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UNITED STATES PRESIDENT George W. Bush begins his second term by promising to follow a multilateral approach to international affairs. Then he nominates a strident unilateralist, John Bolton, for the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. This is a new standard in Orwellian double-speak even for an administration that often insists black is white. As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs during Mr. Bush's first term, Mr. Bolton spearheaded efforts to wreck weapons control initiatives such as the anti-ballistic missile treaty. If Mr. Bolton does become envoy to the U.N., he will have a platform from which he can endlessly proclaim his disdain for international institutions. After all, this is the person who once declared "there is no such thing as the United Nations." What is even more disturbing is that this particular nomination appears emblematic of a further shift towards unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy. While Colin Powell as Secretary of State made at least a pretence of following an inclusive approach, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, is likely to give fuller rein to the administration's hawkish impulses. The hope that one of the 10 Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will join the eight Democrats in rejecting Mr. Bolton's nomination seems rather futile since the White House will do its utmost to avert a defeat.

Most member states agree that the United Nations system needs reform. The U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, had set up a High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which studied ways to revamp the institutional mechanisms, especially the Security Council, for ensuring global peace. While the report submitted by this panel might not be taken as the template for change, its recommendations are likely to provide substance for a vigorous debate. Given its recent record, the U.S. is likely to oppose the panel's view that preventive wars against non-proximate threats are illegal. However, the panel's report outlined a doctrine to justify external intervention in the internal affairs of countries where the governments are unable or unwilling to prevent serious violations of international humanitarian law. It also did not invalidate the practice followed by some countries of forming short term alliances to achieve common political objectives. Washington is likely to make a determined effort to string together recommendations of this sort into an argument that would justify armed interventions by "coalitions of the willing" in future. As a true believer in the manifest destiny of the U.S., Mr. Bolton can be expected to throw himself wholeheartedly into these efforts if he does become his country's representative to the U.N.

A Senate confirmation of Mr. Bolton's nomination will deal a body blow to the hopes of countries currently striving for an expansion of the permanent membership of the Security Council. On one occasion, he expressed the opinion that there should be only one permanent member because "that is the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world." While the Bush administration has not taken a clear position on Security Council reforms, the Bolton nomination signals that it is unlikely to be accommodating. More immediately, this move also suggests that the U.S. will actively pursue efforts to have sanctions imposed on North Korea, Iran, and Syria since Mr. Bolton was its pointman in recent diplomatic campaigns against these countries. However, there is little likelihood that the U.S. will be successful in these efforts so long as the other permanent members refuse to go along. Given these circumstances, the Bolton nomination can only be described as a gratuitous snub to the rest of the international community.

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