BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 8 August 2005, 01:20 GMT 02:20 UK
Strained relations for US and UN

By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, Washington

On the 60th anniversary of the United States becoming one of the first nations to ratify the UN Charter, the BBC considers the tension in their recent relations.

It is strange to think that a country perceived as "hostile" to the United Nations was in fact one of the founding fathers of the international organisation.

The UN headquarters in New York
Despite criticisms, the US says it remains committed to the UN

The name "United Nations" was first coined by President Franklin D Roosevelt during the Second World War when 26 nations pledged to continue fighting together against the Axis powers.

In 1945 representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco to draw up the UN Charter.

The fact that its headquarters would be in New York showed the US commitment to the project and its desire to be a leading members.

American affection for the organisation though has slowly been ebbing away - the relationship all but collapsing in the run up to the Iraq war.

Value for money

President Bush's frustrations with the UN's failure to back its invasion of Iraq were all too apparent.

The US administration sees reform of the UN Security Council as bottom of the pile

The financial fiasco of the UN's oil-for-food programme in Iraq and the UN peacekeeping scandal in DR Congo has further eroded confidence both in the administration and among the wider American public.

The US Congress too has launched a series of investigations into the management of the United Nations focusing on its oil-for-food programme.

There have also been attempts to cut Washington's financial contributions to the organization.

The US contributes $3bn dollars a year to the UN's budget - more than any other country - and questions whether it is getting value for money.

Still Committed?

Despite those increasing criticisms the US says it remains committed to the United Nations.

In part that's a recognition - post the Iraq war - that Washington can not go it alone.

It needs to work with the international community in facing new challenges: in tackling the threat of weapons of mass destruction and spreading its message of democracy and freedom.

Reform priorities

President Bush has resisted pressure from some Republicans to call for Kofi Annan to step down.

Kofi Annan
Mr Bush has not backed calls for Kofi Annan to step down

A bipartisan task force - headed by former Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich and Democrat George Mitchell - recently concluded that if the United Nations was to recover from its present difficulties American leadership would be "indispensable in effecting change".

The Under Secretary of State - Nicholas Burns - has spent more time on United Nations reform than any other single issue.

He's set out a list of priorities starting with budget and management reforms, an effective Human Rights mechanism, the creation of a Peacebuilding Commission and the setting up of a Democracy Fund.

The US administration sees reform of the UN Security Council as bottom of the pile.

It does not think any proposal to expand the Security Council should be voted on at this stage and has made clear it would vote against a move by Japan, Germany, Brazil and India - known as the G4 group - to join the UN's most powerful body.

Bolton controversy

President Bush's appointment of John Bolton as his UN ambassador is evidence - says Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation - that the White House sees cleaning up the UN as a priority issue.

Mr Bolton failed to get the all important support from the US Senate so President Bush took the highly unusual step of pushing through his nomination during the summer recess.

Democrats - and some Republicans - have openly questioned the wisdom of appointing a UN ambassador who's been so hostile to the organisation in the past.

Bolton, who once said there was "no such thing as the United Nations", insists he is now committed to its future.

But Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, says that while UN reform is necessary, it will require working alongside others and questions still remain as to whether Mr Bolton is the right person for the job.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific