Thursday, April 6, 2006

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What, exactly, is the U.S. strategy for the U.N. Human Rights Council?

Warren Hoge reports in the New York Times on a head-scratching policy decision by the Bush administration with regard to the newfangled United Nations Human Rights Council:

The United States said Thursday it would not be a candidate for the new United Nations Human Rights Council, which was approved last month by the General Assembly with Washington nearly alone in opposition.

Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said the United States would sit out the first election for the council in May but would support other countries with strong human rights records and would probably run for a seat next year.

The council, which will hold its first meeting in Geneva in June, replaces the Human Rights Commission, which had been widely discredited for allowing notorious rights abusers like Sudan and Zimbabwe on the panel....

Thursday's announcement by the State Department followed weeks of intense consultations throughout the Bush White House that appeared to many United Nations officials to be preparing the ground for American participation on the panel.

Several members of Congress, including some of the United Nations' harshest Republican critics, had joined rights groups in lobbying the Bush administration to make the United States a candidate.

Although it voted against the council last month, saying that the new membership requirements still would not do enough to keep major human rights violators out, the United States had agreed to help finance the panel and pledged to support it....

Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, said it was a mistake for the United States to wait for future elections to run.

"All key decisions about serious reform issues, from the curtailment of inappropriate bodies to whether and how countries are scrutinized, will be made in the first year," she said.

Countering that argument, John R. Bolton, the United States envoy, said, "I believe rather strongly that our leverage in terms of the performance of the new council is greater by the U.S. not running and sending the signal 'this is not business as usual' this year than if we were to run."

Among the Republican critics who had counseled joining the panel were Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who has frequently called for Secretary General Kofi Annan to quit; Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman; and Representative Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, who is sponsor of a bill that would withhold United States dues from the United Nations. (emphasis added)

I haven't paid a lot of attention to the negotiations surrounding the new Human Rights Council, and I'm guessing that the Bush administration has some valid reasons to object to the criteria for election to the new Council (Hoge reports that Cuba is running).

That said, can anyone explain the logic in Bolton's statement, because I confess it escapes me. This seems to fall under the category of mindless unilateralism that Max Boot lamented about earlier this week?

UPDATE: Brett Schaefer and Nile Gardiner argue in a Heritage WebMemo that the U.S. made the right call:

With the vulnerabilities of the new Council, the U.S. has made the right decision in adopting a wait and see approach. China, Cuba, and Iran, all notorious human rights violators, have already announced their intention to run for seats on the Council. Should they gain membership, it will be a clear sign that the new Council will be just as impotent as its predecessor. If their applications and those of other dictatorships are rejected, it will demonstrate that UN member states are taking the Council more seriously than the old Commission and that the new body may merit the effort necessary to secure a seat in the future.

For now, however, that seems unlikely. As the New York Times editorialized, while skewering the failure of international human rights group such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to hold the UN to a higher standard, the Council proposal was “so watered down that it has become an ugly sham, offering cover to an unacceptable status quo.” The U.S. can use its diplomatic resources more profitably than to pursue now a seat on this unpromising body....

There are no criteria for membership on the Council. New members of the Council will be elected by a simple majority of the General Assembly. No state, no matter how poor its human rights record, is barred from membership—even states under Security Council sanction are not excluded. UN member states are simply instructed that a state’s human rights record should be “taken into account” when they vote for prospective Council members. Some UN member states have pledged to oppose human rights abusers seeking Council membership, but they are unlikely to have the votes necessary to block their election.

posted by Dan on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM


they are not running for a seat on the council because they would not win a seat if they tried, not because they think they can influence it better from the outside. Western nations are allowed 7 seats and Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland are already running; all with much better records then the USA. plus, the council is voted for by the entire General Assembly, of which, well, not every country likes being pushed around by Team America, World Police.

posted by: joe m. on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

Here is my guess. It is changing it from a simultaneous to a sequential game. Rather than applying with the rest of the countries the U.S. waits.

First, the UN votes if Cuba, Iran, Libya, etc get in.

Then the U.S. will decided if it wants to join.

All members know that if these countries get in, the U.S. will not even apply. Thus, if the majority thinks that it would be good for the U.S. to be in, they should make sure to veto a few countries.

Just a guess.

posted by: Nate on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

My best guess is they want it to fail so we don't all have to keep straight the UNHRC and the UNHCR.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

Forget that, what is the North Korean position on the Human Rights Council?

Their candidate for UNSG has been endorsed by Uzbekistan and North Korea and he has been criticized in his own country for ignoring human rights.

What is the UN Human Rights Council going to stand for?

posted by: Chapter15 on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

As Joe M said, likely we wouldn't get in if we tried.

Likely some third-world countries with bad human rights records will get in.

When the human rights council goes after the USA for human rights violations, it will look better if they're human rights violators themselves and we never tried for the council. That makes it easier for us to say the council is worthless and corrupt and useless.

posted by: J Thomas on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

These are all better ideas than mine, which might nevertheless be somewhat true: by sitting it out and "watching" for a year, it becomes politically easier to drop funding ala UNESCO 1984 after a year of whatever nonsense the new counci gets up to in the next year.

posted by: Dylan on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

1. We vote against the creation of this new body, it's 170 to four as I recall and our Iron guard is Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands.
2. We immediately follow this up by saying we support the new body and will pick up 40% of its cost.
3. We decide to take a pass on election to the council because we don't think we can round up the 94+ votes needed to get on.

What does this tell you about US isolation. We have no chance of getting any consensus on Iran, and the Russians and Chinese are laughing as we pound sand down rat holes in Arabia. Approval of the US is at an all time low around the world and we are loosing South America to leftists. Bush/Rice/Bolton/Cheney the new Metternich's.

posted by: John on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

"What does this tell you about US isolation. We have no chance of getting any consensus on Iran, and the Russians and Chinese are laughing as we pound sand down rat holes in Arabia. "

With company like that it tells me we're doing the right thing not sullying our hands in the first place. As far as i'm concerned, the question should be turned around, what purpose would our being on such a council serve in the first place?

posted by: Mark Buehner on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

As far as i'm concerned, the question should be turned around, what purpose would our being on such a council serve in the first place?

In an idea world, we would get on the council and have a veto, and so we could veto human rights efforts against israel or USA.

Even better, we would permanently chair the meetings and keep such things off the agenda completely.

posted by: J Thomas on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

Whether people like it or not, if the US is not on this council or commission or whatever it is, it has no legitimacy. Yes, yes I know, despite the left's tiresome propaganda, the reality is that the US is the backbone of any attempt to enforce the human rights rule set. The Euros have proven that they will talk and talk forever without any real results and that when the shit hits the fan it is the US that will and is expected to lead the way. By not participating in this obvious UN farce, we put the burden on our allies who go along with it and ultimately reveal it for what it is: a re-arranging of the chairs and no real improvement. We need to be devising routes around the UN, cutting it off the way MacArthur cut off Japanese strongholds while moving his forces towards the larger objective.

posted by: pb on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

The UN is a worthless talk shop where corrupt Autocrats buy people (see Kofi Annan) or launder their money (also see Kofi Annan).

So why join the UN HRC? It will be filled with total jokes, and the "international system" will be seen to be a joke. Like Europe is a joke, and Russia who gave our invasion plans to Saddam is our enemy.

Evenutally the UN will be kicked out of NYC and go off to irrelevance ala the League of Nations. The UN has failed every time it tried to get involved in stopping genocide and some other mechanism of nations that have common interests needs to be found.

posted by: Jim Rockford on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

"and we are loosing South America to leftists."

Is South America the US' to lose? Or is this (with the notable exception of Venezuela) the normal play of democratic politics? What does Lula have in common with Kirchner or that clown whom Bolivia just elected? Not much that I can see.

posted by: Don S on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

I think Bolton is rejecting running for a seat because it will be old wine in old bottles. The result will be the same, especially if the US runs for a seat! The same crowd which voted that Zionism is a form of racism would take great pleasure in voting the US and the Sudan, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, etc in. That is how they think.

By not running for the new council the US makes the whole exercise a lot more boring for the GA clowns and thus maximizes the chances that more worthy countries and fewer troublemakers will be elected.

posted by: Don S on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

Oops, I meant that the GC clows would vote the US OUT, not in.

posted by: Don S on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

If we can't get in, of course we shouldn't apply.

Maybe it's time for us to rethink what we want to do with the UN. Back in the cold war days, we bribed third world nations to do what we wanted and so did the russians, and the UN was a way to keep score. But when we're the only superpower we don't want to have to keep bribing people. Nobody can withstand us militarily, so we shouldn't have to bribe anybody, we can threaten them instead. And we aren't keeping score against the russians anymore, we won.

And with only one superpower that doesn't do bribes, the rest of the world naturally tends to oppose us.

Maybe it's time for the USA to withdraw from the UN. They probably wouldn't oppose us much more if we weren't in it than while we are in it.

Of course we'd lose our veto. But what could they do to us? Sanctions? They'd cheat on sanctions just like they did with iraq. Sanctions didn't hurt Saddam any, they wouldn't hurt Bush any more.

Hell, our navy owns the oceans. If they declared sanctions, we could just take, say, ever other tanker. Redirect them to the USA and not pay anything. Nothing they could do about it.

We don't need the UN. We don't need anybody. We're the only superpower and we can do anything we want.

posted by: J Thomas on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

Not quite, J Thomas. The point I made is what strategy is more likely to result in a good result from the US POV. Not standing for election actually makes sense from that perspective because it takes the heat out of the election.

Don't forget that the problem lies in two areas all those small countries going without their deserved bribery and also the Europeans out to prove that Bush is a facist. Neither will b a problem for the Netherlands - so why not allow the Netherlands to run instead of the US?

Waiting allows tempers to cool. Perhaps Bush ought to opt out for the remainder of his tenure and allow his successor to decide instead. By that time the Bush-hating Europeans may be wondering when - if ever the US will re-engage with the UN. Since their power relies to a much greater extent on their UN influence a disengaed US is very bad noew for them in the long term....

posted by: Don S on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

Don, if we can't win election then of course it makes sense not to run. We can make up all sorts of extra reasons why we do better not running. But we don't win any prizes for running and losing, so that's enough of a reason right there.

posted by: J Thomas on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

J, we probably could run and win if we bribed heavily. But it would be obvious corruption and the UN already has enough of that without the US adding to the total.

I think the biggest problem with the UN isn't the corruption however. It's asymetric power in the UN. If one looks at the real situation in the world there are basically 4 superpowers in the diplomatic sense. The US, China, India, and the EU. The first three named each have a single vote in the GA and the US and China have permanent positions on the Security Council.

Contrast that with the EU, which has 25 votes in the GA and 2 votes in the SC (three if you count Russia). Then note that the UN often ends up doing as the EU establishment wishes. The UN rarely if ever goes against EU wishes in any substantial form. This is no coincidence. The EU has been using their voting power to back the US into unbalanced 'solutions' for more than a decade now. Or try to do so.

I think the UN is gradually becoming the EN - and the recent proposal to expand the permanent membership of the SC wouldn't reverse that much if at all, with Germany seated along with Japan, India, and (I think) Brazil).

If you want an indication of the way things may be headed have a look at the makeup of the IOC executive council where 9 of the 15 members are European and the executive slate of 5 is 80% European. No US members at all any more in the top 15.

posted by: Don S on 04.06.06 at 08:29 PM [permalink]

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