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FP: Holbrooke's Heroic Efforts at the U.N.

Author: Colum Lynch
December 15, 2010


This Foreign Policy article remembers Richard Holbrooke's achievement during his tenure as President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations, such as his success in evening out membership dues among member nations of the UN, a task at which his two predecessors tried and failed.

Richard C. Holbrooke, had his share of highlights during his 17-month stint as President Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations. He prodded Indonesia into ultimately accepting East Timor's independence, kept Sudan off the Security Council, got HIV/AIDS designated as an international security threat, and used his exceptional persuasive powers to compel the United Nations to issue condoms to its peacekeepers.

His most notable accomplishment, however, was cajoling and bullying diplomats from 188 poorer countries into paying more for running the U.N. so the world's wealthiest superpower could pay less.

Republicans in Congress had been threatening to hold U.S. payments to the U.N., unless the global balance of payments was radically recalculated. Holbrooke's convincing them not to do so might seem to pale in comparison to his struggles to end wars in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, but the achievement was, in fact, no small feat.

It was a vital component of a two-pronged U.S. strategy to repair America's tattered relations with the world, and to bring the U.N.'s most vociferous Republican critics to heel. A measure of the challenge is that his two predecessors, Madeleine K. Albright, and Bill Richardson, tried and failed to accomplish the same task.

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