The relationship between the United States and the United Nations has warmed and cooled over the years. Some U-N member nations believe Washington has too often ignored the world body's sentiments and acted in its own interests. On the other hand, there are Americans who say the United Nations too often works against the United States and its allies. As V-O-A's Jeffrey Young reports, the U-S - U-N relationship now enters a new phase with the nomination of U-N critic John Bolton as the next U-S ambassador.
When the United Nations was founded sixty years ago, it was hoped to be a forum where the world's problems could be peacefully resolved. But over the years that has not always translated into harmony at the world body, as issues have put groups of member countries at odds with others. Because of that, the United States has had an up-and-down relationship with the United Nations. As U-N Secretary General Koffi Annan's Chief of Staff, Mark Malloch Brown, told Fox News, Washington and the United Nations were at arm's length more than two years ago over whether to remove Saddam Hussein.
"The disagreements over Iraq really did sort of tear at the fabric of the U-S - U-N relationship. And it was very difficult because most of our membership was on the other side of that argument, and the U-N was very much caught in the middle."
But several subsequent events improved the relationship to a degree, as David Bosco, senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine, explains.
"The current state certainly is much better than it was in the immediate run-up and aftermath to the war in Iraq. I think the elections in Afghanistan and the elections in Iraq have given the U-S some credibility at the United Nations that it had lost for some time. So I think the current state is 'cautious coexistence'."
As the United Nations has shed some coolness toward the United States, the Bush administration in turn has increased its efforts to work with the world body. Former U-S ambassador Robert Hunter, now with the Rand Corporation in London, says the White House effort is both pragmatic and reflective of popular sentiment.
"The U-N has become more important to the Bush administration because the American people want to have other people with us and want to have more enduring legitimacy for whatever we do in places like the Middle East."
Indeed, the United States has sought increased involvement in Iraq by the United Nations both for peacekeeping and rebuilding efforts. The U-N response, however, has been cautious because the war remains controversial and security in Iraq remains highly uncertain.
Recently, the U-S - U-N relationship entered a new and controversial phase with the White House nomination of prominent U-N critic John Bolton as the next U-S ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton, who is Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, has repeatedly called for major U-N reforms in administration, peacekeeping and the Human Rights Commission. Lee Feinstein at the Council on Foreign Relations adds that Mr. Bolton also brings strong views on several major issues to the job.
"He, in the first Bush administration, opposed a multilateral approach for dealing with North Korea. He's known as a skeptic on engagement with Iran. And he's an outspoken critic of arms control agreements, which tend to be popular at the U-N."
But as Mr. Feinstein points out, John Bolton does not go to the United Nations with his own agenda.
"The most important person who will set the relationship for U-S - U-N relations will be the president, and secondly, the secretary of state."
Still, John Bolton's domestic supporters see his nomination as an opportunity to correct what they consider U-N faults and inefficiencies and perhaps a strong anti-U-S bias. Mr. Bolton's supporters also want an end to U-N scandals such as the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program.
As for Mr. Bolton's opinions and operating style, David Bosco at Foreign Policy magazine says there have been similar U-S ambassadors in the past who nevertheless proved to be effective.
"I think the bull can be in the china shop. We've had in the past U-N ambassadors who are blunt and skeptical of the organization in some ways - Jeanne Kirkpatrick comes to mind along with Daniel Patrick Moynihan. So we've had people in the past who do not fit the mold of the smooth-talking diplomat."
Former U-S ambassador Robert Hunter says with the Bush administration moving to improve international relations, John Bolton will become a critical element in that effort.
"A lot of the president's charm offensive with the allies and others will stand or fall precisely on how Mr. Bolton conducts himself."
As U-N ambassador, John Bolton will trade his years of making policy with a strong and certain ideology for a much more sensitive and nuanced role as a diplomat. Whether he can subordinate his personal opinions in order to achieve greater cooperation among U-N member nations is yet to be seen. But, at the very least, Mr. Bolton goes to New York as anything but unknown.