Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Bush Gives Key Arms Control Post To Anti-UN Extremist

by Jim Lobe

Among most controversial of all the foreign-policy appointments
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Five days after the United States lost its seats on two key UN panels, the U.S. Senate has confirmed an arch-unilateralist for a top State Department post.

By a 57-43 vote, with all but seven Democrats voting against, the Senate approved John Bolton as the next Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security after a passionate appeal by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms. The post ranks among the top half dozen at the State Department.

Of all the foreign-policy appointments made by President George W. Bush to date, Bolton's has been one of the most controversial because of his long record of opposition to major arms-control agreements, the United Nations, and multilateralism in general.

In that respect, his confirmation will likely feed the increasingly accepted notion that the new Bush administration will pursue a more unilateralist policy than that which prevailed under President Bill Clinton or even under Bush's father.

Many analysts here believe that last week's unprecedented vote by members of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to deny Washington seats on the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Narcotics Control Board represented, at least in part, a backlash against Bush's unilateralism, particularly from European allies irked by Washington's positions on global warming, arms control, and human rights.

The two votes, which were conducted by secret ballot, stunned officials here. "There may be issues related to how we handled ourselves," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "There's something happening out there."

Bolton, an attorney, served as assistant secretary of state for international organizations under former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Friends and enemies alike regard him as a quintessential unilateralist.

A favorite with Republican party's extreme right wing
Long a favorite of the far right, which had lobbied unsuccessfully for Bolton to be named to the State Department's number two position, Bolton served most recently as Vice President of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a think tank that is home to Reagan's former UN ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and several other senior Reagan administration officials.

"The world is going to see -- if the Senate confirms this nomination -- Mr. Bolton's appointment as another sign of the president's hard line on positions and a unilateralist policy," warned one of Bolton's foes, Sen. Byron Dorgan, on the eve of today's confirmation vote. "Abandon ABM (the anti-ballistic missile treaty); build a destabilizing national missile defence system; abandon the Kyoto treaty; suspend missile talks with North Korea; oppose the international criminal court; and the international land-mind convention."

Indeed, Bolton has a long history of positions that identify him as belonging to the Republican party's extreme right wing, which sees the United Nations and virtually all multilateral agencies as a permanent threat to U.S. sovereignty and well-being.

At a public forum in 1994, for example, Bolton went so far as to assert that "there is no such thing as the United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States when it suits our interest and we can get others to go along."

"If the UN secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference," he said.

"In today's world," complained Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone during the debate on Bolton's confirmation, "these remarks are inevitably seen by the rest of the world as arrogant, confrontational and condescending. They make it more difficult for the U.S. to provide world leadership," he said.

As recently as 1998, when Washington was on the verge of losing its vote in the UN Generally Assembly for failure to pay some $1 billion in arrears, Bolton suggested that such a result might be in the U.S. interest.

"Once the vote is lost, and the adverse consequences predicted by the UN supporters begin to occur, this will simply provide further evidence to many why nothing more should be paid to the UN system," he said.

On arms control agreements, Bolton has been similarly disposed. He greeted the Senate's rejection in 1999 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a cornerstone of global nuclear disarmament efforts, as "an unmistakable signal that America rejects the illusionary protections of unenforceable treaties."

He described treaty supporters as "misguided individuals following a timid and neo-pacifist line of thought."

"I realize some hold that view," said Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on Helms' committee. "They're not people that I think should be in charge of promoting arms control and disarmament and nonproliferation matters."

Bolton has similarly opposed the international ban on anti-personnel landmines and the creation of an international criminal court (ICC), a permanent tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity and terrorism, as a threat to U.S. sovereignty. He also has opposed U.S. participation in peacekeeping forces, especially those sponsored by the United Nations.

Most recently, Bolton has dabbled in policy on Asia, which many in the Bush administration consider to be the most likely area of military conflict involving the United States in the medium to long term.

He strongly opposed the 1994 Framework agreement between Washington and North Korea under which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program. He also and argued against any new deal to freeze its missile development or halt its missile exports to third countries in exchange for U.S. aid and normalization of relations.

Rather, he argued in 1999, "a sounder U.S. policy would start by making it clear to the North that we are indifferent to whether we ever have 'normal' diplomatic relations with it, and that achieving that goal is entirely in their interests, not ours."

In that same year, he called for Washington to be prepared to recognize an independent Taiwan which he said would constitute "just the kind of demonstration of U.S. leadership that the region needs and that many of its people hope for."

He called threats by China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, that it would take military action against the island if it declared independence "a fantasy."

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor May 14, 2001 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.