Tough-talking Bolton: just what the UN needs

When President Bush nominated John Bolton to be US ambassador to the United Nations, many diplomats shuddered.

Apparently many of these diplomats, who raised questions about the appointment under cloak of anonymity in news reports, can't believe Mr. Bush would name someone who hasn't shown the UN any respect. Respect needs to be earned. And, since Kofi Annan became Secretary-General, the world body has been a breeding ground for scandal and ineptitude and has not earned that respect.

Mr. Bolton has worked in the State Department for the past 25 years. He has served as under secretary of State for arms control and international security affairs for the past four years. This is necessary expertise, given the state of world affairs.

However, some foreign leaders and some homegrown Democrats, such as Sen. John Kerry, have decided to read the appointment as White House contempt for multilateral organizations.

Yes, Bolton showed great disdain for the international body in 1994 when he told a group at the Federalist Society, "There is no such thing as the United Nations.... If the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

Perhaps these weren't the most eloquent words ever uttered by a diplomat, but make no mistake, there was truth in them.

On Mr. Annan's watch, peacekeepers have been involved in sexual and physical abuse, as well as sex trafficking of people they were charged with protecting. During Annan's tenure, corruption has festered in the corridors of the international palace, principally in the oil-for-food program in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Inaction in Srebrenica, Rwanda, and now Sudan and Congo have been par for the course.

Yet, despite these displays of ineptitude, much of the world has repeatedly absolved the UN. In fact, many countries have insisted on not taking action on world problems unless the UN first grants its blessing. Countries such as France and Germany are calling for sanctions in order to curb Iran's nuclear capabilities.

As the world now knows, UN-levied sanctions failed miserably at stopping North Korea from acquiring the means to produce nuclear weapons. As the world has witnessed, and is reminded vividly in the recent movie "Hotel Rwanda," UN peacekeepers are useless in preventing the slaughter of innocents.

Many Americans rightly have little faith in the organization that sits on the East River in New York City. So it's refreshing to think the UN might soon have someone in its midst who will have the moral courage to speak plainly. For far too long Washingtonhas been appointing ambassadors who sugarcoat the truth. Bolton has shown he will not mince words.

In February he addressed the press in Tokyo. There, he openly criticized China for allowing its munitions companies to sell missile technology to Iran and other nations. North Korea demanded he be shown the door and hasn't attended nuclear negotiations since.But the fact is, North Korea uses any excuse to give the world the silent treatment.

In another supposedly poor display of diplomacy, Bolton once called North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il a "tyrannical dictator." That label earned Bolton Mr. Kim's reciprocal moniker "human scum."

Lastly, Bolton deserves credit for helping to revoke the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism. The UN has long been too quick to condemn Israel and reserve criticism for any other country or player in the Middle East. Perhaps Bolton will restore some balance to discourse regarding this fast-changing region.

At this time, the UN needs to hear and act on tough talk if it is going to retain any credibility.

In a world where nations with not so good intentions either have or are developing nuclear arms, where Congo and the Sudan are erupting in murderous civil strife, where poverty in Africa is killing nearly 20,000 people a day, Bolton just might be the one to restore some integrity and value to Woodrow Wilson's international ideal.

Cathryn J. Prince covered the UN for the Monitor from 1995 to 1998.

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