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The U.S. Receives A Message from the United Nations
(Written May 8, 2001)

Today Washington is reeling from the news that the United States has lost its position on the Human Rights Commission and International Narcotics Control Board of the United Nations.  It is a clear indication that the international community is not pleased with the American position on a number of issues.

It can be argued that the work of these bodies is largely symbolic, but the significance of these votes should not be underestimated.  The U.S. is a founding member of the Human Rights Commission and had been on the narcotics board since 1992.   Adding to the insult is the knowledge that the U.S. was booted off the diplomatic island while nations with a questionable committment to human rights or drug prevention have been allowed to join the club.

There are several excuses being spun out to explain the actions of the UN. Some say that the absence of an ambassador to the UN resulted in a loss of lobbying power when the votes were held.  Others believe that financial concerns played a factor.  The United States has long refused to pay UN dues, incurring a debt that now stands at $1.7 billion.  Unsurprisingly, members of Congress are now threatening to withhold a $582 million partial payment of the debt as retaliation for the rejections, an idea  that will heighten tensions if adopted by the government. 

A more likely explanation is that members of the UN were increasingly frustrated with recent actions by the US that sharply contrasted with the views of its allies.  In the four months since GW Bush's ascension to the presidency, he has declared his intention to back out of the Kyoto treaty, offered unqualified support to Israel in its brutal assault against Palestinians, rejected a treaty to abolish land mines, and provoked a new arms race with the resurrection of a missile defense system.  Any one of these issues would be a cause of concern; taken together, they constitute a declaration that the United States is poised to aggressively pursue its interests regardless of its ramifications on other nations.

True enough, Joanna Weschler, the UN representative of the organization Human Rights Watch, noted that "Washington should have seen it coming because there has been a growing resentment towards the United States."  An unidentified diplomat was quoted last week as saying that America is perceived as "wanting to go it alone."  In an era where global cooperation is needed to combat the most serious problems facing humanity, being viewed as a selfish entity is not the image you want to project to the world. 

Now that the UN has delivered a blow to American prestige, the question is whether Bush will be flexible enough to modify his stance on some of the issues that have raised so much ire.  Given the way in which he has steamrolled his hotly-contested agenda despite the fact that he was not elected by a majority of the population, it is not as if Bush II has indicated public sentiment factors into his decision making process.

Yet if he continues to chart a course of action that values American (that is, corporate) economic growth above the needs of everyday people, the UN vote will only be the first salvo fired in an increasingly bitter dispute between the U.S. and the world.

Copyright 2001 Anthony Lamar Rucker.  All rights reserved.

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