United States and the United Nations

From Academic Kids

The United States is a charter member of the United Nations and one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council.


U.S. role in establishing the UN

The term "United Nations" was first coined by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the Declaration by the United Nations where, on January 1, 1942, 26 nations pledged to continue fighting the Axis powers.

In 1945, representatives from 50 countries met in San Francisco for the United Nations Conference on International Organization. They deliberated on proposals that had been drafted by representatives of the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference between August and October of 1944. The United Nations officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, when the Charter was ratified by the Republic of China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States as well as a majority of other signatories.

The United Nations was the first international governmental organization to receive significant support from the United States. Its forerunner, the League of Nations, had been championed by Woodrow Wilson after World War I to prevent future conflicts. While it was supported by most European nations, it was never ratified by the United States Congress due to the inability to reach a compromise regarding the Lodge Reservations or the Hitchcock Reservations.

Shortly after the establishment of the United Nations, the United States came into conflict with another member of the Security Council. Since the Soviet Union was a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, it had the power to veto any binding UN resolution. In fact, Soviet foreign minister and UN ambassador Vyacheslav Molotov used the Soviet veto twice as often as any other member, earning him the title "Mr. Veto". (see Soviet Union and the United Nations)

Arguably, the United States has only cooperated with the United Nations on two major issues. First, while the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council and China's seat was represented by U.S.-friendly Republic of China, the U.S. and UN jointly condemned the invasion of South Korea by North Korean troops, leading to the UN and U.S. sanctioned Korean War. Second, the U.S. was able to persuade all permanent members of the Security Council to authorize force against Iraq after that nation invaded Kuwait in 1991. This was a major step toward U.S. and Russian reconciliation after the end of the Cold War.

Sources of conflict

Since 1991 the United States has been the world's dominant military, economic, social, and political power. The United Nations was not designed for such a unipolar world with a single superpower, and conflict between an ascendant U.S. and other UN members has increased. The September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and subsequent military conflicts have clarified the U.S. sense of its uniqueness, as well as the desire of other countries to use the UN as a vehicle to rein in what they see as American unilateralism.

Conflict between the U.S. and the UN is not new. The first major defeat for the U.S. at the UN was Resolution 2758 - the admission of the People's Republic of China and removal of the Republic of China against U.S. wishes in 1971 (see China and the United Nations). Since the U.S. changed its own China policy shortly after, however, this did not do lasting damage. Far more serious was the General Assembly Resolution 3379 of 1975 equating Zionism with racism, which caused great offence in the United States. Resolution 3379 was eventually negated in 1991 by Resolution 4686, but only after years of increasingly strained relations. Under the Reagan administration, the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO, and began deliberately to withhold its UN dues as a form of pressure on the UN. By far, the U.S. was, and continues to be, the state levied most heavily by the UN. Therefore, U.S. policymakers considered this tactic an effective tool for asserting U.S. influence in the UN. The U.S. eventually repealed its policy of withholding funds in an effort to amend the U.S.-UN relationship, but not before the U.S. had accumulated a significant debt to the UN.

Persistent use of its veto in the Security Council with respect to resolutions condemning the state of Israel has been a constant cause of friction between the General Assembly (which has condemned Israeli actions on numerous occasions) and the Security Council which has a record of veto'd resolutions on this subject caused by US application of its veto in what critics have claimed is a partisan way.

The U.S. arrears issue

The UN has always had problems with members refusing to pay the assessment levied upon them under the United Nations Charter. But the most significant refusal in recent times has been that of the U.S. For a number of years the U.S. Congress refused to authorize payment of the U.S. dues, in order to force UN compliance with U.S. wishes, as well as a reduction in the U.S. assessment.

After prolonged negotiations, the U.S. and the UN negotiated an agreement whereby the United States would pay a large part of the money it owes, and in exchange the UN would reduce the assessment rate ceiling from 25% to 22%. The reduction in the assessment rate ceiling was among the reforms contained in the 1999 Helms-Biden legislation, which links payment of $926 million in U.S. arrears to the UN and other international organizations to a series of reform benchmarks.

U.S. arrears to the UN currently total over $1.3 billion. Of this, $612 million is payable under Helms-Biden. The remaining $700 million result from various legislative and policy withholdings; there are no current plans to pay these amounts.

Under Helms-Biden, the U.S. paid $100 million in arrears to the UN in December 1999; release of the next $582 million awaits a legislative revision to Helms-Biden, necessary because the benchmark requiring a 25 percent peacekeeping assessment rate ceiling was not quite achieved. The U.S. also seeks elimination of the legislated 25 percent cap on U.S. peacekeeping payments in effect since 1995, which continues to generate additional UN arrears. Of the final $244 million under Helms-Biden, $30 million is payable to the UN and $214 million to other international organizations.

The Iraq issue

Missing image
George W. Bush addressed the General Assembly on September 12, 2002 on Iraq prior to the passage of Resolution 1441.

Further conflict between the U.S. and some UN members arose in 2002 and 2003 over the issue of Iraq. The U.S. under President George W. Bush maintained that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had not fulfilled the obligations he had entered into at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, namely to rid Iraq of all weapons of mass destruction and to renounce their further use. A series of inspections by UN weapons inspectors failed to find conclusive evidence that either proved or disproved the allegation that Iraq was continuing to develop such weapons. The U.S. replied to this by saying that the responsibility of proof of disarmament was upon Iraq, not on the UN or the U.S.

In November 2002, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441, giving Iraq an ultimatum to co-operate in disarmament. In March 2003, the U.S., supported by the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia and Poland (the Coaltition of the willing) launched military operations against Iraq, and on April 9 Saddam Hussein's regime was overthrown and Iraq was placed under occupation. The U.S. argued that this action was authorized by Resolution 1441, since Iraq had failed to comply by co-operating fully in the identification and destruction of its weapons programs, and since Resolution 1441 promised 'serious consequences' for lack of full compliance. Other countries, led by France and Germany, maintained that Resolution 1441 did not authorize the use of force without a further Resolution, and made it clear that they would not support such a Resolution.

The U.S.-led coalition did not find evidence of the alleged secret Iraqi weapons program nor could it prove that Iraq did support international terrorism. There are no longer active efforts to find evidence of Iraq's secret weapons program.

The future of the U.S. in the UN

The relevance of the UN in the modern world is questioned by its critics, and there is a small but growing movement in the U.S. to withdraw from the UN. This in part stems from a desire to ensure that sovereignty stays with national bodies, and not be yielded to any sort of extranational organization. Another probable reason for this dissent is its use as a negotiation tactic; by threatening to walk out, the U.S. is voicing its displeasure and putting pressure on the UN to address U.S. concerns. Realistically, the "get U.S. out of UN" (a pun on the initials for the United States and the pronoun "us") movement is unlikely to result in the U.S. actually withdrawing. Proposed legislation in both houses of U.S. Congress to withdraw was met with minimal support, never coming close to becoming U.S. policy.

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