It remains to be seen if the speech of the president of the United States of America, Mr George W. Bush, to the United Nations general assembly will do much to improve the US’s relations with the international organization. Although Mr Bush did seek to establish an expanded role for the UN, his speech is unlikely to silence the widespread disquiet, within the membership of the global body, at American unilateralism, which has been dramatically in evidence in Iraq. Mr Bush sought a new or an expanded UN role in principally four areas. First, the US president called on the UN to continue reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. These included the need for the international organization to increase its efforts in helping Afghan refugees return home, advising Kabul on a new constitution, and helping to prepare the way for national elections.
Second, Mr Bush saw an expanded UN role in Iraq to promote a democratization process that is “neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties”. While reiterating that the US was working with “allies” on a new security council resolution which will expand the UN’s role in Iraq, Mr Bush declared that, as in the aftermath of other conflicts, the UN should assist in developing a constitution, in training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections in Iraq. Third, the American president continued to see a critical role for the UN in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly in rogue regimes and terrorist organizations. Mr Bush even saw the need for a new UN security council anti-proliferation resolution. This resolution would call on all members of the UN to criminalize the proliferation of weapon of mass destruction, to enact strict export controls consistent with international standards, and to secure any and all sensitive materials within their own borders. Finally, the US president drew attention to the new “humanitarian crisis” of the sex-trade by which an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across the world’s borders.
According to Mr Bush, the UN alone could help to combat this crisis. Although he was clearly attempting to establish a new modus vivendi with the UN, sceptics may not be impressed. There was neither effort made by the American president to explain the decision to bypass the UN in order to unilaterally use force in Iraq nor any sign of regret. Indeed, the UN secretary general, Mr Kofi Annan, in his speech to the general assembly, articulated popular disquiet when he explicitly questioned the right to pre-emptive use of force. But whatever be the immediate reactions to Mr Bush’s speech, the US’s relationship with the UN will be determined more by its ability to mend ties with other permanent members of the security council than by the shrill voices of dissent in the general assembly.