The United Nations

Along those long, tunnel-like corridors of the State Department, considerable traffic is heading these days toward the division called International Organization Affairs—“IO,” in State Department shorthand on the sixth floor. The main business of IO is the United Nations and the renewed attention being paid the UN in American policy formulation may reflect nothing more than the realization that the UN is a place where we can be hurt as much as helped. Nonetheless, even Henry Kissinger has been giving the UN some thought.

That attitude preceded the arrival of IO’s best-known tenant. Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who, as United States permanent representative to the UN, rates a gigantic blue and white nameplate on the door of the office he occupies in IO when he’s in Washington. (This report is written while Pat Moynihan is still on the job that Gerald Ford persuaded him to stay in last autumn. In an election year, though, men’s minds sometimes change.)

Without Moynihan, of course, there might not have been as much newspaper or television interest in UN affairs. That exuberant personality of his draws interest with it wherever he goes. But the U.S. government’s concern with the way things were going in the UN had been signaled earlier. Almost a year before Moynihan’s arrival, President Ford had opened the 1974 session of the General Assembly with a speech warning of the “tyranny of the majority" that was developing in the organization. Ford’s speech delighted Western Europeans, who had been almost as upset by the UN as the Americans were. I remember one European delegate he was German, but the gesture was wholly French—kissing the tips of his fingers in appreciation of that “tyranny” bit.

Later, Moynihan’s predecessor, John Scali, picked up the tyranny accusation in a notable outburst of his own, delivered in December, 1974, just after the Third World nations had railroaded through a Mexican-proposed Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States (CERDS) over strong American and European objections. For the Western countries, CERDS was fruitless, providing all rights but specifying few duties for the developing countries in their dealings with the industrialized world. And the resolution’s adoption summed up what was going wrong in the UN, particularly in the increasingly important economic area. The Third World majority was adopting resolutions which, by being unacceptable to the minority, represented no consensus and were therefore meaningless even as recommendations, which is all that UN resolutions are.

Scali’s blast at Third World tactics in the UN annoyed Kissinger, not because the Secretary of State disagreed with his own ambassador, but because he had been preempted. According to evidence available at the time, Kissinger had been planning to take some public whacks at the tyrannical majority himself. Thus Moynihan’s Commentary article of March, 1975, advocating a vigorous counteroffensive at the UN, pointed in the direction in which official thinking was already running.

Still, it probably wasn’t until Moynihan got into the job and onto that soap-green marble rostrum from which General Assembly speeches are delivered that U.S. relations with the UN became a matter of public policy. Public, that is, in the sense that the question was put into the public domain: How should the United States in present circumstances deal with the UN? This is what has made Moynihan’s ambassadorship, for however long it lasts, so interesting for newpapermen covering the UN. Not only American newspapermen, either.

The First World

The situation the United States laces at the UN is not as bad as recent tumult in the General Assembly would indicate. There have been two agitated assembly sessions in a row. In 1974 there was the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Yasir Arafat with a pistol holster on his hip (empty? full?) offering the world the PLO’s choice between gun and olive branch. Last year, there was Uganda’s president. Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, wearing medals to his navel (from what campaigns?) and talking the nonsense about Zionists running this country that so outraged Pat Moynihan. And then followed the inflammatory Zionism-as-racism resolution. Yet there is less in General Assembly noise than meets the ear. Even within the UN itself, the tyrannical majority does not tyrannize much beyond the General Assembly chamber.

The General Assembly is not the whole UN. It meets for three months every year, adjourning on December 17, a date said to have been originally timed for the last pre-Christmas sailing of the Queen Mary for Europe. If great numbers of delegates now board their national airlines for capitals unheard of at the time of the UN’s birth in 1945, the UN machinery that continues to operate throughout the year is still pretty firmly in First or Second rather than Third World hands (rather more First than Second, for that matter). This applies to both the UN Secretariat, a vast bureaucracy which spreads worldwide. and the Security Council, which meets on demand when the world’s peace is threatened.

The UN Secretariat is dominated by “Europeans” (Americans, Canadians, Australians, and others are included in this classification), and in the main, the more responsible the Secretariat post, the whiter the occupant’s skin. There are outstanding exceptions. The UN’s most important specialized agency, UNESCO, has an African director-general, Amadou M’Bow of Senegal. But in the UN Development Program, the world’s largest multilateral aid agency, the top job has been an American preserve. One American, too, has just succeeded another American as UN undersecretary general for General Assembly affairs. The point doesn’t need to be belabored: the men in charge meet the eye immediately in the UN telephone book listings.

As for the Security Council, the Third World gets its share, geographically allocated, of the ten nonpermanent seats. But in its workings the council remains the embodiment of big-power, not democratic, politics. The United States is quite satisfied, indeed more than ever grateful, for the veto provision. Without it, rearguard actions such as the ones over Israel and Korea that the United States has been fighting recently would have been chancier propositions. The Security Council’s usefulness as a blocking mechanism should not be denigrated; neither should the utilization of its peace-keeping powers in ratifying peace-keeping arrangements usually arrived at elsewhere.

To listen only to echoes from the General Assembly is a mistake. In the aberrant acoustics of the assembly chamber, sounds tend to be magnified out of proportion to the importance of their source. Insignificant states find voice, create commotion, are heard. Thus, after Moynihan attacked Idi Amin, the reply from Africa came from the ambassador from Dahomey (since renamed Benin), a slice of formerly French territory located in that fold of West African coastline once inelegantly referred to as the armpit of the continent. Moynihan, the ambassador warned, should watch his tongue: Africa would not be intimidated.

The General Assembly, with most of the trappings of a parliament, yet without parliamentary responsibility, has voted itself into odd positions. The ultimate example last year was the case of Korea: two conflicting resolutions, one favoring Seoul, the other Pyongyang, were adopted in a single day by majority votes, albeit not the same majority. In the formulation of economic demands, solidarity usually prevails among the Group of 77, as the underprivileged nations of the world called themselves when they first organized a few years ago (there are now over a hundred of them). Yet their reaching a common position is often “facilitated by agreement at the highest common denominator of grievance,”as one U.S. official wryly noted. The same might be said about political demands emerging from that side. The Third World moderates are usually forced onto the defensive. Their hard-liners the Algerians, Yugoslavs, Tanzanians, Sri Lankans, Mexicans more often call the tune. There is a lot of looking back over the shoulder to see who is watching. The moutons de Panurge syndrome, one French delegate calls it, recalling the sheep in Rabelais’s story who jumped overboard, one after another.

Villain of the Year

There is a sort of fashion that prevails at the UN: appointing a villain of the season. Some villains are for all seasons, like the South Africans and the Israelis. Giving it to the Chileans is currently in style; they are almost universally execrated; even the United States felt forced to take a position against them this past year. To hate the Portuguese became outmoded once Portugal began the decolonization of Africa.

The UN is an artificial community isolated even from the United States just across First Avenue which congregates each year for the General Assemble. There could be a fascinating doctoral dissertation for someone: The United States Through UN Eyes. It might result in something like the memorable map of the United States through a New Yorker’s eyes. Manhattan, on a Third World delegate’s map, might appear as a suburb of Tel Aviv. Hot lines would stretch from the Israeli Ministry of Information to American television and newspaper offices, although it ought to be conceded that few delegates seem to believe that Americans read anything but the New York Times, and the exegesis they devote to its editorials should embarrass even the Sulzbergers. I have heard one highly regarded Third World ambassador, friendly to the United States, suggest that it was “not helpful” for an Asian country that had switched its vote on Korea, under American pressure, to have that fact reported in the Times.

Explosive issues involving Israel have distorted the view through those huge windows in the UN delegates’ lounge— and to a comparable degree the view from Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, where American Jews staged their great antiPLO demonstration a little over a year ago. Inevitably, that demonstration acquired anti-UN overtones as well. Since then, the anti-Zionist resolution has made matters reciprocally worse. To many American newspaper readers and TV viewers, the UN has seemed largely concerned with the destruction of Israel; to the Arabs, many Africans, and others at the UN, it has seemed that Americans do not get agitated about the UN until Israel’s interests are threatened. In the aftermath of the Zionismas-racism vote, even moderate Arabs were saying that the American reaction only confirmed how influential the Zionist lobby was, both on U.S. policy and on public opinion. UNESCO’s director-general, Dr. M’Bow. was in from Paris about that time too, trying to repair the damage done by the discriminatory action against Israel in his organization the previous year (exclusion from the European grouping within UNESCO). He complained that Israel always seemed to be a special case. There was no comparable indignation in Western capitals, he noted, when pre-revolutionary Portugal was expelled outright from UNESCO.

One difficulty in the Zionism-as-racism debate was semantic. Moynihan, for all his flamboyance of speech, is meticulous about the meaning of words. He spent a lot of lobby time trying to point out that in his dictionary, racism was not simply a form of group hostility. Rather, as he put it. racism involved “a belief that there’s a biological hierarchy of groups called races among human beings, that some are superior and some are inferior, and that ethical consequences flow from these biological differences.”Moynihan’s precision penetrated few minds. For as that astute and experienced UN colleague of mine, Louis Halasz, observed, Zionism had become a sort of code word, signaling to one side an attack on the Jewish state, and sounding to the other side like an attack on the Jews themselves.

One of the worst consequences of the vote alienation of that segment of American and European opinion which was formerly the most favorably disposed toward the UN—is one that the Third World majority may end up blaming on just the wrong parties. Indeed, in its final hours before adjournment last December, in voting on UN information policy, the General Assembly was still lilting against some imagined Zionist communications cabal which has been bad-mouthing the UN. The workings of the Western press are not yet understood.

“Theater of the absurd.” Moynihan called the General Assembly when it had finished its business last year. However contemptuous his language. Moynihan in his actions paid the General Assembiy the compliment of taking it seriously throughout the session more seriously, judging from public statements, than did Henry Kissinger, who suggested that the assembly resolution on Zionism was something simple to be ignored.

Among U.S. officials, there is a tendency to apply selective standards of credibility to what comes out of the UN. Resolutions which represent carefully worked out reconciliations of position are given weight. Those designed bv one faction mainly to pressure or embarrass another aren’t. Putting the Zionism resolution in the latter category shouldn’t obscure the fact that the General Assembly usually registers, often in a crude and imprecise way, what the climate of world opinion is on any given issue.

There is no question that the successive UN votes, over Israeli and American opposition, to recognize the PLO as the sole bargaining agent of the Palestinian people, to endorse the Palestinians’ right of return to Palestine, and most recently, to invite the PLO into all conferences on the Mideast “on an equal footing" with the other parties, were representative of general opinion. The entire Mideast situation has, of course, been altered as a result. (While the Western Europeans joined the United States in strenuously opposing the anti-Zionism resolution, they were markedly less resistant to the various pro-PLO resolutions passed during the 1974 and 1975 General Assembly sessions, And this January in the Security Council, Britain. France, and Italy broke further with the United Slates and did not oppose the PLO’s appearing with “the rights of a member state” during the council’s Mideast deliberations.)

Can the U.S. bases on Guam, the presence of which was “deprecated" by an 89 2 majority with 32 abstentions, have been such a global issue as the vote last December indicated? Of course not. But the size of the majority says something about the prevailing antiAmerican mood and the ineffectiveness of the heavy pressures we brought to bear in this case. More successful was the arm-twisting the United States had to resort to last August to win an 11—9 vote in the Committee of 24 (a committee dealing with colonial questions) against a Cuban proposal that the UN investigate the United States’ administration of Puerto Rico. In the voting on the Korean question in November, the United States won a nominal victory (the pro-Seoul resolution passed by the larger majority), but the fact that the North Koreans also got their resolution through, for the first time, does indicate a shift in the wind (previous pro-Pyongyang resolutions were stalled off).

The U.S. Mission to the UN customarily issues a post-assembly summary that amounts to a box score. Moynihan hasn’t done that: perhaps it’s just as well since the United States lost more big ones in 1975 than it won. Third World delegates feel that the United States shouldn’t mind losing for a change. They point out that we had almost a twenty-year winning streak, running the General Assembly pretty much as we wanted. There’s a new lineup at the UN now, they say. No arguing that.

Filling a hole

For the hundred or so nationsmore than two thirds of present UN membership that make up that undefinable but certainly recognizable Third World, the UN is extremely important. It is the place where smaller nations, not able to afford embassies worldwide, transact much of their multilateral diplomacy; it is where they often send their best and brightest people: more to the point, it is where they angle for help from the myriad UN agencies dispensing financial, technical, and other development aid. About 85 percent of UN resources go to the developing countries. The UN is not the top ambassadorial post abroad for every Third World country, but it comes right after Washington. Peking, or Moscow for most. A new oldboy network has formed of ex-UN ambassadors who are foreign ministers, vice ministers, or comparably influential men back home: attitudes formed at the UN get carried back too.

To suggest, then, that the UN may be developing into that locus where the United States deals with the Third World is not to slight the UN’s utility. If anything, it indicates its growing convenience as a global forum in which global problems can be broached. Here, there may be no substitute for the UN. In such areas as food, population, environment, even in development aid (where the UN Development Program supplies the direction that once came from Washington), without the UN, the United States would find itself with a “hole in its policy,”as Congressman Donald Fraser, the Minnesota Democrat who served as a public delegate to the last General Assembly, observed.

The Europeans are using the UN for essentially the same purpose. The industrialized nations as a group worked superbly together during last year’s special General Assembly session on economic questions to bring the Group of 77’s trade and aid demands within acceptable limits for further discussion. This Western harmony did not survive long into the political battles of the regular General Assembly session, where the Europeans feared that Moynihan, by his tactics, might simple be turning off the Third World countries and making things harder for the West all around. In particular they didn’t appreciate his moralizing, his too easy (as they saw it) separation of the world into good guvs and bad guys. The Europeans haven’t liked UN battles over political doctrine. The British, for instance, regard the UN as having acquired, in the words of Ivor Richard, the British ambassador, “an almost quantifiable value" for them in setting the tone of their African relations; they don’t want unnecessary ideological upset. Most Europeans feel as do the British. Nor do they consider that Moynihan is entitled to speak for them in this regard.

One of the gang?

Moynihan’s observations on the way world affairs are developing contain a lot of truth. That Western liberal values are under attack is obvious. But it isn’t the whole explanation for recent UN votes. To claim, as Moynihan has. that Israel is hated because it is a parliamentary democracy doesn’t correspond with Arab views usually heard around the UN, They sav that they would like an Israeli dictatorship even less.

A newspaperman who has covered the UN much longer than I says that Moynihan is the only American ambassador who has ever been blackballed by the club, not really regarded as one of the gang. It is too bad that so much of the controversy inside the UN’s glass palace and outside it, has focused on Moynihan personally not that he didn’t, by his personal slyle, invite it. But there has been too much tendency around the UN to think that with Moynihan gone, the United States’ position might soften. The greater likelihood, given the American public mood and the feeling in Washington, is that it might harden even more.

It has not been a bad thing, on balance, for the UN to have U.S. concerns made quite clear, nor to have some vitality reinjected into the UN proceedings. Not to take UN votes as meaning something is to condemn the place to being a talking-shop of no consequence, a danger real enough already. Some votes simply can’t be won. and there may be nothing to do except to register dissent in gaudy language; at least it will be remembered.

Granting Moynihan those benefits of doubt, there is still reason to be concerned about some of the applause he is provoking. It is perhaps loudest from that fringe of American opinion that wants to pull the plug on the UN, drain it of U.S. money, wash it out of New York. Fortunately a cutoff of American funds does not seem imminent. Immediately after the anti-Zionist proposal had been approved in the UN’s Third Committee, resolutions went through both houses of Congress condemning the committee vote and urging the General Assembly not to confirm it in plenary session. But the Assemble did confirm it, and the U.S. Congress has done nothing since.

As for moving to Vienna or Geneva, that doesn’t seem to be on the minds of many delegates right now, for all the troubles they claim to have in New York with cops, robbers, neighbors, and dogs. The crowd in the UN delegates’ lounge looks neither deprived nor downcast. In fact, they seem to be enjoying themselves. Moynihan, incidentally, thinks the UN crowd would be chilled by the Swiss in Geneva and bored in Vienna. Of Vienna, he says, “The Jews are gone and it isn’t the same anymore.”

—CURTIS PRENDERGAST