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Since George W. Bush took over the White House, the United States has walked out of the United Nations racism conference in South Africa, removed itself from the Kyoto protocol on global warming, and refused to ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court. In a post-Sept. 11 world, when all that matters is the war against terrorism, suddenly the United States seems to need the United Nations and has invoked the organization in its quest to unify the world in the anti-terrorism campaign. “There was a sense at the beginning of the Bush administration of relative insularity — that the United Nations needs the United States, but that the United States does not need the United Nations,” says Clovis Maksoud, former ambassador of the League of Arab States at the United Nations. “When the attacks took place, the unilateralism that had prevailed in the American attitude toward the U.N. began to appear counterproductive.” But the apparent about-face in the Bush administration may not signal a new era of reinvigorated relations between the United States and the United Nations. After all, the United States has in the past turned to the United Nations in times of crisis, only to snub the international body when its usefulness in pursuing U.S. goals faded. And some insist that the United States may be as unilateralist as ever. “We’re clearly charting our own course with respect to the anti-terrorism campaign,” says Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute. “The U.S. is hardly going to make the U.N. a serious partner.” Still, the United States has taken several actions since the terrorist attacks last month that suggest it is warming to the United Nations. On Oct. 5, the United States quickly paid $582 million in back dues. In correspondence with Congress, President Bush invoked U.N. provisions to support his order blocking suspected terrorists from tapping funds in U.S. banks. And in a nationally televised press conference last week, the president even said that the United Nations should play a vital role in post-war Afghanistan. Brett Schaeffer, an international regulatory specialist and fellow at the Heritage Foundation in D.C., says, “Dramatic events have a way of overriding petty differences.” Indeed, a similar dynamic played out during the Persian Gulf War. Then the United States, under the elder President George Bush, gathered together a coalition including Saudi Arabia and Great Britain to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The coalition did not act until a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsed military strikes against Iraqi invaders. After the relatively short-lived military campaign, the United Nations stepped in to enforce sanctions against Iraq and to monitor that country’s production of weapons of mass destruction. The organization largely failed to get access to and monitor Iraq’s weapons depots. And the sanctions, which are mostly still in place, were later blamed by many in the international community for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. “After the Gulf War, everyone felt the U.N.’s second coming had arrived,” says Steven Dimoff, vice president of the United Nations Association, a grass-roots foreign policy organization and U.N. watchdog group. “But by 1993, that was the end of it.” Despite the failures of the past, some hold out hope that the Bush administration’s apparent appreciation for the United Nations is more than mere rhetoric. Today, there is not so much a coalition in the current military campaign as there is a network of bilateral partnerships between the United States and such countries as Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and, of course, North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, especially Great Britain. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld returned from Central Asia just before the strikes on Afghanistan, he was carrying a series of independently cut deals for use of air space and military facilities in various countries neighboring Afghanistan, all with differing terms. The violent anti-U.S. protests in Pakistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere in recent weeks highlight how unpopular the United States is in many parts of the world. U.N. support for using force against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban provides some cover under which the United States and its partners may act. Maksoud, now director of American University’s Center for the Global South, notes that “many of those who wanted to participate in the coalition did not want to do it if it was a coalition with the U.S., but only if it was a world coalition sanctioned by the United Nations — which provides legitimacy to associate and to act. In that sense, the United Nations was no longer considered in need of member states; the member states, even the U.S., needed the U.N.” On Sept. 12, both the U.N. Security Council and the 189-member U.N. General Assembly issued resolutions condemning the attacks. The Security Council, whose members are bound by its resolutions, included language widely interpreted as a green light for the United States to respond militarily to the attacks and for its members to join the United States to “combat all forms of terrorism.” It followed that up on Sept. 28 with an even broader version of the resolution. In his address to his nation on Sept. 19, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf tried to assuage worries that Pakistan would be joining a coalition with a rogue United States: “[W]e know that whatever the United States’ intentions they have the support of the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly in the form of a resolution. This is a resolution for war against terrorism and this is a resolution for punishing those people who support terrorism. Islamic countries have supported this resolution. This is the situation as it prevailed in the outside world.” On the financial front, the Bush administration is now calling on the international community to work together. Prior to Sept. 11, the United States had greeted the work of the Financial Action Task Force and other international fiscal cooperation groups with icy silence. The Paris-based FATF releases an annual blacklist of countries that don’t cooperate in the group’s efforts against money laundering. (The United States is one of the 29 listed countries.) But now that President Bush is seeking broad assistance in an effort to starve terrorists of their assets and crack down on money laundering, he is calling for international standards. In his Sept. 23 executive order freezing assets of organizations allegedly linked to terrorism, he invoked four U.N. Security Council resolutions in support of the order. That same day, Bush stressed the need to “encourage multilateral cooperation in identifying and freezing property and assets located elsewhere.” While the Bush administration has pressed ahead in confiscating terrorist money, it has also made good on its debts to the United Nations. As of Sept. 11, the United States owed a payment of $582 million to the organization. Such payments have been an incendiary issue over the years for such Congress members as Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Before the attack, the full Senate passed a bill releasing the second of three scheduled payments. On the House side, though, there was a holdup in the form of an amendment championed by DeLay making full payment contingent on excepting United States servicemen from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. That amendment, along with a few others, threatened to hold the bill in conference indefinitely. But the terrorist attacks prompted a rash of conciliation on the Hill, and the amendments were dropped. Bush signed the legislation on Oct. 5. It’s impossible to say what the fate of the bill and the amendments would have been absent Sept. 11. The administration had been pushing to have the back dues paid, according to several sources on the Hill, although with few tangible results. For the moment, the question of whether the United States prizes its commitment to the United Nations is easy to answer. “There has been a shift in the U.S. government’s public attitudes toward the U.N., and it’s an important shift,” says Dimoff of the United Nations Association. “But it’s too early to say if it’s a long shift.”

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