Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 12/8/2006 [Archive]

Jeane J Kirkpatrick Looks Askance at the UN

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Assesses the U.N.

Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, a pioneer of the interventionist neoconservative foreign policy movement who played an important role in President Reagan's adminstration, died Dec. 7 at age 80. A senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, she served as Reagan's ambassador to the U.N. from 1981 to 1985 and helped craft his Latin American policy. When President Bush nominated John Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in March 2005, I talked to Kirkpatrick about Bolton and the U.N.

Q: Has the U.N. outlived its usefulness?

A: Not necessarily.

Q: Is the U.N. one of these idealistic ideas that is doomed to failure in the real world?

A: No, I wouldn't say so. ... I don't see any reason to say so.

Q: A Wall Street Journal editorial said the United Nations was suffering from "a growing irrelevance" and it's got two great crises: one is of efficacy and one is a moral crisis. They were referring to things like Cuba and Zimbabwe sitting on the Human Rights Commission.

A: That moral crisis is chronic.

Q: When you were there in the early 1980s, was the U.N. as troubled then as it is now?

A: Yes. But it was troubled in a different way. In the '80s, of course, we were in the depths of the Cold War and many of the problems were a consequence of the Cold War.

Q: Today's problem is what -- the U.N. not liking America or not liking its goals or its methods?

A: It's got all the problems it's ever had, including the extraordinary diversity of members -- including some members who are enormously different than the other members and who have nothing in common, basically. You mentioned Zimbabwe and Cuba. The fact is, if you look at the Human Rights Commission itself, which has 53 members, nearly half of those members are dictatorships of one kind and another who have virtually nothing in common with the other half of those members. This is the biggest problem of all, I think.

Q: And when you say "nothing in common," you mean politically, philosophically, morally, economically, culturally?

A: Exactly. All of the above.

Q: And so, to ask them to come to any consensus on anything ...

A: ... is virtually impossible. I didn't realize how extreme that condition was until I served one year (in 2003) as the leader the U.S. delegation to Human Rights Commission. I accepted that appointment because I was interested in seeing how it functioned. I was shocked and appalled (laughing). That's all I can say.

Q: Is there one thing you can think of that the U.N. does very well?

A: I think there are, as a matter of fact, a number of functions the U.N. does well, not the least of which is the organization of some humanitarian functions. I would have said the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, if it had not been for the recent scandal. But that wasn't a failure to do the job well, it was for the charge of sexual malfeasance, I guess. Another has been UNICEF. Third, there has been a recent significant improvement in UNESCO, which was very bad for a period but which I think has significantly improved in recent years. I think the World Health Organization has been useful. ... However, that doesn't mean that most things have been done well.

Q: It seems to me that the idea of the U.N. as a peacekeeping force makes sense.

A: That doesn't work well either. All you have to do is think hard about the fact that there were 7,000 to 9,000 Bosnians who were simply slaughtered in Srebrenica. Srebrenica was one of the great slaughtering places, and they were killed, moreover, with U.N. peacekeepers in the area. In Rwanda, there were 800,000 Rwandans slaughtered simply in cold blood by Hutus who were not provided help by the U.N. peacekeepers. These are probably the most terrible failures of the U.N. peacekeepers, and they are the most terrible failures of the United Nations, at least in my time of association with the United Nations.

Q: Why is John Bolton the right choice for the job of U.N. ambassador?

A: Well, because Bolton has a lot of determination. He has a lot of energy. He's smart. And he's more likely to do the job well than anybody else I could think of.

Q: He seems to be getting praise for his blunt-speaking ways.

A: That's just a useful beginning. That's not enough to do the job well, and no one would know that better than John Bolton. But that's a start.

Q: Somebody said he's the perfect guy to "pursue America's national interest at the U.N." What would that interest be?

A: I would say that there isn't any permanent American interest except in having our money spent in useful ways, so that useful chores are performed with it.

Q: Does that mean the U.N. has to be on our side all the time -- whether it's in Iraq or elsewhere?

A: Of course not. The U.N. not being on our side had nothing to do with Iraq. It was a function of the French position on Iraq. Period. The French were opposed to our position on Iraq, start to finish. And that had everything to do with France's economic interest and its longstanding, tight relationships with Saddam Hussein, and nothing to do with anything else, really, that involved the United States.

Q: Does the U.N. need the United States more than the United States needs the U.N.?

A: Look, the United Nations needs some people who will work hard on the jobs that need doing. The jobs that need doing above all are protecting people who are about to be massacred from being massacred, or protecting people that are starving from starving.

Q: Do you think that the U.N. will be around 10 or 20 years from now?

A: I don't know. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the U.N. and problem-solving for the U.N. I know that a lot of other people have spent a lot of time thinking about it, too. I don't think anybody's succeeded very well until now, including me. ... I did my best for 4 years at the U.N., and I would say that what we did was make a little progress, but not dramatic progress.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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