UNITED NATIONS â€” US Ambassador John Bolton has pushed President George W. Bush’s global agenda with a lawyer’s drive during his 16 months at the United Nations â€” not a diplomat’s finesse which has upset some ambassadors and UN officials.
The 57-year-old arms control expert, whose resignation was accepted by Bush on Monday, came to the job with a reputation for brilliance, obstinacy and speaking his mind, and a mission to reform the 61-year-old world body born in the ashes of World War II to meet the challenges of the 21st century. By his own account, Bolton remains frustrated that “precious little” reform has been accomplished so far by the UN General Assembly though some diplomats, especially from developing countries, would at least partly blame Bolton’s blunt tactics.
But Bolton did play a key role in major US foreign policy initiatives â€” getting UN Security Council approval of resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea for conducting a nuclear test, joining with France to promote Lebanon’s democratic government, pushing for a UN peacekeeping force in Sudan’s conflict-wracked Darfur region, and putting Myanmar’s repressive military regime on the council’s agenda.
Bolton’s resignation was not a surprise in UN corridors.
He had failed twice to win confirmation in the US Senate, forcing Bush to give him a recess appointment on July 31, 2005 after Congress adjourned for the summer. That appointment expires when Congress formally adjourns, no later than early January â€” and with his nomination still blocked by Democrats and several Republicans, and the Democrats capturing control of the next Congress, it became clear he would not be confirmed.
Bolton has had strained relations with many in the UN Secretariat, led by Secretary General Kofi Annan, and has repeatedly called for all top UN officials to leave when Annan steps down on December 31 and Ban Ki-moon takes over as UN chief.
“I think Ambassador Bolton did the job he was expected to do,” Annan said Monday. “He came at a time when we had lots of tough issues from reform to issues on Iran and North Korea. I think as a representative of the US government, he pressed ahead with the instructions he had been given and tried to work as effectively as he could.” When Annan was asked whether Bolton was trying to undermine the UN’s effectiveness, he replied that “it’s very difficult to blame one individual ambassador”. But Annan stressed the importance of ambassadors working together, especially in the Security Council “because a united voice is much more powerful than a divided one”.
Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown told reporters seeking reaction to Bolton’s resignation: “No comment â€” and you can say he said it with a smile.” When Bolton held the Security Council presidency in February he insisted on starting meetings promptly â€” and kept track of which ambassadors arrived late. He also insisted that the UN Secretariat give the council a briefing every morning on a key UN issue.
The Chinese, Greek and Argentine ambassadors agreed that Bolton’s effort to reform the Security Council’s operations has had one lasting effect â€” meetings now start on time, though without daily secretariat briefings.
Argentina’s UN Ambassador Cesar Mayoral also cited Bolton’s efforts to make the council’s selection of the new secretary general more open and transparent and to make a choice earlier to allow for a transition.
China’s UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said Bolton has changed the council “because his style is different”.
“I worked very closely with him and I believe that he’s hardworking and so I regret that he’s going to resign,” Wang said. “He’s pushed the American interest here…
â€œSometimes we differ, but certainly I think that I can work together with him. He knows the job.” Was Bolton effective in pushing the US foreign policy agenda? “He’s serious about the American objectives here in reforming the United Nations,” Wang replied, “and he pushed hard â€” but of course sometimes in order to achieve the objectives you have to work together with others.”
Bolton antagonised the powerful Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, by leading other wealthy countries who pay about 85 per cent of the UN’s budget to impose a cap on budget spending in December 2005 to press for UN management reforms. On June 30, the poorer nations rebelled and voted in the General Assembly â€” where there are no vetoes â€” to lift the budget cap.
In the past, the UN budget had always been adopted by consensus and forcing a vote polarised the debate over reform between developing and developed countries â€” a divide which still lingers. Developing countries insist they support reform but not at the expense of diminishing their control over the UN budget and the organisation’s management.
Greece’s UN Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis said the US was right to promote UN reform and Bolton had instructions to do a number of things.
He refused to judge Bolton’s performance, saying only, “I personally would pursue the same things with different tactics.” Japan’s UN Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, a staunch backer of the US in the budget cap battle, was asked whether Bolton was ever difficult to work with.
“Everybody has his or her style in diplomacy and obviously John Bolton had his own style,” Oshima replied.
“He is a superb lawyer and a very skillful and strong negotiator. And I think he did his best in getting results delivered on a number of issues.”ï¿½