Get ready for tough love

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 April, 2005, 12:00am

The United Nations is a mess. Often corrupt and venal, always inefficient and wasteful, frequently captured by the worst political interests, and commonly motivated by the most extreme ideological impulses, it is anything but 'the last great hope of mankind'. If anyone can push it towards reform, it is John Bolton.

Nominated by US President George W. Bush to be America's ambassador to the world body, he is perfectly qualified. He served as assistant secretary of state for international organisations in the first Bush administration and as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since 2001. He has written knowingly (and scathingly) about the UN's failings. Further, Mr Bolton is more concerned about protecting western security and prosperity than undertaking abstract global crusades. Finally, he is famously blunt. A decade ago, he declared: 'If the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 storeys, it wouldn't make a difference.' He was right.

The challenge for the UN's supporters is to change it so that someone would notice if it lost 10 storeys. Mr Bolton can help. In 1997, he contributed a chapter to a Cato Institute book on the UN, Delusions of Grandeur: The United Nations and Global Intervention. He acknowledged that 'the UN was an admirable concept' and 'is worth keeping alive'. But, he added: 'It is not worth the sacrifice of American troops, American freedom of action, or American national interests. The real question for the future is whether we will know how to keep our priorities straight.'

So, what can be done? First, the UN should concentrate on humanitarian relief and traditional peacekeeping. 'What should be relegated to history's junk pile are the Clinton notions of UN 'peace enforcement', 'nation building', and 'enlargement',' he argued.

Second, the security council should not be 'reformed', as Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed. Mr Bolton said such efforts 'should not obscure our present ability to make the council function effectively...'

Finally, he pressed for real 'management and financial reform'. Mr Bolton suggested that we should move 'towards a UN system that is funded entirely by purely voluntary contributions'. Then, governments could hold the UN accountable.

What sensible person could disagree? Mr Bolton is an idealist, but one with common sense. 'The UN should be used when and where we choose to use it to advance American national interests, not to validate academic theories and abstract models,' he wrote. 'But the UN is only a tool ... It is one of several options, and it is certainly not invariably the most important one.'

Free people everywhere will be able to sleep more soundly after Mr Bolton is confirmed in his new role.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington and a former special assistant to president Ronald Reagan