The Future of U.S.-UN Relations
US Department of State
Kim R. Holmes, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs
Remarks at the XXI German American Conference
June 13, 2003
Thank you, Dr. Oetker, for that generous welcome and introduction. Let me also
thank the American Council on Germany and Atlantik-Brucke for inviting me to
Berlin to address an issue of great concern for transatlantic relations the
future of U.S.-UN relations.
It is a pleasure to be in Germany again. I had lived here for two years as a
student and have many fond memories.
First, let me add my condolences to those of President Bush and Secretary
Powell for the tragic deaths of four German peacekeepers in Afghanistan last
weekend. This attack was an assault on peace; but it will not deter the
peacekeepers, the United Nations, nor the world community working together to
end the scourge of global terrorism.
I arrived in Berlin last evening from Paris, where I met with Director-General
Matsuura of UNESCO [UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization]. As
you probably may know, the United States has decided to rejoin UNESCO.
President Bush and Secretary Powell are committed to working with other nations
to make UNESCO s programs as effective as they can be. We are looking forward
to expanding international cooperation in a number of new areas of culture,
science, and education.
Before my trip to Paris, I visited our mission to the UN in Rome and spent some
time at the World Food Program (WFP), which is doing excellent work feeding
people in Iraq and other parts of the world. The WFP is precisely the kind of
United Nations organization that makes a real difference in people s lives.
That s why nations do and should contribute voluntary funds to this program. It
represents the UN at its best focused, dedicated to real outcomes, and
humanitarian in the true sense of the word.
The Role of the UN in Global Affairs
It is this question of the United Nations at its best or more specifically, how
to make the UN work at its best that I would like to discuss with you this
afternoon. We believe the UN has an important role to play in global affairs.
Defining that role, particularly in light of the recent debate in the Security
Council on Iraq, is of keen interest to many countries around the world. So,
too, is the question of how to make the UN more effective.
For over six decades, the United States, the UN, and a good number of its
members have shared a vision of the world in which peace and prosperity are the
property of all people. We shared core principles of freedom, democracy, good
governance, and human rights. Our founding documents embody the belief that
nations that respect the rule of law at home will respect the rule of law
elsewhere. We also share a belief in the utility of placing multilateralism at
the service of freedom, democracy, and good governance.
Regardless of difficulties that we encounter at times, we will continue to
engage the UN because it is in our interest to do so. Through multilateral
diplomacy, we promote international peace and security. We work with other
nations to protect the innocent; eradicate pandemic disease; advance freedom,
human rights, and democratic institutions. We fight poverty and build solid
foundations for development; and we improve health and education.
If the United Nations did not exist today, we would have to create it. It would
not look the same in all respects, but the world needs an international forum
where leaders can settle their differences at the table of diplomacy.
Where the UN Works Well
There are many areas where the UN indeed works well. The terrorists who
breached America s shores in 2001 unleashed a huge coalition of the willing
to fight terrorism around the globe. Members of the UN General Assembly and the
Security Council were quick to lend support the day after the attacks. The
world saw the UN system work as it was intended when the threat was grave and
the cause clear.
The UN created the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) to enhance the capacity of
nations to fight terrorism. In less than two years, the CTC has encouraged more
states to take fundamental action to suppress terrorism and more have become
party to the 12 UN conventions related to terrorism. All 191 members of the UN
have reported their counterterrorism activities and capacities to the CTC. And
65 international and regional organizations have pledged to work with it to
exchange information and establish worldwide standards and best practices for
We also believe the Security Council s 1267 Sanctions Committee is doing a good
job identifying and listing international terrorists associated with al-Qaida
and the Taliban. Resolution 1455 has strengthened its sanctions against those
listed, and the Committee has established guidelines to assist states in
preparing their implementation reports.
Turning to peacekeeping, there have been some notable successes here as well.
UN peacekeeping efforts in the recent past have generally been good at
maintaining ceasefires and supporting the implementation of peace agreements.
In East Timor, the UN mission helped the people create an interim government,
draft and adopt a constitution, hold elections, and become an independent
state. UNMISET [UN Mission of Support in East Timor] then took over to help the
armed forces, police, and key ministries of Timor-Leste develop their
capacities to function without extraordinary external assistance.
The United Nations plays many important roles in world affairs beyond
counterterrorism and peacekeeping. It is instrumental in providing humanitarian
aid and refugee relief. As I mentioned earlier, the World Food Program has been
particularly effective. It is working closely with the Coalition Provisional
Authority to get food to the Iraqi people and to purchase grain from Iraq s
UN humanitarian agencies have improved significantly since the 1991 Gulf War.
At that time, they did not have a unified approach to dealing with massive
humanitarian relief problems in Iraq. Agencies fought, refusing to cooperate
and share responsibility, and leaving overlap and gaps in support.
The UN recognized the problem and established the Office of the Coordinator for
Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA). It worked. Contingency planning for
humanitarian relief in Iraq was exemplary. OCHA laid out what each agency would
do and held frequent, regular meetings in New York and in the field. It held
pre-crisis appeals, bought and pre-positioned food and other humanitarian
goods, and established a logistics, airlift, and communications coordination
center. When conflict broke out, the result was that there was no humanitarian
crisis, food was distributed, water treatment and distribution facilities were
repaired, and health needs met.
Many of the UN s technical agencies are also accomplishing important work
without getting politicized. The World Health Organization s response to the
outbreak of SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] helped contain that
virulent and deadly disease. New measures from the International Maritime
Organization will make it more difficult to use ships as tools of terrorism and
also decrease oil spills and pollution. The International Civil Aviation
Organization is helping countries implement rigorous safety and security
standards. The Crime Commission has adopted a convention that will enhance
international cooperation in fighting organized crime.
We steadfastly support the International Atomic Energy Agency s (IAEA) efforts
to stem nuclear proliferation and to bring the facts about Iran s nuclear
program to light. The IAEA will present its report to the Board of Governors on
Monday. Iran s nuclear activities are deeply troubling, and its nuclear
ambitions present a serious challenge to the international community.
The UN Can t Do it All
As much as the United Nations does, it clearly cannot be expected to do
everything. Not all of the areas of the world get the attention they need.
Ethiopia, for example, is on the verge of a devastating famine, and yet it is
not getting the attention it needs from the international community. Were it
not for the huge infusions of food aid provided by the United States, Ethiopia
would be in even worse shape than it already is.
The same is true for HIV/AIDS. Dealing with this pandemic is a massive project
that far exceeds the UN s capabilities. President Bush announced a $15 billion
initiative to combat HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases in Africa, the
Caribbean and other areas. He has committed $1 billion of this to fight
pandemic diseases through the Global Fund. And he has challenged the
international community to match our contribution.
The United Nations does an awful lot to improve the lives of people around the
world, but we cannot leave humanitarian crises to the UN alone. All of us have
to pitch in to do our share as well.
We also need to help change the way the UN dispenses advice about economic
policies and aid. We have made considerable progress in this area. The
Monterrey consensus was the seminal breakthrough that changed the way the UN
fosters development, good governance, and a good business climate. Public and
private sector leaders agreed that while all have a role to play, developing
countries themselves hold the primary responsibility for their development, and
good governance is key. We have to get the process right to liberate the
energies of people and mobilize all of the resources available if development
is to take root and thrive.
We should not conclude, however, that the UN s performance has been stellar on
all levels. The General Assembly is not at all effective. Neither are many of
the UN s commissions and committees. There is far too much duplication,
inefficiency, and even waste in the UN system. This is not just a U.S. view,
but is shared by many countries in the United Nations.
The UN is not very effective at peace enforcement when real offensive military
action is needed. This was true in Bosnia, where command and control issues
were a critical problem, and in Rwanda, where the Security Council did not have
the political and military will to take effective action.
If a Chapter VII intervention in a crisis is warranted, a substantial
commitment of resources and personnel by interested parties (such as the U.K.
[United Kingdom] in Sierra Leone and Australia in East Timor) is crucial. The
Security Council could authorize coalitions of the willing to carry out
effective military action, such as it did for Desert Storm in Iraq, for
Interfet in East Timor, the French/EU [European Union] multinational force in
the Congo, and the French multinational force in Cote d Ivoire. Once the
conflict has ended, the multinational forces can be transitioned into effective
UN peacekeeping operations, as in East Timor.
The UN peacekeeping operations must have achievable objectives if they are to
be successful. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of sending poorly
armed UN peacekeepers into armed conflicts in which they can make little
difference, and in which they can become, unwittingly, part of the problem. It
is understandable to want to do something when people are dying in large
numbers. But we must actually do something that works. As a general rule, a UN
or UN-authorized stabilization force should always have a strong leader,
unified command and control, as well as a strong mandate from the Security
Just as UN peacekeeping works best under certain conditions, the UN s
specialized agencies and commissions only can meet their objectives when they
are not overly politicized or focused on divisive ideological issues. The rule
for them should be that they remain tightly focused on their technical and
specialized missions, and not veer off into politicized debates.
We left UNESCO 18 years ago for two reasons: severe mismanagement and an
increasingly hostile ideological agenda, exemplified by its support for a New
World Information Order that favored state-controlled media. The President s
decision to rejoin UNESCO in October recognizes that significant reforms have
occurred. UNESCO is more efficient and its policies less politicized. We will
remain committed to reforming UNESCO. Many countries frankly expect us to play
a leading role in this area.
The same is true for reforming the various UN entities dedicated to human
rights. The Human Rights Commission has strayed dramatically from its founding
principles to defend, protect, and promote human rights. More than a third of
its members today are human rights violators. And this year, its members
elected Libya a country under UN sanctions as its chair. Largely because of its
makeup, the CHR s [UN Commission on Human Rights] 2002 session ended without
resolutions on Zimbabwe and Sudan, among others. Yet it passed multiple
excessive resolutions on Israel.
We need to bring our concerns about structural and organizational issues to the
UN. It is true there are structural limitations built into the UN system
itself. For example, the UN has never worked out the contradiction between
respect for national sovereignty and belief in universal membership on the one
hand, and the Charter principles of democracy and human rights on the other.
But we must do what we can to overcome these contradictions. At the very least,
we need to dedicate ourselves to promoting new membership on the Commission on
Human Rights members that respect the basic tenets of the Commission itself.
Efficiency and Effectiveness
And we need to dedicate ourselves to finding more efficient mechanisms for
achieving financial accountability in the UN system. Unforeseen world events
always will generate pressure on the UN to take on new work; but new mandates
do not mean automatic increases in the UN budget or personnel. An
ever-increasing UN budget is not sustainable.
The best way to sustain support for the UN budget is for the UN to prioritize
its large array of programs. The rules permit such prioritization, as well as
the elimination of marginal or obsolete activities. Sunset provisions that set
a date in advance for terminating funding are needed for every new mandate.
This step would help the UN foster a culture of accountability using
performance measures, and ensure a more sustainable budget.
Many countries are considering how the UN can be reformed to improve its
efficiency and effectiveness. We welcome this interest in reform. We have had a
long and abiding interest in this issue. The Helms-Biden reform legislation
tied the problem of paying our arrears aggravated by our budget cycle to UN
reform. The United Nations took steps to reform, and so we have cleared nearly
a billion dollars in arrears authorized under the Helms-Biden legislation. I
can tell you that the Bush Administration is continuing to actively review
proposals for UN reform, and hopefully we will have ideas to share with our
colleagues in the near future.
Consensus in the UN
The UN can be reformed indeed it can fulfill its mandate only when its members
willingly meet their obligations, accept their responsibilities, and adhere to
the principles for which it was founded. For our part, we take this obligation
seriously. The United States is deeply committed to an effective United
Nations, so we support it when it adheres to its core principles, and we say so
when it does not.
President Bush went to the United Nations last September and challenged it to
live up to its founding principles. He challenged the Security Council to
enforce its binding resolutions on Iraq, which Saddam Hussein had flouted
consistently for two decades. And all 15 members rallied behind that call in
passing Resolution 1441.
When all the members of the Security Council are united, the Council can become
an effective instrument for international peace and security. When we speak
with one voice, as we did in November in unanimously adopting UNSCR [UN
Security Council Resolution] 1441, and in May in passing the sanctions-lift
resolution, we can take effective action to promote international peace and
Yet, when Council members are divided or more accurately when the Permanent
Five (P-5)are divided the Council fails as an effective tool. This rather
obvious point begs the question: Why?
The answer lies less inside the Council than in the realm of international
politics, particularly among the larger nations that make up the P-5. The
Security Council is, after all, a mirror of international politics. And therein
lie both its strength and its weakness.
The Security Council became largely ineffective during the Cold War when
divisions between the East and West made it impossible to achieve consensus on
major issues. The Western powers decided to create the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) and other alliances in part because they realized they
could not rely on the Security Council to protect either their security or
The gridlock broke after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Security Council
members came together to vote for an unprecedented series of resolutions to try
to eject Iraq from Kuwait first by diplomatic means, then by sanctions, and
when those failed through a multinational force to eject Iraq by force.
Resolution 687, the ceasefire resolution, demarcated Iraq s borders, set up a
mechanism to resolve Gulf War claims, and set forth Iraq s disarmament
obligations. It also adopted comprehensive sanctions to prevent Saddam Hussein
from reacquiring WMD [weapons of mass destruction].
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the Security Council experienced a remarkable
renaissance. It was not engaged, however, in every major issue that arose
concerning international peace and security. During the post-Cold War period,
the Council engaged episodically in major issues of international peace and
security. It has been heavily engaged at times, most particularly in Iraq, the
Balkans, and Africa. Still, the international community does not view it as the
exclusive forum for settling all international disputes that involve conflict
Basing the Security Council s voting scheme on consensus was intentional. The
Council would not become an effective instrument for one great power to use to
constrain or control another great power. The structure of the Council with
veto powers for the P-5 mitigates against trying to use it to alter the balance
of power or to fundamentally challenge the vital interests of the great powers.
Given its performance on Iraq over the last six months, some have asked, why
not reform the Council ? Why not update it to overcome what some see as an
anachronistic structure whereby certain countries selected during the immediate
World War II era are more equal than others?
I do not have any magic formulas on Security Council reform. However, I do
believe that whatever is done to change the Council, it must adequately reflect
the real division of labor and responsibility among nations for maintaining
international peace and security. Authority must be based not solely on the
claim of representation, but on responsibility. And responsibility must be
determined not only by respect for the universal principles of democracy and
human rights, but also the capability to act to defend those principles when
they are threatened.
The Question of International Law
Anytime the question of authority of the Security Council is raised, the issue
arises as to its place in establishing international law. This was a
particularly central issue of dispute during the recent Iraq war.
As contentious as the disagreement over Iraq was, it should not be
over-emphasized. Neither the United States nor the U.K. ever asserted a right
to operate outside their obligations under international law. Neither took a
position that called into question the existing international legal regime
related to the use of force. Each country had lawyers examine relevant
resolutions and clarify the legal basis for use of force before the decision to
proceed was made.
The decision to go to war with Iraq was based on international law: Existing
Security Council resolutions against Iraq provided a sufficient legal basis for
military action. Under the UN Charter itself, there was sufficient authority to
take action against Iraq without another resolution.
Countries disagree on other international law issues as well. The Rome Statute
establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto Protocol on
global warming are notable examples. Germany believes that being a party to the
Rome Statute and the Kyoto Protocol will advance its interests. It accepts the
obligations of being a party to each one. The United States holds the opposite
view and has not become a party to either of them. Consequently, it does not
accept any international legal obligations with respect to them.
The United States does not violate any international legal obligation or act
against international law by remaining outside the ICC. There is no
requirement, under customary international law or elsewhere, that a nation
become a party to this treaty. Nothing in existing customary law says that we
are bound by the provisions of the Rome Statute when we are not a party to it.
Every nation has the right to decide which treaties it will sign, and we will
continue making case-by-case assessments. The fact that another country may
make a different assessment of a treaty does not mean that one country is
acting in favor of international law and the other against it: Both are acting
consistent with international law.
For this reason, while we respect the right of countries to make their own
decisions, we nonetheless wish that France, Germany, and Syria had joined the
other 12 members of the Security Council in supporting the simple extension of
Resolution 1422, which protects UN peacekeepers from prosecution by the
International Criminal Court. A clear majority of the Council understood the
need to preserve the integrity of UN peacekeeping operations by extending the
resolution. We hope that the action of the three who abstained does not signal
a desire to reopen in the future the balanced compromise reached last year. It
would be a pity indeed, a tragic consequence for international peace and
security if non-ICC signatory states like the United States found it legally
impossible to participate in UN peacekeeping.
For the past century, America's historical role has been to address threats to
international peace, stability, and freedom and to redress the balance of power
when threatened by militarism, tyrants, extremist ideologies, or terrorists.
This was true in the world wars. It was true in the Cold War. It is true in the
war on terrorism. And it is true in Iraq.
In each instance, the United States did not follow the paths of imperialist
powers, but instead liberated countries from tyranny. We did not always
succeed, but when we did and we did more often than not we left countries
better off than before. We left behind not occupation forces, but democratic
institutions and, as Secretary Powell reminded us this year, cemeteries filled
with our soldiers who laid down their lives so that others could be free.
It is true that America is a singularly powerful nation. It is true that it has
strong opinions and enormous influence. Of course this state of affairs makes
some countries uncomfortable. But it is one thing to want the United States to
listen to you and to act on your point of view. It is another to conclude that
America is a threat to world order if it doesn't.
Trying to restrain American power and influence should not be an organizing
principle for countries that care about peace, prosperity, and freedom. It will
only sow division and waste energy and resources on matters not worthy of great
nations. In the end, it will strengthen those who challenge freedom and
democracy across the globe. And it will only weaken the solidarity needed among
free nations to defend themselves from terror and aggression.
International cooperation in the service of freedom and democracy this
principle has guided NATO for over a half century. It has been at the heart of
U.S.-German friendship for as many years. And it should be a central organizing
principle of the United Nations as well. Thank you.
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