Pluto Press: London.
Glennon, Michael J., 2003: Why the Security Council Failed. In: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 3: P16-35.
Hanahoe, Tom, 2003: America Rules. Us Foreign Policy, Globalization and Corporate USA. Brandon: Kerry.
Josephson, Emanuel M, 1952: Rockefeller ‘Internationalist’. Chedney Press: New York.
Mason, Barnaby, 1999: Tony Blair: Kosovo Crusader. BBC April 22, 1999.
Moynihan, Daniel P., 1978: A Dangerous Place. Little Brown: New York.
Nye, Joseph S., 2003: US Power and Strategy After Iraq. In: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 4: P60-73.
Rubin, James P., 2003: Stumbling Into War. In: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 5: P46-66.
Schaller, Michael / Scharff, Virginia / Schulzinger, Robert D., 1996: Present Tense. The United States Since 1945. 2nd Edition. Houghton Mifflin: Boston.
Shoup, Laurence H. / Minter, William, 1977: Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy. Monthly Review Press: New York.
Tharoor, Shashi, 2003: Why America Still Needs the United Nations. In: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 82, No. 5: P67-80.
Wheeler, Nicholas J., 2000: Saving Strangers. Oxford University Press: