Wanted: A New Kind of U.N. Ambassador

With Bolton’s ousting near certain, what qualities should we be looking for in a new nominee?

President Bush continues to push John Bolton as United States Ambassador to the United Nations despite consistent objections by both Republicans and Democrats. Fortunately, it appears that Bolton’s 15-month tenure will soon be coming to an end.

When Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) announced last week that he will not vote to send Bolton’s nomination out of the Foreign Relations Committee to the full Senate, it effectively made Bolton’s renomination dead on arrival.

Looking forward, what central qualities should we be looking for in a new nominee?

A Commitment to Using Diplomacy to Advance Our Interests.

All ambassadors should—it would seem obvious—be skilled in and committed to the art of diplomacy. John Bolton, unfortunately, appeared to be more committed to decimating the United Nations and bullying our friends and allies. We need a U.N. ambassador who knows how to negotiate and persuade, not just threaten and dictate. Diplomacy is nothing less than another tool to help the United States achieve its goals.

There are several pressing security challenges that need to be resolved, including the nuclear weapons crises in North Korea and Iran, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the situation in Lebanon, the spread of global terrorist networks, and the genocide in Darfur. The United States has thus far not been able to solve these problems alone.

The unilateral war in Iraq and the bullishness of John Bolton have diminished U.S. credibility and effectiveness in the U.N. and with our allies. It is therefore essential that we are represented in the U.N. by a skilled negotiator who can effectively navigate the U.N. and marshal the international support necessary to address the dangerous problems in the world and promote and protect vital American interests.

An Understanding of Why the U.N. Matters

Many of the threats that the United States and its allies face—such as terrorism, hostile regimes, global warming, poverty, and infectious diseases—are increasingly transnational in scope. Transnational problems require transnational solutions.

The world needs a forum to address these kinds of transnational issues, and the United States cannot succeed by attempting to tackle them alone or with ad hoc “coalitions of the willing.” It has been aptly said that if we didn’t already have the United Nations, we would have to create it precisely to address these problems.

The U.N. performs an array of tasks that few other entities are equipped for: providing food aid and relief in war-ravaged countries, coordinating and monitoring elections, caring for refugees, immunizing children in the developing world, treating AIDS victims, and operating peacekeeping missions. The U.N. is able to perform many of these tasks at a much lower cost than the United States could alone. We need a U.N. ambassador who recognizes these benefits and who will help leverage the tremendous resources of the U.N. for the benefit of the United States and the international community.

A Commitment to Effective Reform

The next U.N. ambassador should be able to work in a constructive manner with newly elected Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in order to push for continued reform of the institution.

The U.N. has a pressing need for strengthening the Secretary General’s managerial authority, improving oversight mechanisms, revising old mandates, and changing personnel policies. An effective U.N. ambassador can play a positive role in moving the institution forward in these areas.

The new U.N. ambassador should also work to improve the newly created U.N. Human Rights Council, which replaced the ineffective Human Rights Commission. The United States failed to engage meaningfully in discussions to form the Council, with Bolton only attending one of 30 high-level negotiating meetings. The United States has primarily been on the sidelines, abstaining from leadership in addressing the problems that continue to exist with the Council.

Working to make the United Nations an effective and efficient institution focused on achieving the lofty goals laid out in the U.N. Charter is an essential goal for the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Success in this mission will ultimately serve to advance critical U.S. interests.

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Ken Gude

Senior Fellow