For the last decade or so, the United Nations has enjoyed throwing its weight around the world, trying to set itself up as the world’s peacemaker as well as a global lawmaker. Last month, it got some of its own weight thrown back in its face when North Carolina’s Sen. Jesse Helms became the first sitting member of the U.S. Congress to address it.
You don’t hear all that much about Mr. Helms these days, but as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he’s perhaps the most powerful spokesman on foreign policy the Congress has. He’s also a pretty outspoken critic of what the United Nations has been up to, and he used the opportunity to address its Security Council to let them know what he thinks and what he believes most Americans think about the transnational body.
“They see,” the senator warned, “the U.N. aspiring to establish itself as the central authority of a new international order of global laws and global governance. This is an international order the American people will not countenance.”
He was thinking of such U.N. brainstorms in recent years as proposals for a standing military force under U.N. command that would be able to intervene against member states without their consent, plans for U.N. taxation of the citizens of member states without the authorization of the states (or the citizens), and U.N. “covenants” on such matters as women, children, “human rights,” criminal law and procedure and other issues that ought to be entirely the business of sovereign nations.
He also had some reflections on the U.S. debt to the United Nations of some $1 billion that is currently in arrears. The senator pointed out that while the United States has agreed to pay more than $900 million of that money under certain conditions, last year alone this country forked out no less than $8.8 billion to support various U.N. activities.
So we really don’t need to listen to any more U.N. whining about the United States being a “deadbeat.” Without our support, the organization would have to move out of its plush Manhattan headquarters and take up residence somewhere south of Djibouti.
And Mr. Helms was also pretty plain with respect to why we continue to spend any money on the United Nations at all. “The money we spend is not charity,” he remarked. “To the contrary, it is an investment — an investment from which the American people rightly expect a return.” In recent years, not too much return has been evident to many Americans, and as a result, “They have grown increasingly frustrated with what they feel is a lack of gratitude.”
Perhaps predictably, the senator received not one clap of applause from his audience, which listened to his speech in total silence. His remarks — and the United States — were then roundly denounced by delegates from France, Russia and Cuba, among other torch bearers of civilization.
The bureaucrats might not like to hear the truth about their organization thrown back in their faces and they might not want to clap when they do hear it, but they need to listen hard to what the senator was frank enough to tell them. “A United Nations that seeks to impose its presumed authority on the American people without their consent begs for confrontation, and — I want to be candid — eventual U.S. withdrawal,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright rushed to disavow Mr. Helms’ blunt remarks. “Let me be clear,” she pronounced a few days later. “Only the president and the executive branch can speak for the United States.” Let us be clear indeed. Mrs. Albright doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
The Congress of the United States has a considerable voice in American foreign policy, and any foreign state that doesn’t understand that often learns better. It’s Congress that declares war, makes peace and consents to the ratification of treaties. It’s Congress that confirms the appointments of ambassadors and such glorified messenger girls as Mrs. Albright.
It’s also Congress that decides whether to spend taxpayers’ money on foreign policy — including the State Department and the United Nations itself. And when senior senators and committee chairmen speak their thoughts about American foreign policy, both the State Department and the United Nations would be well advised to listen respectfully rather than claim the senators’ remarks should be ignored.
The U.N. munchkins can hunker in silence and Mrs. Albright can whine all she wants, but it was high time somebody of Sen. Helms’ stature told the United Nations to its face what he — and many, if not most, Americans — think about it. Both the United Nations and the State Department would be well advised to pay more attention than they seem to have done.