UNilateral Moves

Washington Draws up a Hit List at the United Nations.

Ian Williams

Without the fanfare that accompanied the campaign in the mountains of Afghanistan, the Bush administration has quietly begun a long march through multilateral institutions. At the United Nations and elsewhere, Washington has mounted a campaign to purge international civil servants judged to be out of step with the war on terrorism and the administrations insistence on having the last word in all global governance issues.

The right has long had a reflex hostility to international and multilateral organizations. But during the Reagan administrationthe first time that the right exercised such control over U.S. policythe right feared that the United States could not pull out of the United Nations and leave it in the hands the Soviets. Today, Washington has no counterweight at the United Nations, and Bush officials are unabashedly insisting on exercising the influence that comes from being the worlds only superpower. Seizing upon its indispensability in this unipolar world, the Bush team is playing hardballthreatening to render the multilateral organization impotent unless it gets its way.

The first and most prominent target was Mary Robinson, the former Irish president, whose work as U.N. high commissioner for human rights has been acclaimed by human rights groups across the world. Officially, she retired after a one-year renewal of her contract. In fact, the United States ferociously lobbied against her reappointment. U.N. officials and Western diplomats also said she was difficult to work withthe usual euphemism for not taking dictation. Washington could not tolerate her stands on the Middle East or her endorsement of the results of the U.N. Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, which both the United States and Israel walked out of in protest.

The next victim of the U.S. campaign was Robert Watson, the respected chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). On April 19, the Bush administration succeeded in replacing him with Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian economist. The panel is (or perhaps was is the correct tense) an independent scientific body established to assess the impact of global warming. The panels work had come to a consensus, not shared by the White House, that human activity is a factor in climate change.

According to a leaked memo, in February 2001, ExxonMobil had asked the Bush administration, Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the U.S.? The memo goes on to recommend that the administration restructure the U.S. attendance at upcoming IPCC meetings to assure none of the Clinton/Gore proponents are involved in any decisional activities. Apparently, the administration heeded ExxonMobils wishes. Pachauri himself attributes his selection to being the candidate of the developing world, but environmental NGOs ascribe it to U.S. lobbying.


A few days later, on April 22, U.S. hawks succeeded in deposing Jose Mauricio Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an agency created as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The agency arranges regular inspections of member countries facilities to ensure that no one is cheating. Bustani, a Brazilian, has headed it from its creation five years ago, and his inspectors have carried out 1,100 inspections in more than 50 nations. In that time, the OPCW has overseen the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and two-thirds of the worlds chemical weapons facilities.

But since the beginning of the year, the United States has treated Bustani as if he were some type of bureaucratic bin Laden. Bush administration officials accused him of ongoing financial mismanagement, demoralization of the Technical Secretariat staff, and ill-considered initiatives. Just last year, he was re-elected unanimously, with plaudits from Colin Powell. Moreover, his staff has pointed out that the organizations finances and management were controlled not by Bustani, but by a U.S. government appointee.

So what changed? Not Bustani, but Washington. His main persecutor was John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Bolton earned his right-wing credentials as the in-house U.N.-basher for the Heritage Foundation. But his anti-U.N. convictions have never stopped him from taking money from the organization. Most recently he served as assistant to former Secretary of State James Baker on the failed Western Sahara mission. And while arguing that the United States should abandon the United Nations, according to The Nation, Bolton simultaneously advised the Taiwanese government on how it could get in.

Although Bolton may have flexible principles, like many of Bushs hard-right entourage, he has a rigid line in grudgesand he soon developed a major one against Bustani. Bustani first started running into problems when he resisted American efforts to dictate the nationality of the OPCW inspectors assigned to investigate American facilities. Whats more, he had opposed a U.S. law allowing the president to block unannounced inspections in the United States and banning OPCW inspectors from removing samples of its chemicals. But diplomats suggest that Bustanis biggest crime was trying to persuade Iraq to sign the chemical weapons convention. The hawks in the administration resented these ill-considered initiatives. If Iraq were to sign the convention and allow U.N. inspectors, it would deprive Washington of a quasi-legal justification for military action against Baghdad.

Earlier this year, the Bush administration asked Brazil to recall Bustanibut he was elected and not a Brazilian appointee. Then Bolton personally asked Bustani to resign. When he refused, the United States attempted to have the OPCW Executive Council sack him. Failing that, Washington called for a special session of member states to fire him, threatening that the United States would not pay its dues if he were reappointed. Faced with losing an effective and popular disarmament agency, a majority of states succumbed to this blackmail.

In the end, it seems most members of the OPCW, with varying degrees of pragmatism and reluctance, decided that the survival of one of the most successful disarmament organizations was more important than the fate of its director. But they set an ominous example. As Bustani presciently told the kangaroo court: By dismissing me … an international precedent will have been established whereby any duly elected head of any international organization would at any point during his or her tenure remain vulnerable to the whims of one or a few major contributors. They would be in a position to remove any director-general, or secretary-general, from office at any point in time.


Who is the next target? It may be Hans Blix, who heads UNMOVIC, the U.N. organization established at the end of the Gulf War to inspect Iraqi arms facilities. It has been reported that Paul Wolfowitz, undersecretary of defense, ordered a CIA investigation of Blix. The administration is concerned that if Blixs team goes into Iraq and gives the regime a clean bill of health, it would undermine the sanctions against Iraq. For Wolfowitz and other hard-liners, this eventuality would remove another causus belli against Baghdad. Deposing the highly respected Blix, who formerly headed the International Atomic Energy Authority, would facilitate the administrations case for launching a war against Saddam Hussein.

Others likely to be on the administrations hit list include the individuals on the proposed fact-finding mission to Jenin. Mary Robinson has already been ousted. Next may be Terje Roed Larsen, one of the main agents in establishing the Oslo meetings that led to what was once the peace process and who is currently a U.N. special coordinator. Although half-heartedly defended by Shimon Peres, it will be difficult to keep Larsen in position when he has lost the trust of Sharon and presumably his allies in the U.S. administration.

The third person regarded as biased against Israel is Peter Hansen, the recently reappointed commissioner general of UNRWA, the U.S.-funded agency that helps Palestinian refugees. Hansen was appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who angrily sprang to the defense of all three individuals criticized by Israel. But Annan may find it hard to stand behind his man, especially if Washington threatens to cut off its funding of UNRWA, which would likely cause starvation in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Annan himself has recently expressed public exasperation with Sharon. Given the recent pattern of arrogant American diplomacy, one cannot help but suspect that, but for Powellwho has a strong rapport with the secretary-generalthe anti-Iraq and pro-Sharon hard-liners in the Bush administration will soon begin encouraging Annan to take an honorable, early retirement. If that strategy doesnt work, expect them to accuse him of managerial incompetence and inability to work well with member states, combined with yet another threat to withhold dues.

Perhaps at that point other U.N. member nations may regret their pandering to Washington, as they watch the entire post-World War II framework of multilateralism melt away.

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Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush’s War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, now available from Nation Books.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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