The Right Coast

April 20, 2005
John Bolton and the Story of O
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Mark Steyn is grimly funny about the latest pretext for opposing John Bolton as US representative to the UN: he once put his hands on his hips when talking to a bureaucrat he was displeased with:
As for the job Bolton's up for, what would make Barbara Boxer and Joe Biden put their hands on hips? Child sex rings run from U.N. peacekeeping operations? Sudan sitting on the Human Rights Commission while it licenses mass murder in Darfur? Kofi Annan's son doing a $30,000-a-year job but somehow having a spare quarter-million dollars to invest in a Swiss soccer club? There are tides in the affairs of men when someone has to put his hands on his hips... And, if the present depraved state of the U.N. isn't one of them, nothing is. Unlike most of the multilateral blatherers, John Bolton is hip to that.
But we law professors are more prone to worry than to laugh. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed (registration required) Eric Posner and John Yoo (law professors both, and exceptionally good ones)worry that Bolton might be co-opted by the UN and its cheerleaders:
'[I]n hearings last week, Bolton pledged to "forge a stronger relationship between the United States and the United Nations" and to take "important steps to restore confidence" in the international body.

This kinder, gentler Bolton is exactly what the UN does not need. If the UN is going to stop being a major impediment to multilateral cooperation and international law, it needs the radical skepticism of the old Bolton, the kind of skepticism that will remake it from the top down.
How so?
In the past, the US accomplished its foreign policy goals by working around the UN, not through it. Washington's successful anti-Soviet containment policy, implemented with allies as diverse as France, Germany, Turkey and Japan, proceeded independently of the UN. US-led efforts to stop British and French seizure of the Suez Canal and to end the Israeli-Arab wars occurred with little help from the UN. NATO's intervention during the wars in the former Yugoslavia was, in large part, a violation of the UN Charter.

More recently, efforts to contain North Korea, to limit conflict between India and Pakistan, to keep the peace between Taiwan and China and to remove Saddam Hussein have owed little or nothing to the UN.

Historically, then, the UN has been mostly irrelevant. [But the UN actually] undermines the advance of international law. Its charter outlaws war except in self-defense or with the authorization of the Security Council — a quixotic, unenforceable rule. There have been dozens of wars since 1945 and the UN's birth. Pretending that nations will not engage in war, and that the UN can be the world's policeman, guaranteeing the safety of all, only breeds cynicism. It works against using international law realistically to prevent humanitarian disasters, eliminate threats to regional peace, and stop state supporters of terrorism.
Actually, Bolton is as clear-thinking, and as plainspoken, a representative as we are likely to get to the UN organisation. Hence the shrill opposition to him from the usual quarters. The more immediate concern is that the (now equally usual) campaign of character assassination against Bolton will succeed, not that it will fail and that he will succumb to the diminishing charms of the Kofi-ocracy.

Europeans, by the way, always used to refer to the UN as the UNO (for UN Organisation) -- which I certainly prefer. The connotations of calling it (just) an "organisation" are much less presumptuous than the quasi-world-government nimbus of calling it the "UN" without the "O"...