John Bolton, hired U.N. underminer

April 08, 2005|By Trudy Rubin

PHILADELPHIA - John R. Bolton, a man who loathes the United Nations, is up for confirmation as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

What does President Bush want this man to do?

Administration sources are whispering that this is a "Nixon-to-China" appointment, sending a harsh critic to clean out the glass house on the East River. The White House has been forced to recognize the usefulness of the United Nations in areas ranging from humanitarian relief to pressuring Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

But Mr. Bolton isn't someone who wants to use tough talk to remake a troubled institution. A smart conservative who has held top posts under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, he scorns the very idea of a United Nations. (The job was a consolation prize after Condoleezza Rice turned him down for No. 2 at State.)

Mr. Bolton is on record as disdaining international treaties, international law and anything that smacks of sharing power. "If the U.N. building in New York lost 10 stories," he told a conference in 1994, "it wouldn't make a bit of difference." In 1997, he told The Wall Street Journal that the United States wasn't legally bound to pay its U.N. dues.

"If I were redoing the Security Council today," he told National Public Radio in 2000, "I'd have one permanent member, because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world."

There's nothing wrong, in principle, with recognizing the realities of U.S. power, but Mr. Bolton's attitude won't rally other U.N. members to America's side.

Nor is his record as undersecretary of state for arms control encouraging. During Mr. Bush's first term, Mr. Bolton interpreted the job as meaning: Gut all arms control treaties.

He led a campaign against ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; now the administration considers itself free to develop new types of nuclear weapons. He opposed banning land mines and endorsed weaponization of space. He obstructed crucial efforts to update the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

And he did nothing to further U.S. efforts to secure Russia's unsafe arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons - the biggest potential source of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. But he promoted WMD charges against "rogue states" without sufficient evidence.

In June 2003, Christian Westermann, a State Department expert on chemical and biological weapons, complained at congressional hearings that Mr. Bolton had hyped unsupported claims of a Cuban bioweapons program. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell praised Mr. Westermann's testimony.

A month later, the CIA strongly protested Mr. Bolton's planned testimony to Congress that Syrian development of chemical and biological weapons was so advanced that it threatened Mideast stability. Insufficient evidence.

Mr. Bolton sabotaged Mr. Powell's efforts to start nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea that might have featured bigger sticks and bigger carrots. "I don't do carrots," he said. During the resulting delay in talks, Pyongyang acquired six to eight new nuclear weapons.

Today, Mr. Bush supposedly backs European Union efforts to offer Iran both carrots and sticks to abandon its nuclear programs. But Mr. Bolton has little patience for such diplomacy. State Department sources say he has shown interest in the notion of America's bombing Iranian nuclear sites. So is Mr. Bolton's mission merely to prove the world body can't work? If his boss wants U.N. reform, not U.N. demise, is Mr. Bolton willing?

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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