UN is like the Twilight Zone, says Bolton: In his first interview with a British newspaper, America’s ambassador to the United Nations tells Alec Russell why it is in dire need of reform ((Filed: 01/05/2006, Daily Telegraph)
America’s bantam cock of an ambassador is something of a cult figure at the UN.
When meetings end he is followed by a crowd of cameramen keen to capture that famous walrus moustache and his colourful asides. Rival ambassadors salute his skill as a communicator and his diligence.
He keeps Washington rather than New York hours, starting work before dawn and often going to bed by nine. While he speaks off the cuff, he assiduously takes notes of others’ speeches, the opposite of the usual UN style.
He is far less haughty than many of his predecessors.
But it is exasperation as much as envy that defines reactions to him in the UN. His undiplomatic ways have infuriated even America’s allies and UN officials pushing for reform.
Eight months after President George W Bush made his highly contentious appointment, no one could suggest he has “gone native”.
A long-term conservative hawk, in 1994 he said the UN could easily do without the top 10 of its 39 floors. He also said there was no such thing as the UN, just an international community that can be led by the US.
His language is a little more circumspect now but only a little. Has his opinion changed? “It’s exactly what I expected … an organisation that needs substantial reform,” he replied
“This atmosphere is like a bubble. It is like a twilight zone. Things that happen here don’t reflect the reality in the rest of the world.
“There are practices, attitudes and approaches here that were abandoned 30 years ago in much of the rest of the world. It’s like a time warp. I think that’s not useful for the organisation.”
UN officials mutter that far from helping to push through much-needed reforms to ensure embarrassments such as the oil-for-food scandal are never repeated, his methods have impeded the chances of agreement.
In December, he forced a six-month limit on the UN budget, infuriating the developing world, by making further funding dependent on the passage of key reforms.
America’s EU allies, especially Britain, had to negotiate a compromise – “they pulled his chest hairs from the fire” said a veteran UN observer.
Mr Bolton rolls his eyes when asked if he is combative because he is not really interested in reform. “That criticism is a complete non sequitur,” he retorts. “My stance is not combative. I would describe it as assertive.
“We feel strongly that we need reform. Condoleezza Rice said last September we want a revolution of reform. It’s not often an American secretary of state calls for revolutions.”
Revolution is only an appropriate course of action when you don’t mind the risk of completely annihilating the institution and starting from scratch. It’s appropriate at the UN.