John Bolton's Nomination and Japan's Bid for a Seat at the UNSC
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The United States Senate is about to deliberate upon the Bush administration's nomination of John Bolton as their country's ambassador to the United Nations. This controversial appointment comes at a time when the world is calling upon the United Nations to reform into a more inclusive and effective institution. In particular, countries such as Japan, Brazil, Germany, India and South Africa are pushing for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In an environment of strained relations between the US government and the UN secretariat, the choice of Bolton is suggestive of an inflexible US approach toward UN reform.
Currently, Washington has publicly supported only Japan for a permanent seat. India has been lobbying US officials extensively, most recently during US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's visit. However, news reports from Indian dailies such as The Hindu seem skeptical and the nomination of Shirin Tahir-Kheli, a Muslim woman of Pakistani origin, as her advisor on UN reform has the Indo-Asian News Service reporting that this move is "seen by some as possibly coming in the way of India's push for a permanent seat ..." (March 13, 2005).
In the United States, many are confused about Bolton's nomination. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, was quoted in the New York Times on 8 March as stating, "Everyone is very confounded by this choice. ... The president goes to Europe, he tells them, lets work together, and then he picks somebody with a reputation that isn't very helpful to multilateralism." In his defense, Rice has repeatedly supported the choice of Bolton insisting that he is the right man to lead the US effort to reform the United Nations because he is "somebody who has thought about these issues, who is critical of many things about the U.N. about which, frankly, it is right to be critical" (UPI, March 12).
Insights into Bolton's thinking on UN reform are not encouraging, even for Japan. The New York Times quoted Bolton as stating in an interview with National Public Radio in 2000 that, "If I were redoing the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world ... the United States" (March 9). London's Financial Times quoted Bolton in a 1996 essay outlining that, "the UN [is] useful only when it furthers US priorities" (March 10). Alarming is the fact that this sentiment seems to be a consistent thought of Mr. Bolton. On March 13, Pittsburg's Post-Gazette quoted Bolton negating the importance of the UN in a 1994 conference where he stated that, "there is no such thing as the United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States." In 1997, he wrote, "Let us be realistic about the U.N. It has served our purposes from time to time; and it is worth keeping alive for future service. But it is not worth the sacrifice of American troops, American freedom of action, or American interests" (Pittsburg Post-Gazette, March 13).
It is not just his attitude on the UN that is troublesome for Japan but also his perspectives on Taiwan and North Korea. The New York Times editorial for March 9 also documents Bolton as suggesting that the US should go ahead and recognize Taiwan since "the notion that China would actually respond with force is a fantasy." He is also on record stating that, "a sounder US policy would start by making it clear to the North [Korea] that we are indifferent to whether we ever have ‘normal' diplomatic relations with it. ..." Such a reckless posture is disturbing and threatening not only to Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC but also to security in East Asia as a whole.