When Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Jan. 20, he expressed a sentiment shared by many Americans. Referring to verbal attacks on the US in the international body, he said, "The American people hear all this, and they resent it. And I think they have grown increasingly frustrated with what they feel is a lack of gratitude."
The senator is correct in citing UN rhetoric, especially in the General Assembly, as the source of much of the antipathy toward the international body in the US. In the past, however, those who attacked American policies on such issues as colonialism, South Africa, and Palestine believed they represented a broad view, particularly in the third world. Washington was often seen among newly independent nations as an obstacle to the realization of their objectives. Equally legitimate, they would argue, are their more recent comments on the US failure to pay its UN debts.
Mr. Helms, in his UN speech, mentioned the amounts US taxpayers have spent in support of the UN. But such statistics are not likely to create sympathy among countries that feel rich America should do much more. These explanations, however, do not make the critical words any less palatable to sensitive Americans. The UN would benefit by toning down of anti-American rhetoric.
To expect expressions of gratitude, however, is asking for too much. Such expressions are seldom elements in international relations. Weaker nations are rarely publicly grateful to stronger ones. And even stronger ones seldom say "thanks." Although research might reveal cases, it is difficult to recall any resolutions passed by the US Senate expressing appreciation to another country for its actions.
Gratitude implies a supplicant status - politically unpopular in even the smallest nations; they, too, have pride.
Stronger nations - France is a good example - assume that other countries act in their self interest as they do.
Expressions of thanks in such cases do not seem to be justified.
When looked at from the standpoint of other UN members, gratitude toward the US is hard to generate. The richest nation in the world is not only delinquent in its payment to the international organization but, when it does pay, attaches difficult conditions.
US support of UN missions, often the subject of cantankerous public debate in Washington, seems at times begrudging and limited by fears of casualties and long-term commitments. Those who have taken greater risks and have more enthusiastically shared their resources are unlikely to express gratitude to the US.
Outside the UN, individual nations see little reason to thank Washington. European nations face the competitive impact of the dynamic US economy and technological advances. Russia and China resent US efforts to influence their internal policies.
Struggling developing countries look at wealthy America and at the US record on overseas development assistance - lowest per capita foreign aid among industrial countries. They see little basis for thanks.
Culturally sensitive countries in Asia feel threatened by globalization - with a US label.
Americans justifiably feel that they have made substantial contributions to peace and welfare in the world and contributions that have involved resources and sacrifices deserving of acknowledgment. America reduced the threat of the Soviet Union, contributed to peace efforts in the Middle East, and initiated technological developments that facilitated world economic development.
Ultimately, each of these actions involved policies that satisfied an American need - to reduce a threat, to create global stability, and to build a world in which people and commerce can prosper. Others are unlikely to feel the need to express gratitude in any of these cases. They may indeed express their frustrations with America stridently, but it is too much to ask them to say "thanks."
*David D. Newsom, a former US ambassador and undersecretary of State for political affairs, lives in Charlottesville, Va.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society