In an article generally critical of U.S. Representative to the United Nations John Bolton and U.S. Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council Richard “Terry” Miller, Barbara Crossette makes the following comment:
At the United Nations, with 191 nations and foreign policies, compromise is inevitable. The trick is to know when to quit debating and cut a deal.
Take the case of UNESCO, the United Nations’ social and cultural arm. Fed up with its anti-American bias, the United States withdrew from the organization in 1984. After winning some important reforms, the United States returned to unesco in 2003. First lady Laura Bush was even dispatched to Paris to mark the American return to the fold. Yet by the fall of 2005, Bolton’s team was embroiled in a nasty fight over a draft Cultural Diversity Convention. Let’s be clear: The convention was clumsily written and contained provisions that were a transparent attempt to protect the French entertainment industry from competition. The way the United States (often represented by Terry Miller) went about opposing it, however, was disastrous. Almost all U.S. amendments were voted down unanimously; in retaliation, Bolton’s team voted against the agency’s budget. “Japan was particularly troubled and outspoken in opposition,” reports former U.S. diplomat Ray Wanner. “It is difficult to understand how this vote served the national interest.”
Bolton almost always has a solid rationale for the arguments he makes. But having U.S. representatives bravely charging up well-defended diplomatic hills only to be mowed down is not good strategy, particularly when it irritates critical allies. Your office needs to do a better job of making him choose his battles.
Barbara Crossette was United Nations bureau chief for the New York Times from 1994 to 2001. She is now a consulting editor at the United Nations Association of the United States.