The Bolton effect
As the White House continues to lobby for John Bolton’s confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, it’s a good time to consider diplomatic style. I’ll be the first to admit that there have been times when I found Bolton’s gruff responses, if inappropriate, at least prescient, the most recent example being his initial ...
As the White House continues to lobby for John Bolton's confirmation as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, it's a good time to consider diplomatic style. I'll be the first to admit that there have been times when I found Bolton's gruff responses, if inappropriate, at least prescient, the most recent example being his initial response to the establishment of a U.N. force to enforce a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah during the early days of war in Lebanon. "It is reasonable and responsible to ask how a new force would differ from and be more effective than UNIFIL," Bolton said, referring to the rather ineffective U.N. force that has been in southern Lebanon since 1978.
But more often the case is that the Bolton-led mission to the United Nations rubs its colleagues the wrong way. In a conversation outside the United Nations’ New York headquarters this summer, a German delegate to the Small Arms Review Conference put it to me like this: We have no problems with the United States pursuing its own national interest – that’s what countries are expected to do. It’s when U.S. diplomats argue that the U.S. national interest is equivalent to global interests that we get mad.
Discussing his country’s military ambitions, Sha Zukang, China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, expressed a similar point of view in mid-August. “It is the U.S.’s sovereign right to do whatever they deem good for them. But don’t tell us what is good for China,” he said. (Listen to the comments in the second half of the radio program here.)
In introductory courses on international relations around the country, university students learn about two potential geopolitical outcomes of a unipolar system. The first, based on the Pax Romana, occurs when the relatively benign superpower is considered too powerful to challenge and minimal conflict within the system occurs. The second, based on the Peloponnesian War, occurs the smaller countries regard the superpower as hostile. The unipolar system turns into a bipolar system as the smaller countries band together to challenge the established hegemony.
I’m not advocating that the United States consider every complaint about its foreign policy valid. Often times, despite the opposition of some, the U.S. national interest does coincide with global interests—preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms, fighting terrorism, promoting free trade, and monitoring the afore-mentioned Chinese military build-up come to mind. However, if we continue to arrogantly ignore others’ concerns, even our allies may block us on the most important issues out of spite. And with Bolton such a lightning rod of controversy, perhaps changing our ambassador to the United Nations is a step in the right direction.
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