Albion Monitor /Commentary

Clinton, Albright Sellout the U.N.

by Jim Lobe

Jesse Helms will no doubt remember and celebrate that week for as long as he lives
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- It was a week that the ultra-right chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jesse Helms, will no doubt remember and celebrate for as long as he lives.

It was a week in which Washington's senior unilateralist and xenophobe-in-chief really stuck it to the United Nations and that bunch of striped-pants, milquetoast, internationalist do-gooders who have run U.S. foreign policy for most of the last 50 years.

It was a week that Bill Clinton, who last fall called the world body "more important than ever before," finally caved in on his long-wavering, squishy support for the United Nations.

Helms got Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to sign off on a deal that would have Washington pay only about 63 percent of the $1.3 billion it owes to the United Nations in arrears.

He also got her to tie U.S. payment of the arrears to a shrinkage in the U.N.'s budget, a unilateral reduction in Washington's future financial support, and U.S. oversight of a number of other conditions.

"This is a disgrace," muttered one frustrated congressional aide
While U.S. officials now insist that the Helms-backed plan is not a "take-it-or-leave it" proposition and is subject to further negotiations, independent analysts were virtually unanimous in concluding that the administration, which still insists it wants to strengthen the world body, has already conceded far too much.

That was pointed out by one of Helms' Republican colleagues. In a letter sent to other senators, Richard Lugar assailed the Helms plan and introduced an amendment of his own to repay the more than $1 billion in arrears without conditions. "It is time to decide if we want a strong and viable United Nations that can serve the United States' interests or a United Nations that is crippled by insolvency and hobbled by controversy and uncertainty," he wrote.

"This is a disgrace," muttered one frustrated congressional aide of the basic elements of the Helms plan, which had been coolly received at the United Nations as well. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose election to the post was engineered by Albright herself, said he favored Lugar's amendment over the plan the administration has already agreed to.

One official likened the situation to "that village in Vietnam that the U.S. razed during the war." At the time, a military commander explained that they had to destroy the village in order to save it. "Well, now we have to go around saying, 'we had to weaken the U.N. in order to strengthen it,'" said the official.

What is remarkable to analysts here is that Helms' antagonism towards the United Nations, and multilateralism in general, is not shared by the vast majority of U.S. voters or even, necessarily, the members of the Republican-controlled Congress.

"The majority of Americans have indicated consistently that they favor paying the full dues to the U.N.," says Stephen Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).

PIPA ran a poll last year which found that close to 60 percent of the public favors payment in full. Another poll taken by the Wirthlin Group, the main pollster for former President Ronald Reagan's White House, found in April last year that 6 percent of respondents opposed withholding U.S. dues to the U.N. to press for reforms.

With those numbers, many believed that Albright and even Clinton might be inclined to fight Helms rather than to roll over.

But it was not to be.

The State Department's official position is that Washington should only pay its current and past dues, a treaty obligation, if the United Nations implements certain reforms.

Albright's spokesman, Nicholas Burns, stated on June 13: "We think the idea that our paying off of our arrears should be linked to reform in the United Nations is appropriate...and we will proceed on that basis.

"The fact is," he went on in a rare public defense of plutocracy, "that we are the largest donor."

"What is most striking about this," says Kull, "is that our stance, dictating to the U.N., is really inconsistent with the public's view. What comes through poll after poll over the years is that this is not the kind of relationship they're seeking with the U.N."

But that is precisely the kind of relationship that Helms and others of his ilk have long sought.

After being suppressed for 50 years by the all-embracing Soviet threat, these forces have come to the fore. As historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote two years ago, "The isolationist impulse has risen from the grave, and it has taken the new form of unilateralism."

Most analysts have, however, argued that the unilateralist impulse has since abated. Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole, an internationalist, soundly thrashed Patrick Buchanan, the only avowed unilateralist in the Republican field, during the primary elections in early 1996. And the defeat of a substantial number of far-right Republican lawmakers last November has heartened internationalists.

Indeed, the Clinton administration initially asked Congress to approve a plan whereby almost all U.S. arrears would be cleared within a year. In a sign of increased optimism, it also asked for a real increase in foreign aid.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Marshall Plan, Albright neglected to even mention the United Nations
But signs of a sell-out had been evident since Albright's confirmation hearings in January, when her ardent courtship of Helms became evident. The conventional wisdom was that the new secretary of state, the toast of the media elite, would charm Helms into abandoning what the New York Times called "his narrow ideological obsessions." To more careful observers, however, it appeared that it was the courtly southern gentleman who did all the charming.

Right off the bat, she assured Helms that she had long forgotten the "assertive multilateralism" she had advocated when she took the U.N. job in 1993.

Then, greeting Annan on his first trip to Washington as the new Secretary-General, Albright graciously showed him the way to Chairman Helms' office, insisting that if he wanted Washington to pay up, that was the man to speak to. Hours later, she neglected to even mention Annan or the arrears problem in her maiden press conference as secretary of state. Out of sight, out of mind.

Final betrayal was in the air last week at Harvard University. Speaking at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Marshall Plan, which is widely regarded as the greatest foreign policy success in U.S. history, Albright neglected to even mention the United Nations.

It was a curious omission given Albright's own career, her past words of support for the U.N., and the fact that Secretary of State George Marshall, one of the "wise men" who built post-war U.S. internationalism, used his Harvard address to state that the world body "has its roots in the basic values and spiritual aspirations of the American people."

Helms has been gunning for the United Nations ever since.

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Albion Monitor June 15, 1997 (

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