Last week Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., informed the United Nations’ Security Council that he is “not a diplomat” and subsequently lambasted the organization. Besides the admonition, Helms attended the Jan. 21 meeting in New York to offer an ultimatum to the international body: Either the organization reforms its bureaucracy and reduces American financial support, or it will not receive the $926 million Congress appropriated last year to pay a portion of the United States’ past dues. Although the Republican Congress’ offer to settle arrears illustrates a more open attitude toward the United Nations, Sen. Helms’ crude comments stand as an embarrassment to a people who should, by the diversity of our heritage, be keenly experienced in foreign affairs.
As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, apparently Helms thinks he has become the representative of American popular opinion, as he explained to the council that “the American people” are frustrated with the United Nations and the inefficiency in its operations. He contends that because the United Nations is “just one aspect of America’s diplomatic arsenal,” the United States should treat it with no more benevolence than it does other single nations. Helms also refutes the idea that the wealthiest and most powerful nation should not lead an international organization comprised of representatives from nearly every country.
Although frequently the United States has forced the United Nations to act as an agent of its foreign-policy agenda, Congress would be no less reluctant to dictate foreign-policy directives to the international community if the United States “cast the United Nations aside,” as Helms has suggested. Ideally, the United Nations is composed of representatives from every nation in the international community, though it acts independently by prioritizing the best interests of humanity. Helms, however, told U.N. members to keep their “utopian” vision away from American sovereignty.
As he admonished the United Nations for attempting to impose its authority over sovereign nations like the United States, Helms was forgetting that one of the organization’s primary purposes is to enforce internationally agreed-upon regulations and to consider other countries’ grievances. Helms seems to forget that the United Nations was created more than 50 years ago with great initiative and ambition on behalf of Americans, and he also ignores the inconsistency with which the United States has followed the organization’s decisions. The most flagrant instances of noncompliance, which include the times the United States has ignored the international borders surrounding Yugoslavia and Cuba, as well as the United States’ refusal to support an international war tribunal court, reiterate Helms’ belief that the only world power is above the laws it helped create.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright attempted to rectify Helms’ misrepresentation when she said his personal opinions do not represent those of the U.S. government or the American public. However, the White House’s response only limited the effects of the conservative senator’s rhetoric. Helms’ statements will serve as an indication to the world of Congress’ ignorance of the United Nations’ purpose, which is to represent all nations and their citizens.