Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Appendix IV Segment 9/23
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The U.N. votes at the time of the December 1987 Washington summit, and the treatment of them noted in the text, illustrate a more general pattern. In recent years, the United States has been far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions. From 1967 through 1981, the United States vetoed seven resolutions condemning Israeli practices in southern Lebanon, affirming Palestinian rights, and deploring Israel's changing of the status of Jerusalem and its establishment of settlements in the occupied territories. Each time, the United States was alone in opposition. There were thirteen additional vetoes by the Reagan administration on similar issues, the U.S. standing alone.48 The United States has also been alone or in a small minority in opposing or vetoing U.N. resolutions on South Africa, arms issues, and other matters.
These votes are often not reported or only marginally noted. The occasional reports are commonly of the kind one might find in a state-controlled press, as examples already cited illustrate. To mention another, in November 1988 the General Assembly voted 130 to 2 (the United States and Israel) for a resolution that "condemns" Israel for "killing and wounding defenseless Palestinians" in the suppression of the Palestinian uprising and "strongly deplores" its disregard for earlier Security Council resolutions condemning its actions in the occupied territories. This was reported in the New York Times. The first three paragraphs stated the basic facts. The rest of the article (ten paragraphs) was devoted to the U.S. and Israeli positions, to the abstainers, and to the "relatively poor showing" of the Arab states on earlier resolutions. From supporters of the resolution, all we hear is reservations of those who found it "unbalanced."49
The isolation of the United States has aroused some concern. In 1984, the New York Times Magazine devoted a major story to the topic by its U.N. correspondent Richard Bernstein.50 He observes that "there are many voices" asking "in tones of skepticism and anguish" whether there is any value to the United Nations at all. "There is a growing sense," he continues, "that the United Nations has become repetitive, rhetorical, extremist and antidemocratic, a place where the United States is attacked with apparent impunity even by countries with which it maintains cordial bilateral relations." "There can be little doubt that, over the years, the United Nations has come to be dominated by what might be called a third-world ideology" -- that is, by the views of the majority of its members -- and that its attacks on the United States are "excessive and one-sided."
This judgment holds despite the annual U.N. condemnations of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the regular U.N. reports on its human rights violations there, and the Security Council vote condemning the Soviet downing of KAL 007 over Soviet territory. The downing by the U.S. Navy of an Iranian civilian plane over Iranian territorial waters with 290 lives lost elicited no such reaction, and the U.S. attack against South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, was neither condemned nor subjected to inquiry; in fact, Shirley Hazzard observes, "throughout these years, the war in Vietnam was never discussed in the United Nations."51
Continuing his review of the decline of the United Nations, Bernstein observes that both the Security Council and the General Assembly condemned the U.S. invasion of Grenada, including most NATO countries and other U.S. allies. Even the efforts of U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, "perhaps the most dazzling intellect at the world body" (a comment that must have elicited a few chuckles there), have been unavailing in stemming the tide of "prefabricated jargon about racism, colonialism and fascism" and "ritualistic" attacks on the United States in place of the "reasoned debate" in the good old days when there was "an automatic majority" to support the U.S. positions. "The question," Bernstein concludes,
is not why American policy has diverged from that of other member states, but why the world's most powerful democracy has failed to win support for its views among the participants in United Nations debates. The answer seems to lie in two underlying factors. The first and dominant one is the very structure and political culture that have evolved at the world body, tending in the process to isolate the United States and to portray it as a kind of ideological villain. The other factor is American failure to play the game of multilateral diplomacy with sufficient skill.The question, in short, is why the world is out of step, and the answer plainly does not lie in the policies of the United States, which are praiseworthy as a matter of definition, so that argument to establish the point would be superfluous.
A different view was expressed by Senator William Fulbright in 1972, when he had become quite disaffected with U.S. policies: "Having controlled the United Nations for many years as tightly and as easily as a big-city boss controls his party machine," Fulbright remarked, "we had got used to the idea that the United Nations was a place where we could work our will." In his History of the United Nations, Evan Luard observes that:
leading to "rage, but not, as yet, regret," as Shirley Hazzard comments, reviewing Luard's study.52
No doubt, if they had been in a majority, the communist states would have behaved in much the same way. The conduct of the West...was none the less an abuse of power. And it was an abuse that those same [Western] members were to regret more than most when the balance of power changed again and a different majority assumed control of the organization,
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47 Addendum to p. 89.
48 American-Arab Affairs, Winter 1987-88.
49 Paul Lewis, NYT, Nov. 4, 1988.
50 "The U.N. versus the U.S.," NYT Magazine, Jan. 22, 1984.
51 Shirley Hazzard, Defeat of an Ideal (Atlantic Monthly Press, Little, Brown, 1973, 201). The only exceptions, she notes, were a Lao government initiative of 1959 and the Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964, when Adlai Stevenson falsely claimed that the alleged attacks on U.S. naval vessels were "a calculated, a deliberate act of military aggression against the United States."
52 Times Literary Supplement (London), Sept. 17, 1982.