There's been an awful lot of speculative talk this week in the well of the Senate about just how effective John Bolton is going to be in representing the U.S. at the UN.
But here's one piece of recent hard evidence.
Bolton is still Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control. The UN's month-long conference on Non-Proliferation, an event that takes place only once every five years, just ended in unequivocal failure. It's no wonder John Bolton did not achieve more. He did not prepare and, from what I can tell, he didn't even show up, leaving the job of chief negotiator to someone else. Bolton and his backers might argue that accomplish anything at the NPT is tough, but that's true of the UN as a whole. If Bolton didn't make it happen now -- with the eyes of the Senate on him -- what basis is there to conclude that he will later.
Here's how excerpts from the New York Times article describe the debacle.
A monthlong conference at the United Nations to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ended Friday in failure, with its chairman declaring that the disagreements between nuclear-armed and non-nuclear states ran so deep that "very little has been accomplished."
But in the months leading up to the meeting, it became clear that little progress was likely, and in the end the bickering between the United States, which wanted to focus on North Korea and Iran, and countries demanding that Washington shrink its own arsenals, ran so deep that no real negotiations over how to stem proliferation ever took place.
In the end, conference participants criticized, without naming them, both the United States for ignoring its commitments, and other nations for failing to grapple with the Iranian and North Korean problems.
Administration officials said in interviews that they had given up hope several weeks ago that the meeting would accomplish anything, and they defended their decision not to send Secretary Rice to press Mr. Bush's agenda. Instead, the American representative, Jackie W. Sanders, said the United States wanted to continue the discussion "in other fora," without describing when or where.
"The N.P.T. Conference was a missed opportunity to strengthen the foundation for global cooperation to reduce nuclear threats," said Sam Nunn, the former senator, who has championed efforts to secure nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union. "We can't accept this as the last word. The U.S. must take a post-conference leadership role in bringing the international community together on this critical agenda."
American officials spent much of their time arguing that reductions in the United States nuclear stockpile, under an agreement struck in 2002 with Russia, proved its compliance with the treaty's requirement that nuclear states move toward disarmament.
That argument convinced few, and the Canadian representative, Mr. Meyer, appeared to be speaking when he said, "If government simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never be able to build an edifice of international cooperation."
Before the meeting, administration officials said President Bush wanted to move the discussion to smaller groups where nations like Iran could not block a consensus. The officials, who did not want to be named because the negotiating stance was in flux, named the Group of 8 industrial nations and the obscure Nuclear Suppliers Group.
So the Administration's solution to how to resolve problems of consensus-building at the UN is to try to take problems out of the UN and into other fora. One wonders how that would work on UN reform, purportedly to be Bolton's highest priority?
Newsweek published a thorough piece some weeks ago predicting precisely the failure that would occur, and pinning the blame on Bolton's lack of preparations:
In a landmark speech at the National Defense University in February 2004, the president called for a toughened Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other new initiatives. “There is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot be tolerated,” Bush said. “Yet this consensus means little unless it is translated into action.”
By action Bush meant the hard work of diplomacy, John Bolton, the president’s point man on nuclear arms control, told Congress a month later. For one thing, America needed to lead an effort at “closing a loophole” in the 35-year-old NPT, Bolton testified back then . . .
But if the NPT needed so much fixing under U.S. leadership, why was the United States so shockingly unprepared when the treaty came up for its five-year review at a major conference in New York this month . . .
Part of the answer, several sources close to the negotiations tell NEWSWEEK, lies with Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control. Since last fall Bolton, Bush’s embattled nominee to be America’s ambassador to the United Nations, has aggressively lobbied for a senior job in the second Bush administration. During that time, Bolton did almost no diplomatic groundwork for the NPT conference, these officials say.
“John was absent without leave” when it came to implementing the agenda that the president laid out in his February 2004 speech, a former senior Bush official declares flatly. Another former government official with experience in nonproliferation agrees. “Everyone knew the conference was coming and that it would be contentious. But Bolton stopped all diplomacy on this six months ago,” this official said . . .
Diplomacy is just a fancy word for salesmanship—making phone calls, working the corridors, listening to and poking holes in opposing arguments, lobbying others to back one’s position. But “delegates didn’t hear a peep from the U.S. until a week before the conference,” says Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Bolton's supporters have said repeatedly that he deserves confirmation because his style and beliefs will render him an effective diplomat.
But if he was this indifferent and ineffective in handling the UN in his current post, how can they be so convinced it will be otherwise when his entire portfolio consists of building support and making progress at the UN?
Should Bolton's success in overturning the UN's symbolic (though by no means insignificant) Zionism is Racism resolution 14 years ago trump his failure on an issue of life-and-death importance to U.S. national security, and why?