POLICING THE WORLD?
February 26, 1998
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott recently accused the Clinton administration of "sub-contracting" American foreign policy decisions to the United Nations. It was the latest example of an on-going debate over what role the U.N. should have in international relations. Following a background report, Jim Lehrer examines this debate with the NewsHour's regular panel of historians and Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.N. ambassador for the Reagan administration.
JIM LEHRER: Now, some overview thoughts about the United Nations from NewsHour regulars Presidential Historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Michael Beschloss, and Journalist and Author Haynes Johnson, joined tonight by Jeane Kirkpatrick, ambassador to the U.N. in the first Reagan term, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
February 25, 1998
Could the U.N.-brokered deal hamper weapons inspections in Iraq?
February 24, 1998
James Baker and William Perry discuss the deal's impact on U.S. foreign policy.
February 24, 1998
U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson discusses the U.N. brokered deal with Iraq.
February 23, 1998
Secretary Albright discusses the deal.
February 23, 1998
Four policy experts discuss the latest deal with Iraq.
February 23, 1998
A report from Amman on the impact of the deal on Jordan.
February 20, 1998
A panel of experts examine the crisis from the Iraqi perspective.
February 19, 1998
An exploration of public support for the use of force in Iraq as compared to past conflicts.
February 18, 1998
Four diplomatic veterans discuss the possibility of an attack on Iraq.
February 17, 1998
Analysis of the U.S. military arsenal in the Middle East.
February 16, 1998
How significant a threat does Saddam Hussein's country really pose?
February 11, 1998
Ambassador Richardson discusses the ongoing crisis with Iraq.
February 10, 1998
Members of Congress discuss the U.S. government's support of military action against Iraq.
February 9, 1998
Regional commentators give local perspectives on the growing crisis with Iraq.
February 4, 1998
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tries to marshal support for a possible attack on Iraq.
January 13, 1998
Amb. Butler discusses the latest disagreement with Iraq.
December 18, 1997
Amb. Butler discusses Iraq's continued defiance of UN inspections.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the United Nations.
The Iraq deal: Living up to the U.N.'s mission?
Ambassador Kirkpatrick, is the Kofi Annan deal with Iraq in keeping with what the U.N. was set up to do?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Well, certainly consistent with it. There was no effort made at all at the time of the founding of the U.N. to spell out every possible function that every person associated with the U.N. might undertake at some future time. But the central purpose of the charter, after all, the central purpose of the U.N., which the charter spells out, is to promote peace and to avoid war, and deliver mankind from the scourge of war.
JIM LEHRER: Keep people from killing one another?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Keep people from killing one another, right. And this is--and there is nothing more consistent with that purpose than efforts to mediate serious conflicts between nations and potential conflicts between nations.
JIM LEHRER: Do you read history the same way, Doris?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Oh, yes, indeed, I think back to 1945 in San Francisco when Harry Truman really talked about the founding of the U.N., and he said, somehow if we deny the U.N. its chance to be a collective security agent, to resist aggressors, which mean all the nations coming together to resist aggression, we will betray those people who died in World War II, in that terrible war. And sitting at his right-hand side was Arthur Vandenberg, the most powerful Republican congressional leader. At that time it really was a commitment of a whole nation, not simply a partisan commitment, but then what you saw happen for 45 years after that was the Cold War prevented the U.N.'s vision from being realized because the Security Council veto that Russia could exercise prevented that kind of collective action, and now this whole Iraqi situation from the U.N. requiring the withdrawal in 1990 from Kuwait, then legitimizing the force, sending in the inspection team and now restoring the inspection team, seems to me exactly what it should be. The sad part is it seems that just at that moment, when the U.N. is so poised for real threats in the future and doing really good things, you've got Republican conservatives, who are pouring their own energy into tearing it down, rather than hoping to build it up.
JIM LEHRER: That's another whole issue. What do you think about that, what she just said, Ambassador Kirkpatrick?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Which part of what she said?
JIM LEHRER: The Republicans tearing down the U.N.--
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Well, no, I don't think the Republicans are tearing down the U.N.. And let me just say that I don't think that having reservations about the agreement, which some distinguished Republicans have expressed--the majority leader, for example, today--
JIM LEHRER: Right.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: --I don't think it implies tearing down the U.N.. It just means disagreeing with the agreement.
JIM LEHRER: I just wanted to get equal times, so we can go back to the point here--
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Thanks very much.
National sovereignty versus united action.
JIM LEHRER: --which is the history. Michael, the Kofi Annan thing, the Kofi Annan deal, as a matter of history, as Doris just said, because of the Cold War, there have not been many Kofi Annan-type accomplishments, have there?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: No. That's absolutely right. As Doris said, during the Cold War, the U.N. was really prevented from doing the kind of things that Franklin Roosevelt very much hoped and also Woodrow Wilson. Both Wilson, with the League of Nations, and FDR later on had much greater ambitions for an international organization than really the U.N. has proven to carry out. Wilson's idea after World War I was that this was something that would really prevent wars in a serious way so that even one step before a Kofi Annan had to go to Iraq to make a deal like this that people would be so afraid of the amassed power of the nations of the world operating under international law that you wouldn't have a Saddam Hussein being willing to challenge this huge edifice. Obviously, that never came about. And also, Roosevelt tended to be a little bit sort of dreamlike and I think over-optimistic. One of his own dreams for himself, oddly enough, was that he might actually resign the presidency during his fourth term, which he occasionally talked about, and put an airport near his house in Hyde Park up on the Hudson and fly around the world, becoming sort of a Kofi Annan, himself, resolving various disputes, so that the U.S. and the rest of the world could live in a much more peaceful time after World War II.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes, much has been said that--even at the very beginning and since then, that in order for the United Nations to work, countries had to be willing to give up some of their own sovereignty, their own power. That's still part of the deal, isn't it?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Sure it is, and I think Amb. Kirkpatrick said what we've all said here so far, is that this was a hope, a dream, but to do it, you had to work in concert; there had to be a willingness to give up nationalism and work together to have a peaceful world. That was the idealism of Woodrow Wilson. I didn't know about the Roosevelt flying around the world part. That's new history tonight, a little lesson you've just given me here.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: I'd like to mention that Harry Truman had very high expectations about the U.N. as well.
JIM LEHRER: Did he?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Absolutely, which he expressed and wrote in his journal.
JIM LEHRER: How did he see it, same way?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Well, he actually said at one point that his fourth--remember when he talked about point four--you remember his famous point four--his point three, as I recall, was that the United Nations should henceforth having been founded be the foundation stone of American foreign policy.
JIM LEHRER: And then, of course, the Korean War was basically a U.N. action.
HAYNES JOHNSON: That's right. It was a police action in which you had, again, the hope that there would be nations of the world--absent the Soviet Union, obviously, and China--the big five were part of the original Security Council--were not part of that--but, nonetheless, nations of the world coming together to stop a war--stop it exactly where it started, on the 38th Parallel. It didn't bleed into World War III.
JIM LEHRER: Well, there was never a declaration of war. The United States against Korea or China--
HAYNES JOHNSON: It's a police action, as you remember, and it's still a matter of debate today because we didn't have an actual war resolution passed by the Congress of the United States or the United Nations.
JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Kirkpatrick, what do you say to this question about how much United States specifically has to give up in order for the United Nations to work, because that's been suggested even in the Kofi Annan deal?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Yes. I don't agree with it. I don't read the U.N. charter that way, and I don't really see the functions of the U.N. charter that way. I think--and the U.N. that way--I think one of the important aspects of the U.N. and of the charter is that it was planned and constructed by some hard-headed realists, actually, clear-eyed realists, like Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, as well as Franklin Roosevelt. And it was designed to enable nations to cooperate and work together to avoid war and to preserve peace, without, in fact, forgoing any of the sort of essential elements of national sovereignty. And I believe that's the case, but that's the importance of the veto, of course, which--
JIM LEHRER: To preserve the end of--at least there's five permanent--refresh everybody--the U.N. Security Council has five permanent members, and the United States is one of them, and they can veto anything.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: And it takes account of sort of the reality of power and of the power of most powerful nations, and the veto takes account of that, and it was planned to function that way. And I think that ensures that every nation can protect its essential interests, and I think that's very important about the U.N. by the way. I wouldn't support the U.N. if I didn't think--if I didn't read the charter that way and believe that to be the case.
JIM LEHRER: You're nodding, Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, I think, on the other hand, however, in some ways we could argue that the United Nations, as envisioned in part by the framers, is only eight years old in the sense that instead of being 53 years old that because the Cold War took such a strong position in the East-West conflict and that veto became absolutely stultifying to any kind of collective action, we lost lots of opportunities during that time for the kind of collective action that the dreamer's part of the U.N., as opposed to the realistic part, were hoping would happen. And all I meant earlier when I talked about the Republicans was that in 1995 the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, the Cold War has ended, there's real hope for it, and they had this big celebration in San Francisco, not one elected Republican officials was there to celebrate. That was part of that time when we were arguing about the U.N. and the sovereignty and people were taking after Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and it just seems to me that both sides of the political aisle now have to try and make the U.N. the organization that we want it to be for the world. It's our interest that it be done so. I didn't mean on this particular agreement that they're in that situation, but just looking back to that past.
U.N. Secretary General: The world's number one diplomat.
JIM LEHRER: Michael, the Kofi Annan--Secretary-General--he's been described in the last few days as the world's number one diplomat, this, as an individual, Kofi Annan, and is that also--you could not have described the Secretary-General of the U.N. that way before the last eight years--do you agree with that in terms of--
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: It really couldn't have been during the Cold War, just as Doris said, because he would have been hamstrung by that Soviet veto and by the fact that the great powers really had a very limited idea of what the U.N. should do, as long as the world was divided between East and West. But if you think about FDR perhaps thinking of himself as a Secretary-General flying around the world, doing the sort of thing, it's not a bad precedent.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. I asked Haynes--I asked Secretary Albright on this program the other night, on Monday night, did you consider going with Kofi Annan? Did you consider going on your own, in fact, to negotiate the deal? She said, no, they had full confidence in all of that. That is a new wrinkle.
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes, it is. And I think that's the hopeful part of this. We don't know how it's going to come how. The idea that--it seems to me, it is where the U.N. was supposed to achieve a--the leader of the U.N.--and the treaties and so forth--that's still a political problem internally for the United States.
The limitations of the U.N.
JIM LEHRER: But also, Ambassador Kirkpatrick, the United Nations has no power in and of itself.
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: That's what I was about to say.
JIM LEHRER: Is that right?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: I think what's been said is true but it gives inadequate credit to Kofi Annan, this number one diplomat, and his skill, in carefully consulting with particularly the permanent five, and securing their--not only their acquiescence but their confidence in his role, and it is by virtue of that--that consensus--that consultation and consensus with the permanent five, especially, and the rest of the Security Council, that Kofi Annan was able to undertake this mission. And with that, he would not have been able to, and he is skillful, and he does inspire confidence, and he is able to build consensus because he inspires confidence. And without that confidence and acquiescence of the permanent five, including the United States, he couldn't, in fact, negotiate anything in which we were represented.
JIM LEHRER: So it didn't necessarily go with the job; it went with the person who has the job right now, you're saying?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: That's right.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: But the problem is always going to be that the confidence of the United States and the American people in allowing a secretary-general or the U.N. itself to do very much I think is going to be limited forever. It's wound in our genetic code, goes back to the 18th century, no entangling alliances--the reason why Woodrow Wilson could not bring the United States into the League of Nations was that age-old worry that we would be involved in Europe's feuds, the vengeful Treaty of Versailles, that we would be giving up the sovereignty of this wonderful, exceptional nation that should be liberated from these disputes that lasted for centuries. And there's a very short leap from the Republicans who opposed the League in 1920 to Pat Buchanan in 1998, who makes many of the same arguments with great force.
JIM LEHRER: The debate's not over, Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No, that's right, and I think that's why it's important, when something positive like this happens, if, indeed, it does work out, as we all hope, that people are willing to speak out on behalf of the positive role of the U.N.. One of the problems in the last decade is you had this kind of talk against the U.N., and no one was speaking on the other side; there's nobody out there that's saying, I love the U.N., so I'm willing to say now as a wooly-headed old liberal, I like the U.N., I think it's a good thing.
Jeane Kirkpatrick: "We're not going to stop being Americans and the French aren't--God knows--the French aren't going to stop being French."
JIM LEHRER: As a wooly-headed conservative, what are you willing to say, Ambassador Kirkpatrick?
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: I'm willing to say that I think the secretary-general did a very good job, and that it was useful to have--is useful to have the possibility of such a secretary-general and undertaking such a function. I think, frankly, he's the first secretary-general I've seen in a while whom I think is probably up to it.
JIM LEHRER: Was up to it. Yes. But you think it would be a mistake for the United States to say, okay, that's how we're going to solve all our diplomatic and international problems from now till the end of time is we're going to get the secretary-general to do it--
JEANE KIRKPATRICK: We're probably not going to solve any of our diplomatic and international problems that way. We're going to reach our own views about those problems, and we're going to consult with our allies and with each other, and you know, and with the secretary-general, if he wants to undertake a mission and mediate. But we're not going to stop being Americans and the French aren't--God knows--the French aren't going to stop being French, but--
JIM LEHRER: Yes, Haynes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: But, you know there's one more thing we haven't even talked about. It was the willingness to use force on the part of the United States to back up that mission that the two worked together. You can't just send off the greatest peacemaker in the world perhaps, absent maybe FDR, it would have been Jesus, but you have to be able--in today's world, realism, you talk about practicality, the possibility of backing it up with force.
JIM LEHRER: And Kofi Annan said that himself more than once--
HAYNES JOHNSON: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: --when he got back and before he left. Okay. Well, thank you all very much. Ambassador Kirkpatrick, thank you for joining our regular three.