NEW YORK (BP)–The vote to oust the United States from the 53-member United Nations Human Rights Commission reflects mounting frustration with what many world leaders, particularly in Europe, perceive as an increasingly go-it-alone foreign policy on the part of the world’s only superpower, according to U.S. analysts contacted by Newsroom-online.com.
“There is concern in Europe that the ideological direction of this administration is not going to be conducive to dialogue,” remarked Hugh De Santis, professor of national security strategy at the National War College in Washington, D.C. “The Clinton administration emphasized engagement, and Europe viewed Clinton as willing to adopt policies that would contribute to dialogue with countries doing things not necessarily consummate with our own interests. Bush, on the other hand, is seen as likely to lay the law down, as we’ve been doing with China.” The government-funded National War College prepares future leaders of the U.S. Armed Forces, State Department and other civilian agencies for high-level positions of responsibility for national security policy and strategy.
European countries are more interested in preserving relationships with rogue regimes to their own future economic benefit than in calling human rights abusers to account, said Nina Shea, a member of the U.S. delegation at this year’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) session in Geneva, Switzerland, and director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
“They resent the U.S. forcing them to vote on resolutions condemning Sudan, China and Iran, while they’re trying to lock down trade deals with these countries,” Shea said. “This vote is an attempt to punish the U.S. for not conforming to European foreign policy, which excludes finger-pointing and naming human rights violators.” The Washington-based Freedom House promotes democracy and freedom around the world.
In a secret ballot taken May 3 at the U.N. Economic and Social Council — the parent body of the Human Rights Commission — France, Austria and Sweden won the three seats reserved for Western nations, one of which has been occupied by the United States since the commission’s inception in 1947. Meanwhile, Sudan, a nation that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently described as undergoing the greatest tragedy “on the face of the earth today” for its 18-year civil war, won a seat on the commission during the same vote, as did war-torn Sierra Leone. Other accused human rights violators such as Syria, Libya and Vietnam already were members.
The United States also lost its seat on the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board the same day it was voted off the HRC.
Cuba and China — also HRC members — said the U.S. defeat is deserved because of America’s longstanding support of resolutions condemning the human rights records of other nations. Official Iran radio called the vote an indicator that American influence in the world is on the wane. The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, reportedly described the vote as a “strong rejection of the U.S. attempt to use so-called human rights issues as a tool to pursue its power politics and hegemonism in the world.” The United States has long backed resolutions to the HRC condemning China for its human rights record.
Whatever part the animosity of U.S. foes may have played in the HRC vote, America would not have lost its seat on the commission had there not been an “absence of solidarity between the U.S. and its allies,” argued Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, an international human rights monitoring organization headquartered in New York.
Many analysts consider that Europe engineered America’s unseating indirectly by running three of its own for the three Western seats, rather than leaving a spot open for the United States. Of 54 possible votes, the U.S. received 29, though more than 40 were promised, according to The Washington Post.
Some observers of U.S. foreign policy blame disorganized politicking by American diplomats as part of the reason for the defeat. The Bush administration’s nominee for delegate to the United Nations, for instance, has not yet been confirmed.
More to the point, others contend, is the growing perception in Europe that America is bent on pursuing a unilateralist approach to foreign policy. In particular, some analysts describe the Human Rights Commission vote as payback for the Bush administration’s decisions to forego ratification of the 1997 Kyoto treaty on global warming and to move forward aggressively on a national missile defense program, which would require dissolution of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed in 1972 in part to stymie a U.S.-Soviet arms race.
The new administration also seems to be reaping the fruit of decisions made by its predecessors, said Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a public policy and peace research institution headquartered in Washington.
Oudraat, who specializes in the United Nations and multilateral cooperation, referred to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which the United States did not sign, and the treaty establishing an International Criminal Court (ICC), which Clinton signed in the 11th hour last year, though only to keep the United States involved in shaping the court. The court will have the authority to prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Bush has indicated that he will not support U.S. ratification of the court treaty, and the U.S. House of Representatives expressed its consternation over the recent Human Rights Commission vote by approving an amendment that, among other things, prohibits U.S. cooperation with the ICC.
Against expressed concerns from the White House and Powell, the House also approved an amendment as part of an appropriations bill for the State Department and related agencies that would withhold $244 million in U.N. arrears next year unless U.N. members vote to restore the United States back to the Human Rights Commission during the next election.
Ashley Barr, senior program associate for human rights at the Carter Center in Atlanta, noted this kind of response on the part of U.S. lawmakers foreshadows what many human rights advocates fear.
“The broader issue is that America’s no longer being on the Human Rights Commission might lead to a scenario in which the U.S., rather than working to re-establish itself on the commission, backs off from the U.N. in other ways — in the payment of dues and involvement in the ICC, in particular,” Barr said. “The administration’s perception that the U.N., the ICC and other international bodies are not for us may become greater now.” The Carter Center is a human rights, health, democracy and conflict-resolution advocacy organization founded by former President Jimmy Carter.
Oudraat of the Carnegie Endowment noted that if what she calls an “anti-multilateralist stance” on the part of the United States continues, other nations will join forces to oppose U.S. policies. “That, of course, takes a long time and a certain level of capability, and even the European Union hasn’t gotten its act together in this regard. Of course, maybe the U.S.’s anti-internationalist stand will be a silver lining in disguise for the E.U. and push them toward greater unity. … On the other hand, without strong leaders, which are lacking in Europe, this won’t happen.”
Yet perceived U.S. unilateralism is only half of the picture, said Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “Even as there seems to be a growing allergy in the U.S. to international treaties and conventions,” he explained, “the U.S. at the same time is more willing to lead in applying international standards on human rights to other countries. That is, Europe is irritated because America seems unwilling to go the multilateral path, but it’s also irritated because America is more vigorous in appropriating multilateral standards on human rights violations.”
In contrast to America’s outspoken approach in the area of human rights, Europe prefers a less confrontational engagement tack to regimes that may be perpetrating human rights abuses.
This difference in style is one that has deep historical roots, said Dennis Bark, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank connected with Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. “What makes America different from other nations is this public versus private dichotomy,” Bark said. “One of the reasons we’re a generally healthy nation is that we argue about everything out in the open. This is simply a continuation of the revolution that started in 1776. We’re the only nation that was built from the bottom up. European nations were built from the top down, and so they approach things differently. People tend to forget that.”
At the same time, Europe’s latest maneuvering on the Human Rights Commission should garner little sympathy, said Bark, a Western Europe specialist. “They’ve been blowing each other up and drawing and quartering each other for 2,000-plus years. Only in the latter half of the 20th century, after they nearly obliterated each other twice, did they become holier-than-thou.”
Some policy analysts argue that much of the seeming volatility surrounding international perceptions of the United States have more to do with the change in U.S. administrations than any significant shift in global dynamics.
“If you go back to Clinton’s first 130 days and Reagan’s first 130 days, you would see the same questioning,” Bark said. “This has less to do with whether the administration is Republican or Democrat and more to do with the U.S. being the most important ally of Europe. … Questions being raised by leaders in Western Europe and Scandinavia about various positions the Bush administration has taken or may take are part legitimate wondering and part frustration on the part of the critics of those positions.”
Bark noted that while the new administration’s position on missile defense has drawn fire, the European atmosphere is less resistant than the one former President Ronald Reagan encountered during the early 1980s when he presented his “Star Wars” missile defense system to a recalcitrant Europe in the height of the Cold War.
At present, U.S. emissaries are meeting with foreign leaders around the world to confer on U.S. missile defense policy.
In fact, said William Anthony Hay, executive director of the Center for the Study of America and the West at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, the way the Bush administration is approaching missile defense is reflective of the way the administration operates generally, belying the unilateralist image perceived abroad.
“Bush won’t back down on matters of American sovereignty … he is not a liberal internationalist. But he’s not an isolationist, either,” Hay said. “The administration is careful in their management; they want to work with people consultatively on issues.”
By contrast, the Clinton administration tended to make many of its foreign policy decisions on the fly, Hay said, presenting policy to the world more as a “fait accompli” than anything to be debated. Though his method produced frustration, Clinton was able to get away with a less consultative approach because ideologically he had gained favor with left-leaning European governments, Hay said.
“Bush is conservative; he’s from Texas … and the whole election debacle hurt him. He fits less well with European modernizers, with New Labour and the New Social Democrats, for instance,” Hay said. “On top of that, Bush is paying the price for the difficulties of the Clinton era, and he doesn’t have the ideological camouflage to get the sympathy that Clinton did.”
De Santis of the National War College said if Bush persists in the consultative vein being demonstrated with regard to missile defense, he may avoid stirring up anxiety in Europe and ameliorate current frustrations.
“There is fear that when the U.S. takes harder lines, it will create divisions. … But if Bush continues to send out the likes of (Deputy Defense Secretary) Paul Wolfowitz and (Deputy National Security Adviser) Stephen Hadley to talk to our allies and if we reasonably consider adjusting our policy to meet European sensitivities, then the relationships will not be fractious ones. Europe isn’t expecting veto power, but it wants to dialogue with the U.S. so that its views are taken into account. It wants to be taken seriously.”
Used by permission of Newsroom-online.com.