Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a longtime critic of the United Nations, offered today to forge a new era of cooperation--and then proceeded to chastise the world body for aspiring to "global governance" and showing "a lack of gratitude" toward the United States.
The first American legislator ever to address the Security Council, Helms urged the United Nations to pare its bureaucracy, reduce America's share of its costs and stop claiming to be "the sole source of legitimacy for the use of force" around the globe.
"It is my intent to extend to you my hand of friendship," Helms said. "If the U.N. were to reject this compromise, it would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. support for the United Nations."
Helms, 78, set aside his walking stick before following U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke into the council chamber. But his half-hour speech alternated rhetorical stick-waving with offers of conciliation.
On one hand, he invited the Security Council's 15 members to visit Washington as guests of the Senate. On the other, he warned against U.N. encroachment on American sovereignty.
"Many Americans . . . see the U.N. aspiring to establish itself as the central authority of a new international order of global laws and global governance," he said. "This is an international order the American people will not countenance."
He added that the United States will never subject its soldiers to an international criminal court nor abandon a just cause because of the arguable claims of international law. "International law did not defeat Hitler, nor did it win the Cold War," he said.
While praising the United Nations for its role in the Persian Gulf War, he also called the world body's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia "a disaster" and said it was "paralyzed" in Kosovo.
Helms received a polite but cool reception. Delegates from China, Russia, France, Canada and several other countries chided the United States for racking up $1.5 billion in debts to the United Nations, primarily for peacekeeping operations undertaken with U.S. support.
Congress agreed late last year to pay $926 million in arrears, on condition that the United Nations accepts that amount as payment in full and permanently reduces the nation's share of the U.N. budget.
Helms said the United States, by far the largest financial underwriter of the United Nations, resents being characterized as "deadbeat." The American people "have heard U.N. officials declaring absurdly that countries like Fiji and Bangladesh are carrying America's burden," he said. "They see the majority of the U.N. members routinely voting against America in the General Assembly."
Helms's address opened a two-day visit by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to New York. On Friday, Helms will be joined by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and other members of the committee in a hearing on the United Nations at the New York Bar Association.