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[WORLD WATCH]The U.S. and UN Sensitivities

May 15,2001
The recent elections for the United Nation's International Human Rights Commission and International Narcotics Control Board has become a huge embarrassment for the United States - in particular, being voted off the human rights commission, on which it had sat since 1947. Adding to the embarrassment is that nations notorious for their human rights abuses, such as Sudan, Togo and Pakistan won seats in the commission. Because of the losses, the United States has lost some of its diplomatic clout in human rights issues. People have attributed the U.S. reelection failure to "arrogant" American diplomacy. "The 'common sense' notion that the United States is a special country and so deserving of a seat in the United Nations is no longer common sense," said one European diplomat.

The United States has been treating the UN like a "troublesome stepson," especially since George W. Bush's Republican administration took charge. Russia and other UN members were shocked by the United States' effective abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement. The United States also faced a barrage of criticism when it backed out of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reduction. While the UN was reviewing the early removal of economic sanctions on Iraq, the United States conducted a surprise air strike on Iraq. And hot on the heels of the air collision of U.S. and Chinese planes, the United States shocked the world by saying that it would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself" against Chinese aggression. That's not all. The United States demanded special status in the international criminal court and angered Arab nations by vetoing a Palestine resolution in the United Nations Security Council.

It also opposed the proposal that African nations be allowed to buy cheaper generic AIDS medicines at lower prices.

But the biggest problem is money. The United States is the biggest contributor to UN finances at 22 percent, but the country also has the biggest arrears. It owes $1.9 billion, which accounts for two-thirds of the total payments owed to the UN. Bill Clinton promised to pay $1 billion in installments at the end of his tenure.

The United States tended toward two kinds of reactions to its failure to be re-elected: first, to regret that it has overlooked the UN in the past and second, to an urge to punish the UN for embarrassing it. The latter is most widespread, and Congress and the conservative media are leading the way. The foreign relations committee of the House of Representatives voted to withhold $244 million in 2004 if the United States was not allowed back into the International Human Rights Commission.

Without U.S. support, the UN will be in trouble. But the United States must not deal with issues in this way. Most UN member countries are fed up with brusque American diplomacy and its unilateral, haughty actions. And the UN will not be easily manipulated. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, said, "Punishing the UN for the outcome of a democratic process may cause serious problems." The United States must heed this warning.



-The writer is a senior staff writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Chung Woo-ryang




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