Lily’s Room

April-18-2018 John R. Bolton (5)

Please refer to my previous postings (http://d.hatena.ne.jp/itunalily2/20180413) (http://d.hatena.ne.jp/itunalily2/20180414)(http://d.hatena.ne.jp/itunalily2/20180415)(http://d.hatena.ne.jp/itunalily2/20180417). (Lily)

TAI: There’s been much debate over whether the new Human Rights Council is an improvement over what came before, whether it’s just as bad as what came before or possibly even worse. It’s hard for me to imagine that it could be worse, because what went on before was an embarrassment to the human species. How do you rate it? As a sub-par outcome at the very least, right?

John Bolton: Right. We voted against the new Human Rights Council because we thought that, at best, it represented only an incremental improvement over the old UN Human Rights Commission. At the UN you only get one shot at reform every generation or so, so if we accepted a tiny improvement, that was all we were going to get. So we argued to the Europeans, principally, that we shouldn’t keep compromising, shouldn’t keep accepting the watering-down of the various reform proposals, because just getting a new body created isn’t worth the achievement if you have to give up all your principles to get it.

TAI: Didn’t the Europeans argue back that you either have to compromise or you get nothing, and so stay stuck in the same terrible situation?

John Bolton: They did, and this gets to the fundamental question of what you think is achievable at the UN. I think we’ve had higher standards, and that it would have been better for the organization, not to mention the United States, to keep insisting on real reform and not acquiescing to what actually happened. This is a rare case where you have a controllable, nearly scientific experiment to examine: Our side was saying, “Don’t give in. This is no improvement. We’ll end up with something no better than the predecessor.” And Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International were saying, “No, let’s go for what we can get, and then we can make this work.” So who was right? Nearly a year into the creation of this new institution, the Bush Administration’s prediction has turned out to be correct. What this says is that if you want real, meaningful change, you have to be prepared for a long-term struggle. The process outcome of simply getting a new body should not trump the substantive outcome of getting the right body.

TAI: Let me ask you more generally about the phrase “human rights.” This phrase means different things to different people. On the one hand, Americans instinctively support human rights as a legacy of the Enlightenment. But it’s an abusable term, too, isn’t it?

John Bolton: My personal view is that genuine human rights are a pretty narrowly defined category, principally what today would be called political rights. Even the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has too many “rights”, and I’m uncomfortable generally with delineating rights that themselves become entitlements. I personally prefer a narrow definition that, precisely because it’s narrow, means that preserving those rights becomes critically important. In the UN declaration and other versions since, practically every remotely positive-sounding phrase has been turned into a “right.” Today virtually everything is a right in a UN context, like the right to development, for example. God knows what that means. Thanks to that sort of expansion of the concept, advocates of human rights have gotten to a point where the phrase is losing its meaning. I think that’s tragic, because nothing is more important than protecting real human rights.

TAI: So what about Kofi Annan? Kofi’s now out of the UN, as are you. And I know you recognize what a tough job it is being Secretary-General of the UN: The guy has a lot of responsibility, but not a lot of authority or power, since the UN is mainly a creature of what the member states will or won’t allow it to do. On the other hand, there’s the oil-for-food scandal and the clear failure to get management reform off the ground. So all that said, how would you rank Annan?

John Bolton: Personally he’s a very kind and gracious man. There’s no doubt of that. But I’d rank him near the bottom of Secretaries-General. Then again, I’d rank almost all of them near the bottom, and the reason is the same: In substantial part they did not fulfill what the UN Charter says is the Secretary-General’s responsibility. The Charter defines the Secretary-General as the UN’s “chief executive officer.” Now, that’s not a very appealing title. It doesn’t say anything about being the world’s chief diplomat or secular pope. But if Kofi had spent more time being the UN’s CEO, maybe the UN wouldn’t be saddled with the oil-for-food scandal and the enormous negative impact that has had on the perception of the UN in the United States.

That’s one reason why in selecting the new Secretary-General, the United States and other countries put more emphasis on finding somebody who would take that responsibility seriously. At some point I said we needed a proletarian Secretary-General, someone who would really get his hands dirty and run the organization.

TAI: Someone from the streets of Baltimore, huh? Do you think Ban Ki-moon is that man?

John Bolton: I think that of the candidates who were available who were politically realistic he was the best choice.

TAI: We’ve talked about human rights, but there’s another concept or catchphrase that has become prominent lately—“the responsibility to protect”—and this gets back to what you were saying earlier about sovereignty. We all know the arguments here: The main argument for a “responsibility to protect” is that we live in a world where what goes on within state borders is just as important or more important to U.S. national security as what goes on across those borders. We can’t afford the old Westphalian notion of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states anymore. A lot of national-interest conservatives are ill at ease with this idea, however, because it’s not clear who is authorized to make judgments about where intervention happens and where it doesn’t. They suspect a politically abusable concept, not entirely unlike the ICC.

Nevertheless, the General Assembly has affirmed the notion of the “responsibility to protect.” It’s been a part of the corpus of United Nations law, so to speak, since September 2005. The idea is so pervasive that even Senator Jesse Helms was prepared to accept this idea on moral grounds. What’s your take on all this?

John Bolton: Let me just say on the sovereignty point that I don’t think there was ever a world of Westphalia where sovereignty was like a big hard shell that has deteriorated over time, particularly in the post-World War II environment. Those who favor proceeding toward greater global governance, as they call it—not global government—tend to agree with Steve Krasner’s book on sovereignty, where he pointed out that Westphalian sovereignty has always been something less than absolute.

Sovereignty has changed, but it hasn’t deteriorated. It’s just that the circumstances now differ from what they were then. The “responsibility to protect” language adopted in September 2005 was something we accepted. We achieved what we wanted, which is to say, in the first instance, that the fundamental “responsibility to protect” lies with each sovereign state. There are circumstances where, one potential actor having forfeited that responsibility, others can act, but this does not imply a duty to act. That was something the State Department legal advisor was very concerned about.

Clearly, this is a murky area in practice. We confront it directly in the situation in Darfur today. Although events may have moved on by the time we see this in print, we see in the papers literally this morning President Bashir saying again that he won’t accept UN peacekeepers in Darfur—and perhaps, as you suggested earlier, fear of ICC indictment plays a part in that. In any event, Sudan’s opposition led Kofi Annan, in the last months of his tenure, to say that we have to compromise away from Resolution 1706, which authorized the transfer from the African Union to a UN peacekeeping force. I personally felt that stating a willingness to accept compromise was a mistake. The Security Council had said “here are the terms”, in effect, and we should have made Khartoum accept that agreement.

TAI: But how would we do that? We’ve never been prepared to use force. The Defense Department has simply refused to “open up a file” of any kind for Darfur—not one single helicopter, not one spy satellite reprogrammed, not one boot on the ground.

John Bolton: Well, if we’re not prepared to follow through on things like Resolution 1706, we never should have adopted it. I think the real answer in Sudan is regime change, to get a different government in Khartoum, and I think there are a variety of ways we could do that. But then, I see regime change as a possibility in a lot of different places. In any event, I think on Darfur we will find out how serious people are about “the responsibility to protect”, because each compromise that Annan proposed away from 1706 was a retreat from the very responsibility to protect he had advocated. Darfur is a case study in what it may ultimately come to mean.

(To be continued.)

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