John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has voiced firm opposition to U.N. reorganization measures that the Bush administration fears would inhibit U.S. authority to use force and place new legal obligations on countries to intervene where genocide, ethnic cleansing or war crimes were being committed.
Bolton outlined his positions in a series of letters to U.N. delegates participating in negotiations to draft a 39-page statement to be read by world leaders at a summit on development and U.N. reform that begins Sept. 14. The six letters, intended to clarify proposed U.S. amendments to the draft, constitute the most detailed public picture of Bolton's thinking on a range of issues since he became ambassador, including on the fight against poverty and terrorism, the promotion of human rights and the streamlining of the U.N. bureaucracy.
Together, the letters reflect Bolton's long-held opposition to international agreements that he considers incursions on U.S. sovereignty and provide a glimpse at how he is working to influence a lengthy internal negotiating process that has been dominated by foreign policy professionals in the State Department.
Bolton argued that the Security Council already had sufficient legal authority to send foreign troops to halt atrocities in places such as the Sudanese region of Darfur. He insisted that the U.N. charter "has never been interpreted as creating a legal obligation for Security Council members to support enforcement action." He also urged the deletion of language calling on nations to prevent "incitement" of mass atrocities, saying it runs counter to the U.S. First Amendment protections of speech.
Bolton wrote that the United States "stands ready" to intervene in select cases where governments fail to halt mass killings on their soil. But he said that world leaders should not "foreclose" the military option by the United States and other governments "absent authorization by the Security Council."
The U.N. doctrine of humanitarian intervention, known as the "responsibility to protect," has been promoted by Secretary General Kofi Annan, European governments and human rights advocates, who had been pressing U.N. members to accept greater responsibility for intervening in countries where atrocities are taking place. They have also been pressing to ensure a more central role for the Security Council in authorizing military action, a position that the Bush administration has strenuously opposed.
Bolton also pressed for changes in the U.N. document that would ensure that U.S. or Israeli forces would not be exposed to terrorism charges if they killed or injured civilians during military operations. Bolton wrote that the "scope" of the terrorism provision should be limited to "terrorist actions," not "military activities that are appropriately governed by international humanitarian law." Arab governments have insisted for years that the Israeli army has engaged in "state terrorism" against Palestinian civilians.
Bolton urged the U.N. members to deliver a strong statement condemning terrorism but to defer any discussion on a definition of terrorism to the General Assembly, which is negotiating a convention on terrorism. The United States argues that the convention should exclude any acts by armed forces during a conflict.
Bolton, meanwhile, sought to counter criticism Wednesday that the Bush administration had introduced hundreds of proposed amendments to the U.N. document at the last minute to derail the negotiations. Bolton showed reporters several copies of detailed U.S. amendments dating back to June 25, and said that he was confident that a deal could be struck before more than 170 world leaders arrive in New York in two weeks.
"We haven't done something at the last minute here," Bolton told reporters in his most extensive public remarks since he took the job Aug. 1. "I've got my pen in my pocket and I'm ready to go. We can make this deadline, we can get a strong outcome document."
Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist advising Annan on the world summit, on Wednesday charged that the United States was engaging in a last-minute campaign to "gut" the summit document "with arguments that change by the day."
Sachs accused the Bush administration of backtracking on previous pledges to encourage an increase in foreign assistance by wealthy governments.
He cited President Bush's endorsement of the Monterrey Consensus, a 2002 summit in Mexico that urged wealthy governments "to make concrete efforts" toward reaching a target of contributing 0.7 percent of their national income to poor countries. The Bush administration has praised the Monterrey conference's focus on free-market reforms, and required governments to improve accountability in exchange for aid and debt relief. But it says it never committed to meeting the 0.7 percent target.
"While the U.S. strongly supports increased ODA [overseas development assistance] to those countries that demonstrate an ability to use aid effectively, the U.S. does not accept global aid targets or global taxes," Bolton wrote.