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The United Nations: What's in It for the United States?

Speakers: Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Ambassador, and Madeleine K. Albright, Ambassador
Moderator: Leslie H. Gelb, president, Council on Foreign Relations
September 16, 1996
Council on Foreign Relations


Presider: Dr. LESLIE GELB: (President, Council on Foreign Relations): Pundits and pollsters tell us that the American people aren’t paying much attention to foreign policy, and we can all understand that. But I think you will agree with me that if Americans would hear our guests tonight, they’d pull out their earplugs because our guests are two masters of statecraft and two possible Secretaries of State: Jeane Kirkpatrick and Madeleine Albright.

If you two would step to the podiums.

Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, here in the David Rockefeller Room, our members. And welcome to our guests, the cable audience of C-SPAN. My name is Leslie Gelb:. I’m president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Our organization is dedicated to fair, informed, non-partisan discussion on the most important international issues.

Tonight is a special night for the Council on Foreign Relations. Tonight is the first in a series of good old-fashioned debates made possible by the generosity of Home Box Office. We thank HBO and Jeffrey Bewkes, its chairman and CEO, for their commitment to public education in a non-partisan way.

The question on the debating table this evening is this: the United Nations, what’s in it for the United States? How does the United Nations serve American interests? Does it serve in American interests? To answer this critical question we are joined by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and Ambassador Madeleine Albright, two, as I said, masters of statecraft.

Jeane was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, and Madeleine in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Thereafter their destinies converged. Both received PhDs from Columbia. Both have served on the faculty of Georgetown University—and Jeane still does. And both began life as—at least political life here in the United States as Democrats, but Jeane gradually materialized into a Republican. President Reagan had the good sense to appoint Jeane Kirkpatrick as permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations in 1981. Twelve years later Madeleine Albright was appointed to that same exalted post by President Clinton, where she still serves.

The honors received by both our speakers tonight are legion. But I would be remiss and our board chairman, Pete Peterson, would examine my contract if I failed to mention Jeane’s most signal service to the nation, namely her tenure as vice-chair of this council’s board of directors.

The drill for their debate will be as follows: Each will make 10-minute presentations, then we’ll follow with a discussion moderated and mellowed by myself—a brief one—and then we will open the floor to questions and answers. That will go on, the questions and answers, until 6:35, and at that point we will ask our speakers to make closing statements. So I ask all of you here, please, to remain in your seats until the conclusion of our program at 6:45.

Ambassador Albright, close adviser to President Clinton, distinguished diplomat and, many would say, the strongest and clearest voice of the administration on foreign policy, would you please begin?

Ambassador MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Les. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here this afternoon. And I would like to thank Pete Peterson and David Rockefeller and Jeff Bewkes also of HBO for putting this on. I think it’s a great program. It’s a great opportunity to discuss a timely topic.

Ambassador Kirkpatrick and I do not agree on everything, but we do agree on the importance of strong American leadership at the United Nations. Her vigorous defense of US interests in the 1980s has made it easier for me in the 1990s. We should all be grateful for her years of public service and for her many contributions as a writer, commentator and, of course, in that most exalted of all positions, professor at Georgetown.

Today my assignment is to discuss the United Nations and why our participation there matters. To put the issue most bluntly, when it comes to the UN, what’s in it for us? The starting point is basic. We are a global power with global interests. What happens around the world matters to us. Our economy depends on trade. Our borders are vulnerable to everything from illegal narcotics to infectious disease. And our security is threatened by the possibility that small conflicts could spread, by the chance that nuclear weapons may fall into the wrong hands and by the deadly and cowardly forces of international terrorism.

As a nation and as individuals we will do better and be safer in an environment where our values are widely shared: markets are open, military clashes are constrained and those who run roughshod over the rights of others are brought to heel. However, we cannot create this kind of environment on our own. Certainly, to safeguard our most vital interests, we need to keep our armed forces strong, and as President Clinton has pledged, we will. We need to conduct vigorous diplomacy in strategic areas of the world, and under the direction of Secretary of State Christopher, we are. But we also need to strengthen institutions such as the UN that enable nations to work together to solve world problems.

Over the past five decades administrations of both parties have found the UN a useful supplement to other foreign-policy tools. But as a recent Council on Foreign Relations’ study indicated, we make the most of the UN when we operate with a clear idea of what the UN can and cannot be expected to do. We know that over the years the UN system has made our world more safe by helping to prevent outbreaks of violence in tinderbox regions, such as Cyprus and the Middle East, and by working to prevent the misuse or theft of nuclear materials.

It has made our world more just by invoking multilateral sanctions against countries that support terrorism, such as Libya and Iraq, by establishing war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the Balkans and by denouncing violations of human rights by dictators in Burma, Nigeria and elsewhere. It has made our world more free by helping nations as diverse as South Africa, El Salvador, Cambodia and Haiti to make the great leap from division or war towards democracy and peace. In this regard, the UN of today is far different from the UN of Ambassador Kirkpatrick’s day when anti-democratic rhetoric often drowned out the voices of freedom.

Finally, the UN has also made our world more humane by caring for refugees, clearing land mines, providing food and medicine for children and preventing the spread of epidemic disease. The UN’s specialized agencies also perform indispensable services. You may think you have never benefited personally from the UN. But if you have ever traveled on an international airline or shipping line—clearly all the people in this room—been grateful for an accurate weather report, placed a phone call overseas or received mail from outside the country, then you have been served directly or indirectly by the UN system.

Taken as a whole, UN contributions are important to us. They are among the building blocks of a safer and more just world. And yet we each pay less than $7 a year for the entire UN system, for everything from blue helmets for peacekeepers to polio vaccines for babies. That’s less than the price of a copy of Foreign Affairs magazine. Sorry, Jim.

Despite all this, we know that some Americans are simply never going to be comfortable with the UN. Either they fear it will evolve into a world government, which is nonsense, or they’re upset by the fact that it’s so full of foreigners, which really can’t be helped. The truth is that the UN is no threat to our sovereignty. It cannot override US law or the Constitution. It has no power to tax us. It has no authority to entangle us in foreign conflicts. And it’s not going to descend upon us in black helicopters in the middle of the night to steal our lawn furniture.

The UN does, however, have both its limits and its flaws. The UN does not, for example, have a good record on the Middle East. Although it’s somewhat more balanced in its approach now than when Ambassador Kirkpatrick was there, it remains more likely to see the Arab side of the story than the Israeli side.

As a result, we believe serious Middle East negotiations must be left to the parties and cannot be brokered through the UN.

The UN can also be indecisive. Earlier this month we didn’t wait for the Security Council to act before launching military strikes against air-defense facilities in southern Iraq. Although our actions were consistent with prior Security Council resolutions, the need for action was too urgent and the American interests at risk too significant for us to delay.

Also, as we saw in the Balkans and Somalia, the UN is not well-suited to the management of robust military operations. In Somalia, the military, political and humanitarian aspects of the mission never gelled. In the Balkans, the crisis was so severe and so violent that it should have been handled from the beginning primarily by NATO rather than the UN. The UN received much of the blame for the problems that arose in both these missions, some of it deserved, but the greater weakness was a lack of political agreement among the major national powers involved.

The lesson which we have learned is to be more selective in what we ask the UN to do. Today the Security Council—we demand of it good answers to questions about cost, size, risk mandate and exit strategy before we agree on a new operation. As a result, the total number of peacekeepers has declined by almost two-thirds since 1994. The missions that are under way, from Angola to eastern Slavonia, appear on track. The military heavy lifting in Bosnia is being left to NATO. And we developed a model in Haiti which may be applied elsewhere for starting a mission with a coalition force and then handing responsibility, once the situation has stabilized, to the United Nations.

In addition to recognizing the UN’s limits, we’re also pushing very hard and successfully for UN reform. This is essential because during the Cold War years the UN bureaucracy grew to elephantine proportions and now we’re asking that elephant to do gymnastics. Since 1993, with strong support from both parties in Congress, we have gained appointment of a UN inspector general, worked with the Secretariat to establish a new Efficiency Board, approve the first truly no-growth budget in UN history and mandated 10 percent reduction in UN Secretariat staff. We have also made known our desire to elect a reform-oriented successor to the current secretary-general.

The future of our reform agenda depends in part on whether we are able to make progress in paying our own UN bills. Other countries are also behind on their payments, but because we are the largest contributor and the strongest advocate of freedom and reform, our arrearages are the most visible. Currently we are about $900 million behind. We have asked Congress to work with us to make these payments over the next five years, provided that progress towards UN reform is sustained.

Especially now that the Cold War is over, the UN has become a valuable contributor to goals that matter to Americans. In pursuit of these objectives, it gives us military and diplomatic options we would not otherwise have, and it helps us to influence events without assuming the full burden of costs and risks. That is why former President Reagan urged us to rely more on multilateral institutions, and it is why former President Bush said recently that we should pay our debts to the UN.

Although this is billed as a debate, I hope that Ambassador Kirkpatrick would agree that the UN is important, that our leadership there counts and that we should view the UN not as an end in itself, but as one of the means, among many, for advancing our interests and promoting our values around the world.

Thank you very much.

Dr. GELB::: Thank you very much, Madeleine.

Ambassador Kirkpatrick, distinguished scholar and diplomat, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and adviser to all wise Republicans, it’s your turn.

Ambassador JEANE KIRKPATRICK: Thank you, Les. I’m very pleased to be here today at the council, where I have spent a good deal of time and to which I have returned recently. But it’s a pleasure to be back. It’s a pleasure to see my Georgetown University colleague Madeleine Albright, who is—I think still a professor at Georgetown—I believe. Les, you said...

Amb. ALBRIGHT: Yes. Once a professor, always a professor.

Dr. GELB::: Yes. True.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: ...I was now, but she wasn’t. I think she is, too. I think we are both still professors at Georgetown, which is important. It’s given me a very special interest in Ambassador Albright’s tenure—her appointment and her tenure, and I have watched with great interest her performance as the US permanent representative of the United Nations.

I have told many people who ask me `How’s she doing?’—I tell them I think she’s really doing very well, and I think she’s doing just about as good a job of representing the policies of the Clinton administration—United States government under the Clinton administration as anybody could. I don’t always agree with the policies, but I always find, really, that Madeleine Albright is doing a very good job in presenting those policies and promoting them and defending them, and that, of course, is what a UN ambassador is supposed to do at the United Nations. And I think we just heard Ambassador Albright do just that here: present the policies and defend them and promote them and do it very skillfully and adroitly.

I would like to say that I’d like to begin—I’d like to make a little different point at the beginning that I feel hasn’t—it’s been made, but it hasn’t been made quite as clearly as I would like it to be made. I would like to emphasize that the history of this century makes clear, in my judgment—makes wholly clear the desire of a large, definitive majority of Americans to participate in constructive international affairs, to participate constructively in constructive institutions that seek to promote freedom and democracy and prosperity, trade and travel and the good life in the world. And that—I think, again and again Americans—a majority of Americans, administration after administration, have demonstrated that they have a rather broader view than your question, Les: What’s in it for us?

I think that in World War I and in World War II, you know, and again in Desert Storm, we have seen Americans respond to just pressing urgent, global problems of—you know, of war and oppression and genocide. And we have seen them respond effectively and successfully and in situations where there was no immediate, tangible American interest. I think American—I just want to make it clear that I think Americans have a habit in this century—demonstrated habit, proven habit—of assuming a longer view and a broader view and a more generous view of our appropriate role in the world than a sort of narrow question of national interest. I feel very proud of this and I think most Americans are proud of it. I think that we’re concerned about our national security, to be sure, but we are also concerned about many other people’s security and peace and prosperity and freedom.

It’s true that it was different to be at the UN in the ’80s, particularly in the early ’80s, which you can either call the heights or the depths of the Cold War. I think of it as the depths of the Cold War. That’s when the United Nations was really nearly frozen by the Cold War; that’s—almost all processes in almost all agencies of the United Nations. I say almost, not all, were frozen into a reflexive block responses. The fact is that the Soviet Union had done an extremely skillful job of organizing the United Nations—organizing politically. And the United Nations was a kind of mirror of the world, you might say, but reflected the world in the way that the mirrors in a crazy house reflect the world, you know? Something out there is like something like that, but it’s distorted and it’s blurred and it’s very hard to see anything very clearly.

The only instance that I’m able to remember when the countries of the—including the United States and the Soviet Union—really broke out of this block response and this ice age, whichever you want—we were frozen into sort of mutually hostile postures—was to finally respond to the devastation and famine in Ethiopia. And we were—I’m sure people who were at the UN in those years will remember that occasion when that famine, having been permitted to develop to such an extent—the human devastation was almost unbearable to everyone—the countries of the UN were—countries of the world, including the vast superpowers, were able to mobilize themselves and many others in a short time, in fact, and gather resources and provide some help with all the agencies of the UN.

I have never seen the agencies of the UN and the major countries in the world respond quite as effectively, as swiftly—once they finally got going. I grant you, we all waited much too long to get that response moving, but it did finally happen. Most of the time, however, there was very little constructive problem-solving in the central political core of the United Nations. There were some constructive contributions in some of the independent agencies.

I developed a great fondness, warmth, admiration personally for the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, in those years because I had the opportunity to visit refugee camps in Central America and in Afghanistan and in—in the Middle East—various points of the Middle East and Africa. And I saw again and again refugees that in those years totaled about 14 million being provided sustenance, life, if you will, shelter and food and medicine for themselves and their families and even in some cases education—for the boys, that is, in Afghanistan, for example, not the girls—I learned that. But good things were happening. Good things were happening.

And the UNHCR remained, for me, a kind of model UN agency, a model of an agency capable of operating effectively and reasonably economically and coordinating its own work with that of all the other UN agencies which were relevant to its work, such as UNICEF, and doing a very good That, to me, is what the UN can do, should do. Certainly wasn’t the discussions of the Middle East where—the UN discussions of the Middle East were a kind of nightmare, really. They—and not only was the outcome frozen, but the long road to the outcome was filled with a lot of very harsh invective and bitterness and, I think, unreasoning kind of fanatical hatred of the state of Israel, in fact. But that, too, has to some extent passed, we hear Ambassador Albright tell us, and we know that that’s the case.

We also know that the UN, in those years, was often extremely, extremely badly managed and very badly organized, very badly run, very ineffective. I came to feel in those years that while the American people were ready to support the UN in any constructive task, that it was conditional, as it were, on the United Nations devoting itself to constructive tasks. And I came, after much discussion with many people, to believe that the—just as the United Nations had as a kind of responsib—the United States has a kind of responsibility of just citizenship in the world, membership and active membership and participation in the United Nations, that we also had a kind of responsibility to ensure that American tax dollars and people’s goodwill and good faith were not simply squandered and abused in processes that were wasteful and hopelessly incompetent and unsuccessful.

And I—while I have, myself—conceived myself as a definite supporter of the United Nations and an active US membership in the United Nations, I also participated in the US withdrawal from UNESCO after we had very carefully reviewed the record, which was abominable, and the—wasteful beyond belief, extravagant beyond belief, perverse beyond belief because the very mission of the United Nation—of the—UNESCO was being turned inside-out when, you know, it was adopting resolutions which were obstacles to freedom of expression. Quite specifically there was a new world information order that was designed to turn over the control of information to states instead of the reverse. I concluded that the responsible thing to do in that situation was to withdraw. And after—only after—and I had this understanding with the president—only after we had carefully reviewed the record, after we had done our very best over two years to secure some improvement and abandoned all hope, as it were, of improvement, at that time the United States withdrew. And Britain withdrew and Singapore withdrew not long thereafter.

I mention that today because I want to say that to me, that is the expression of my own view that alongside responsible participation and support for UN activities, it should also be made clear that that support and participation is not unconditional; that there are extremes of perversion of mission, for example, that, you know, are just finally not consistent with responsibility to American taxpayers and the American people. But there aren’t many examples of that, and so on having mentioned that, I’ve now got that on the table and I don’t need to dwell on it further. I don’t think there are any cases today quite as bad as UNESCO was then.

I think that on the question of arrearage—everybody talks about arrearages. I was not going to talk much about money, and I’m not going to talk much about money, but I have to say a word. You know, I have a little special perspective on arrearages because we had some special arrearages while I was at the UN. I had at least three or four occasions when the Congress of the United States—it was a Democratic Congress, I might say, and the president, a Republican president, passed laws calling for the withholding of certain US contributions to the United Nations.

Those contributions to the United Nations were in what both the Congress and the president interpreted—one case—as support for terrorism and committed us to support for terrorism. And by huge majorities in Congress and enthusiastic endorsement of the president, they laid on the record an instruction, you know? `US will contribute no funds.’ The other such instance was the construction in Ethiopia at the time of that famine, the depths of that famine, the construction of a new conference center for $63 million. This outraged the Congress—the Democratic Congress and the Republican president so much that they once again joined in forbidding, if you will—decreeing, deciding that the United States would make no contribution to those activities.

I have tried to determine definitively whether those arrearages are today counted in the arrearages attributed to the United States of—you know, are we now expected to pay those bills? I’m sure that it’d still be illegal for you to do, Madeleine, and so I’d check it out if I were you before I delivered the check.

I have a serious point, and the serious point is that when you have bad times and bad, irresponsible actions, withholding some money can be a reasonable act, but I think it’s not a desirable act. I want to be very clear about this. Not only do I support US membership and active, responsible, constructive membership in the United Nations, but I also support paying our bills. I think our bills are too high. I want to say that. I believe that the United States’ assessments are too high. They are too much higher than other countries’. I particularly—I think that’s true of our general dues and I think it’s true especially of our peacekeeping assessments. And I have been gratified to see that the Clinton administration and Ambassador Albright have declined to pay that full amount, 31.7 percent, which was initially assessed the United States for peacekeeping.

I think that the process of assessment and of reconsideration of assessment is a very bad one, and it leaves a good many people with a sense that the United States is not very fairly treated. It doesn’t leave me with that sense because I know how the decisions are made, though I think the outcome is about the same as if I thought that. But I believe that this is a problem, and I know that the Clinton administration and Ambassador Albright are working on this problem.

When—and I’m mentioning it now because people always talk about the United States’ arrearages and the fact that we have the largest arrearages; we’re further in debt than any member. We are, of course, I always say, also the largest contributor of any member and we always have been. And we continue today to contribute more money in what are called voluntary and incremental contributions than in assessed contributions. As long as that is the case, that’s a matter that’s settled entirely by Americans among Americans. We can’t complain too much about the assessment as long as we’re contributing more money on top of it than we are assessed.

But we can complain. We can complain somewhat. That’s—when we consider, you know, is it a—I don’t think we should ask about the United Nations, `Is it a good buy?’ I don’t think any government is a very good buy, as a matter of—and, you know, any government institution—because we don’t know what we could buy some other government for. How can we tell? The—we know that—I mean, this is the only global institution there is and we need to be members of it. That’s what we know about it, just like we—you know, this is the only—American government is the only government we have and—and we will obey its laws.

I think that the United Nations can do some things. I think the biggest challenge—I agree here entirely with Ambassador Albright. The biggest challenge for the United States, United Nations and really everybody who’s interested in effective action in the world is to identify what the UN is good for, what it can do and what it can’t do. I think it is very good at humanitarian activities in which there is a broad consensus. The broader the consensus in the world about the activity, the more effective the United Nations is in doing it.

I believe the United Nations is particularly effective in activities that are particularly helpful to people. There’s a lot of consensus on basic moral, social support for people in the world. I don’t think the United Nations is very good at all at chapter seven operations—fighting wars, if you will. You called it something else; I’ve forgotten what you called it, but it means fighting wars. If the authorization is chapter seven and you send in military forces which are armed carefully, as we have well armed, though not well enough armed, as we have in Somalia and in Bosnia and some other places—Haiti—we had some people there—that’s a chapter seven operation. I don’t think the United Nations is good at that; I think that the United States is good at it. I think that a lot of our allies—our NATO allies are good at it.

I think that the United Nations’ chapter seven operation was a total failure in Somalia, as compared to the humanitarian effort which preceded it. It’s not because George Bush inaugurated it that I mention it, but George Bush was still president and undertook the humanitarian effort—UNITAF, it came to be called, and UNISOM I. And then it was very successful, and it did save many tens of thousands of Somalis from starvation. And the armed effort that came after it, when we were going to seek political reconciliation and build a government and nation building, failed. And I believe the United Nations’ effort in Bosnia is not just a failure but a shameful failure. And I am very gratified that President Clinton, in undertaking to deploy US forces there, ended the UN operation and organized a NATO-led effort.

So I think that those are the two biggest things we can say about what the UN is good at and what it is not good at, and I think we should all bear that in mind. I believe it is not fair to young Americans who volunteer for our armed services to endanger them in badly organized, incompetent military operations as well. And I think, though, that the president and his ambassador to the United Nations and other key members of the Clinton administration have understood this, though they’re a little reluctant to put it in as sweeping a fashion as I just did.

Thank you, Les. And thank you, Madeleine.

Dr. GELB::: Thank you, Jeane.

I would ask our two speakers to stay with me for a few moments while I ask them some questions, and then I’ll open the floor to you all.

I think one would get the impression, listening to both your presentations, that for both of you, your enthusiasm for the United Nations is under control. Madeleine, the basic areas where you singled out the United Nations for praise were providing support for weather and telephones and the like. I didn’t hear much more. You did say that you thought it was an important organization. How is it important in ways going beyond helping with technical and other services, relief services and the like?


Dr. GELB::: Why is it important?

Amb. ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say I made that point because I thought that the average American often sees the UN only in terms of huge peacekeeping operations and not in ways that serve the average American. I think the issue here—though you’ve stated that Jeane and I have kind of similar ambivalent feelings, I would dispute that. I think I’m probably been having a lot more fun than she had because the UN is vibrant and alive and because we aren’t paralyzed by the Cold War. And it’s possible to do great politics there, something that I enjoy and I think represents American interests well.

What the UN does and I think is able to do now so much more than when Jeane was stuck in the Cold War is that it allows for a legitimate debate on security issues. Security issues are not now divided between what the Communists think and their allies and what we thought and our allies, but are really discussed on the basis of what creates regional threats, what is it we as an international community feel about outbreaks of regional problems. So I think that that kind of a debate on security issues is something that’s very important in terms of developing a world that we could all function in the 21st century.

I think, also, the UN is a great norm setter in terms of discussions of human rights—again, issues that were not able to be discussed in the ’80s. The conferences that everybody maligns so much and which we have actually now placed a moratorium on have served a very important purpose in setting overall norms. Women’s rights—I think the issue there in Beijing, when Mrs. Clinton said, `Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,’ is now a norm that countries have to live up to.

I think that a great deal is also done in the way of economic development. Some money is wasted, but as a whole I think that it serves a very important purpose.

So, for me, the UN is very much what Adlai Stevenson said it was, the parliament of, he said, mankind, I think—humankind, and that it is a place where issues of great import can be discussed and where it is possible for countries such as the US that, in fact, can do most things alone, but where we are able to get support, in many cases, of issues that are of interest to us where we can share the burden and share the risks. So I see it as an institution that does much more than technical things, but one which, in fact, does allow a vast action and debate on a set of issues that are important to the United States and furthers American interests.

But most important, I think, for us as Americans is that it provides an additional tool for our foreign policy. It is an additional option for us when we see problems in regional areas, where they might not be of vital national interest to us but are of importance to us because regional wars can spread into larger wars. I could speak much longer but I think that that kind of tells...

Dr. GELB::: Of course. I appreciate it. And I ask you both to be guided by me in moving this along because there are a lot of folks who have questions they want to ask you both very much.

One question to you and then I will open the floor, Jeane. You praised the UN in two ways that I caught: one, for famine relief; and secondly, for only being badly managed. Is it really the UN that you’re talking about? What is the UN? The UN is a—isn’t it a place sitting over on the east side of New York on the river that has a little bureaucracy—maybe too big a bureaucracy? But it’s really an organization of member states. And what the member states do or don’t do is at the heart of the matter, isn’t it?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Of course. Of course. I—it—listen. Les, let...

Dr. GELB::: Mainly the United States.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Let me say that no one who had spent four years at the United Nations would have any question about whether the UN is its member states, and the—it is what its member states decide it should be. It is what its—even its corruptions, I may say so, is what its member states acquiesce in. That’s truly, truly the—and that’s very important. But it’s the only place in the world—or its institution is the only place in the world where all the member states, you know, representing all the states in the world meet together and discuss issues.

You know, I think that there are too many Americans and maybe others—intellectuals, diplomats—who dismiss the importance and underestimate the importance of a place in which all the countries in the world can have representatives who discuss all the issues in the world. That’s important. It is one of the important first steps in some kind of process of understanding each other’s problems, some kind of process of building consensus.

I always remember the very distinguished representative of a Central African state who said to me on one occasion when I was sitting with the British ambassador, trying—the three of us had been talking for 10 minutes. And he said, `Only in the United Nations can the representative of a state, of my government—a small state, an unimportant state in the world affairs—get a hearing from two great powers.’

(Side one ends; side two begins)

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Listening is more important than talking in such situations, as I’m sure you understand. But the emerging consensus that can develop in this context is very important. That emerging consensus becomes the basis of problem solving. It becomes, actually, the basis of exploring alternatives and developing responses to measure and—even often urgent problems. And I think it’s the most important single function of the United Nations...

Dr. GELB:: Thank you, Jeane.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: ...just being there.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you, Jeane.

Let me open the floor now. Our usual standards on posing questions: first, wait for me to recognize you, then rise. We have microphones, I think, coming down from the back. You might come forward. I can only see people in the first two rows. Wait for the microphone, identify yourselves—your name, your firm, your organization. State your question briefly and crisply, please. Let me start in the front, where I can see people’s faces. Over on my left—microphone down here, please.

Ms. JOSETTE SHINER: Hello. Josette Shiner with The Washington Times. This year the United Nations will make the crucial selection of a leader for the next five years—head of the United Nations, and the Clinton administration has made it clear that it will block any effort by Boutros-Ghali to seek a second five-year term, and the US Congress has supported this. Could you two both articulate why you feel he would not be the best choice for the next five years? What kind of candidate do we need to lead the UN in the next five years, a bookkeeper or a peacekeeper, for example? And please name your ideal candidates.

Dr. GELB:: There’s an easy question. Let me ask you both to take at least five to sec—10-second crack at it. Leave no names unmentioned. Jeane, would you begin?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: I think that the first requirement of a good secretary-general for the next five years, to lead us into the next century, is that he be really committed to effective administration of the United Nations. I don’t think the secretary-general should be the world’s greatest diplomat. I don’t think the secretary-general should be commander in chief of the world. I don’t think he should be chosen for his military skills. I think the secretary-general should be what the charter says a secretary-general should be: the chief administrator of the United Nations. And I—that’s very important. It’s been denigrated by successive diplomats for much too long, and the UN suffers and the effectiveness of the UN suffers.

And I would just like to say that I believe that the Clinton administration was correct in its evaluation of the desirability of securing for this next five years a new secretary-general, and I’m delighted that they did it.

Dr. GELB:: Let’s see if Madeleine is any more likely to name names.

Amb. ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I agree with everything that Jeane said.

Dr. GELB:: Mm-hmm.

Amb. ALBRIGHT: I do think that as you look at the charter of the UN, Article 97 says that the job—that the secretary-general is to be the chief administrator of the UN. In various times through the UN’s history, when it was blocked and there was no way to bring action to the Security Council or there was no independent source of information, I can see why a more independent role developed for the secretary-general. But there really are these three parts to it: administrator, diplomat, statesman. The truth is that you can find other diplomats and you certainly can find other statesmen, but you can’t find anybody else to run the UN other than the secretary-general. So we think that at this phase of the United Nations, not a bookkeeper but, if it’s not an oxymoron, a visionary about organization who needs to be running the United Nations.


Amb. ALBRIGHT: Today we had an example of what happens if somebody really leans behind reform. After much waiting, finally the Efficiency Board, which was very much prodded by the United States, has come forward with some terrific savings for the UN. And that’s the kind of a thing that a secretary-general needs to begin at the beginning of his or her term, not at the end. So we are looking for a secretary-general who will take the organization into the 21st century. And if I were to name, you know, you, I think you’d lose.

Dr. GELB:: That’s right. I think you’re right. I think you’re right.


Dr. GELB:: Please identify yourself.

Mr. TED SORENSEN: I’m Ted Sorensen. The extent of the debate here tonight so far reminds me of the two national conventions, so I’d like to see if I can create some by asking these two ladies this question. Their remarks tonight make clear the heavy responsibilities that a permanent representative from the United States to the United Nations has. In view of those arduous duties here in New York, is it a good idea to make an exception and have the ambassador to the United Nations given Cabinet rank, confusing the lines of reporting to the secretary of state?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: I’ll answer that. I think the answer is yes. I think it’s a very good idea. I think it’s not an accident, but it’s been done by almost—most presidents through the history of the United Nations. Most presidents of the United States have made the permanent representative members of the Cabinet, not—and of the National Security Council, in fact.

And the reason that, in my judgment, it’s a good idea is that the United Nations provides a different perspective on the world than bilateral diplomacy, which is reported through the State Department, above all, and for—to the secretary of state and reports to the president. And the United Nations is con—is a different—has a very different perspective on a lot of very different interactions. And if you do the kind of listening that I was asserting earlier was so important, and you can take the fruits of that back to your colleagues in the National Security Council, the Cabinet and especially to your president, then I think American foreign policy benefits from that. And I believe that’s the reason when presidents try it they continue it invariably.

Dr. GELB:: Agreeing? You disagree?

Amb. ALBRIGHT: How could I? No. I mean, I happen...

Dr. GELB:: But you would like to elaborate.

Amb. ALBRIGHT: The issue, I think, is exactly the way Jeane states it, in that it is very important for the president and other members of the Cabinet, but more importantly, within the National Security Council, I now serve on the principles committee, which is a permanent assignment, so that I’m not just invited when they think it’s a UN activity—it’s on everything—so that they hear my opinions as the representative to the UN, but also as me. So I find that very valuable.

But what I think is also important is that I think, even though some of my colleagues sometimes say that I’m not here enough, that it is—I bring to them real Washington. They know that when I arrive and I say that I have been in a meeting at the White House on a particular issue, it adds saliency to it. And I think it’s very worthwhile. And if it weren’t for the shuttle, it would be really awful, but the truth is that it works...


Amb. ALBRIGHT: ...and I think that there’s a benefit on both sides from it.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you. Down here in the second row. Microphone, please.

Ms. BETTE BAO LORD: Bette Bao Lord, Freedom House. I see—there’s so much agreement, both in the historical role and in the changes since—at the end of the Cold War. I wonder if I—you will also agree on, perhaps, the growth area in the future for the UN; if you think the UN is now developing in different ways than in the Cold War and after the Cold War. What areas do you think that the UN can do a better job at and should do a better job at and will be expanding on? If I could have one or two instances from each one of you—areas where you think you’ll—it should expand.

Amb. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what has to happen for the UN is that it has to deal with the world in the 21st century and what seem to be the issues that impinge on citizens of the world and nations in the 21st century. And those are very different kinds of threats and problems than we’ve dealt with in this half of this century, and they are specifically suited to a multinational organization because they are transnational problems and they have to do, obviously, with issues of nuclear non-proliferation. The fact we voted for the CTBT treaty is the very best thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I’m very proud of that vote, and it was because of the United Nations that we were able to get what President Clinton had really wanted.

We also—it’s on issues of terrorism, drugs, disease, refugees—those are transnational problems—hunger—and those are the kinds of issues that the UN is best suited to deal with and for the United States, too, because no matter how strong a country we are and how strong our military is and how much national sovereignty we have, those are the kinds of issues that we need international cooperation on.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you, Madeleine. Briefly, Jeane.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Bette, I think that the United Nations will grow in areas such as Madeleine has suggested and others if it does it well. If it can operate as a leaner, effective, imaginative, even-handed organization, I think it’ll grow; and if not, not.

Dr. GELB:: Over here.

Mr. RON SILVER: Hi. Ron Silver. I think we’ve all come to an understanding, somewhat painfully, that growing global interdependence does not necessarily establish greater harmony. The question is this: In the aftermath of the Cold War, in a recent article that Foreign Affairs pointed out, we—well, many people widely believed that the UN would be reborn as an effective mediator and the collective security mechanism that was originally envisaged by the charter, premised on great power cooperation, would finally become a reality. From ’87 to ’91, indeed, that was the case in many instances. The UN helped mediate between Iran and Iraq. They helped resolve some of El Salvador’s chronic civil war, extract the Soviet Union from Afghanistan and establish a broad-based government in Cambodia.

That has not been the case in the last four or five years. There have been obvious patterns of dysfunction; I need only mention Haiti, Somalia, former Yugoslavia. So what I am asking you is that in these instances where the UN has not only been incapable of resolving the conflict but, in some instances, helped expand or aggravate the dispute among the combatants, what has happened in the last four or five years that didn’t seem to be in the first four or five years?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: I’d like...

Dr. GELB:: Madeleine, would you begin?

Amb. ALBRIGHT: Let me take a quick—first of all, I think that, as we’ve all said, the UN cannot be more than the nation states. I think that where there are disagreements among coalition partners, they are only reflected in the UN, and that is what happened in Bosnia. On Somalia, I think, frankly, we all now understand that it took too big a bite, and that the humanitarian, military and political tracks of that mission got out of synch and that it failed in that way. But I would not put Haiti in your category.

I think, in fact, Haiti is an example of where the UN’s creativity and the US attempt to put together the lessons learned out of some previous problems have come up with a hybrid operation where the UN was able to, with—through a resolution, make it possible for the US to be the lead in a coalition of nations that went in at the most difficult part, then was able to hand off to a United Nations normal peacekeeping operation and now is doing another hybrid where we are working our way out of it. So I think that what we have learned, is that we need to take wherever the problems have been and try to evolve into some kind of a workable mission. But I definitely would not put Haiti in the failed category.

Dr. GELB:: Madeleine, let me take Ron Silver’s question and, if I may, rephrase it a little and put it to both of you because I think it goes to the heart of a lot of what American people who follow this worry about. Let’s take Bosnia. If you believe, as I do, that we should have taken the action we took six months ago four years ago, whose fault is it that we did not? Is it the fault of the United Nations or is it the fault of the member states, particularly United States and others, who didn’t want to take action?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Dr. GELB:: Where was the responsibility? Is it in this beast we call the UN or is it in the nation states?

Amb. ALBRIGHT: I think Jeane wanted to...

Dr. GELB:: Go ahead.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: I wanted to say two things. I want to say one thing about the problems that were solved, too, in that ’87 to ’91 period. I want to just say that those were problems—almost without exception, they were problems which had been worked on by the member states and the UN—then the UN secretary-general, but especially the member states, for years before. As the Cold War ended they were a—you know, the United Nations was able to take over those stalemates and move them, but there had been a very great deal of work done already. They were ready to be solved, in a—sort of in a—literal sense, in a way that the new problems, which have developed since 1991, were not ready to be solved.

Dr. GELB:: But is the responsibility of this thing we keep referring to as the United Nations...


Dr. GELB:: if it were some kind of independent entity?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: ...Les, I want to say something about that. I think that there are two cases where, in my earnest judgment, the United Nations has made things worse. I think that was true in Somalia. I think there was a—and in—even more clearly true in Bosnia. I think that there were strange, unprecedented, idiosyncratic definitions of, conceptions of peacekeeping and rules of engagement that were invoked and imposed, especially by the secretary-general, quite frankly, and insisted upon and strange patterns of recruitment and deployment in Bosnia and in Somalia with, you know, troops from 37 nations or 34...

Dr. GELB:: So it wasn’t just the failure of national policy?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: It wasn’t just the failure of national policy. There were some independent errors from the United Nations, from Secretariat and secretary-general.

Dr. GELB:: Would you say the same was true in Bosnia?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Yes, absolutely. That’s what I said about Bosnia. This is...

Dr. GELB:: Madeleine, do you agree...

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: That’s where the rules of engagement were the worst.

Dr. GELB:: Do you agree with that?

Amb. ALBRIGHT: I think it’s more complicated than that. I think that in both operations there were problems that were UN-created and nation-state-created. In Bosnia, I think we certainly agree, all of us and—up here anyway, that some things should have been done earlier. But the issue here is that the UN was stymied by divisions within the coalition, and there have been a lot of statements about the dual key and that that screwed everything up, but the bottom line is that when the coalition was able to agree, then the dual key worked in December 1995.

So I think that there are issues here where one has to be fair. The UN did a lot of good on the ground in Bosnia in terms of feeding people and refugees. It got in the way in some instances, but I think we need to understand the nation-state issue there.

In Somalia, I think, clearly, it has two parts. I think there was a euphoria about what the UN could do and an exuberance in terms of the possibilities of nation building. I think, as I said, we found out that that didn’t work, and there were questions about recruitment and deployment, but a very sad truth is that the Americans who died were under US command, not under UN command.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you. I’m getting the high sign from Karen Sughrue, our vice president for meetings, so one last quick question and response, and then I will turn to our speakers for closing remarks. Please.

Mr. ALLAN GERSON: Allan Gerson. Both speakers have demonstrated today the office of being ambassador to the United Nations is vastly different from that of an ordinary ambassador, insofar as you are not only receiving instructions but you are also influencing policy outcomes. And with that in mind, if I could ask the speakers to focus on the current Iraq crisis and the types of policy recommendations that they would have made to the White House and which they would have tried to implement at the United Nations, is there a difference between the two speakers in that regard?

Dr. GELB:: Very good last question. Jeane, will you begin? Two minutes.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: I don’t think so. I don’t think I want to really comment on that. I don’t want to say anything irresponsible, and I don’t want to really be—and it would be irresponsible for me to try to, you know, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-hand guess why the president did what he did in relationship to Iraq. I don’t know why he did it. I don’t understand it. And I—because I don’t understand it, because I don’t really feel very well informed about the surrounding context, I just think I’m not going to...

Dr. GELB:: But, Jeane...

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: ...answer that question, Allan, sorry.

Dr. GELB:: Jeane, answer the question this way, if you would, though, because I think what Allan’s getting at: Is this the kind of issue where the UN can play a useful role, or is an Iraq situation beyond what we would look to the UN to get involved in?

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Allan...

Dr. GELB:: Is this, I think, what you were...

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: ...look, listen, I mean—and Les—I think the UN can play a useful role in any problem in which the member states are involved, in principle. I watched on one of the talk shows yesterday, now Deputy Foreign Minister Al Casey, who was Iraq’s permanent representative when I was at the United Nations and whom I dealt with frequently. We did a very great deal of UN diplomacy and discussion of the Iran-Iraq war in my days at the UN, and I brought a lot of what I learned and heard about that back home, as it were, to the administration.

And I think that—I think one apprec—in that case, I’ve developed a much more complicated picture of a more complex situation out of a lot of listening to my UN colleagues than I ever would have found in Washington among my Washington colleagues. I am still introducing complexity into most descriptions of those problems in that area, and it’s a direct consequence of my UN experience. And if you have that kind of experience and you’re a good listener and you are a participant in your policy process, then obviously you’re going to share it with your colleagues.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you. Madeleine.

Amb. ALBRIGHT: I do think, though, that our colleagues generally probably get tired of us saying it’s so complicated.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Right. They probably do. I...

Amb. ALBRIGHT: But let me—on the Iraq issue, on which I did play some role—but let me just make a general statement. First of all, I think it was a perfect example of where the UN can work and where it can’t work. In the middle of all this, we have been maintaining a very tight sanctions regime on Iraq. And the day after the event itself happened, of Irbil falling, we actually passed, again, the full sanctions package—the toughest sanctions in the history of the world—on Iraq with a unanimous approach to it. That is where the UN serves very strongly, and the whole issue of sanctions, which we haven’t really talked about, in terms of what the UN can do to sanction rogue states, is a very important departure in the ability of the UN.

At the same time, my own feeling was that we needed to take action. I think I remember occasionally we were accused of caring too much about what other nations think, but this time—we have all said all along and President Clinton has made it very clear that when we have to act unilaterally, we will when our national interests are involved. So we informed the UN, and the UN was very slow in making up its mind. And we believe fully that we have the authorization to undertake what we did, and so we did it. So in those two cases the UN worked and didn’t work on a specific issue.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you. We’ll move to closing remarks now. And let me ask the speakers to focus their closing remarks on this. I understand from what you’ve said that there really are substantial areas of agreement between you. That’s often the case with professionals facing a problem. But if you would, take two minutes each and focus your closing remarks on where you disagree with what you heard from your colleagues—from your colleague. We started with Madeleine to begin the evening. Let me begin with Jeane in the closing remarks. Two minutes each.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: Well, I think Madeleine’s still a little starry-eyed about the UN, but they—she’s a bit more optimistic about the UN than I think that the record so far warrants. However, I’d like to say, even though I said that, that I’m a little more optimistic about the UN sometimes, too, than the record warrants, you know, and I was a good deal more optimistic about the UN than the record warranted for a period about, you know, 1992—1991, ’92 and before Bosnia, which I have been very deeply distressed by the UN’s policies and actions in.

I don’t—you know, there isn’t anything—I don’t have any important disagreements with statements that Madeleine Albright has made, I believe, about the US role in the UN or—except to say that I think that when she’s predicted good things for the future she’s been optimistic and hopeful, and, you know, that’s very American. That’s all right with me. I don’t really disagree with that, OK?

Dr. GELB:: Thank you, Jeane, very much.

Amb. KIRKPATRICK: You’re welcome.

Dr. GELB:: Madeleine.


Amb. ALBRIGHT: Jeane, if I’m more starry-eyed, I just think I’ve got a better brief than you have.

I think that there is something on which we disagree, and that has to do with the whole issue of Americans participating in UN peacekeeping operations and the whole issue about chapter seven. I think that we have—are very much working the chapter seven issue and working on trying to develop, as I said, alternative means for peacekeeping. And I think, frankly, it’s kind of a red herring to talk about Ameri—the number of American forces that might, in fact, be subjected to United Nations command. The number of peacekeepers has fallen dramatically in the last few years, and from a high of about 70,000 we’re now down to 25,000 in 16 operations. If I were still a professor, I would ask you all to tell me how many American forces you think there are among those 26,000.


Amb. ALBRIGHT: There are 700. It is not a vast number. And 500 of them are in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia doing preventive peacekeeping. And I have been there. I’ve visited them. And this is the regiment or the brigade or the battalion that’s there from which this sergeant who—or specialist, I’m sorry—who could not bear to wear a UN patch. And I talked to his colleagues, and they told me that that was—their peacekeeping experience there was one of the best experiences they’d ever had; that it taught them leadership abilities—that they were dispatched in small groups to patrol the border and that they had to make decisions, and therefore it was great leadership training.

And we talked about why it is they wear a UN patch. And the truth of why they wear a UN patch—first of all, I asked them about the berets. They thought that the blue berets were very smart looking. But the reason that they wear a UN patch is for identification. They wear an American patch on one arm and a UN patch on the other so people don’t get mixed up. It is not an issue of being under the command of the UN, and we have made very clear that the president of the United States continues to be forever the commander in chief of American forces, and there is only, in operational decisions, sometimes the ability to let somebody else run the show briefly. But the Americans are in command, and the larger the number of forces in any operation, the more likely it is that there will always be an American commander. That is what the Clinton administration has said in our presidential decision memorandum.

Dr. GELB:: Thank you very much, Madeleine.

Join me in thanking our two superb speakers.

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