|UN Experience as United Nations Member |
UN Experience as United Nations Member
David Welch, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs' Address to the Swiss Parliament in Bern, Switzerland, April 3, 2001. Source: Washington File (EUR209), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., April 3, 2001.
Speaking to the Swiss Parliament in Bern April 3 on the issue of membership in the United Nations, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch outlined both the benefits and problems the United States has experienced, and said in summary that "we sought to build a world organization that would strengthen peace and security and lay the foundation for a democratic globe. Even after taking into account all of our concerns, we believe the United Nations has helped us move toward that goal. The UN has proved its worth."
The Swiss Parliament was holding hearings to consider whether or not that country should join the UN.
"That is a decision for the members of this parliament and the Swiss voter," Welch said. "But I can tell you how the United States reached its decision to support the creation of the UN, and why we think our membership in the UN is in our national interest."
He cited examples of UN programs and successes in peacekeeping, disease prevention and health, promotion of literacy and other areas, as well as U.S. concerns over member fees, UN spending, and the need for reform.
Switzerland participates in the General Assembly as an observer, belongs to organizations within the UN system, and contributes to the costs of some UN agencies, Welch pointed out. "But the benefits you receive are limited because you are not a UN member."
He said that "perhaps the greatest benefit of membership -- as noted by your foreign ministry -- is the influence it gives each participant in the important decisions of the organization. And the United Nations gains from the experience, knowledge and democratic traditions of countries like Switzerland."
Following is the text of Welch's remarks, as prepared for delivery: (begin text)
David Welch, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs' Address to the Swiss Parliament, Bern, Switzerland, April 3, 2001.
Deputy Secretary General Frechette, Foreign Minister Deiss, Ambassador Amorim, Council of States Foreign Affairs Committee President Frick and National Council Foreign Affairs Committee President Frey, Parliamentarians, Excellencies, and distinguished guests:
It is a great privilege to greet you today.
Whether to join the United Nations -- that is the question that you face once again. I cannot tell you how to decide; that is a decision for the members of this parliament and the Swiss voter. But I can tell you how the United States reached its decision to support the creation of the UN, and why we think our membership in the UN is in our national interest.
Let me be clear: the United States has long supported membership in the UN for all states that desire membership, and are willing and able to carry their obligations under the Charter. Indeed, this is essential to the UN's mission. As former President Bush -- himself a former Ambassador to the UN -- told the General Assembly in 1990, the United States believes "that universal UN membership for all States is central to the future of (the) organization ...."
Of course, Switzerland already has a wealth of experience with the United Nations. You have participated in the General Assembly as an observer from the UN's beginning. You also belong to organizations within the UN system such as the International Court of Justice. Indeed, you already contribute to the costs of some UN agencies. In 2000, your payments totaled four million dollars. But the benefits you receive are limited because you are not a UN member.
Your foreign ministry has already published a report -- more detailed than I can be -- on reasons to join the UN. These range from safeguarding your interests, to enhancing your ability to shape international law, to improving prospects for Swiss commerce and industry.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of membership -- as noted by your foreign ministry -- is the influence it gives each participant in the important decisions of the organization. And the United Nations gains from the experience, knowledge and democratic traditions of countries like Switzerland.
Given that we are both democracies with a strong tradition of federalism, America's own lively debate over the costs and benefits of international organizations may be of interest to you in your deliberations. Debate over the merits of the UN has a long history in the United States. But over time, recognition of the benefits of membership has grown. As Senator Jesse Helms, a trenchant commentator on the UN, told the Security Council last year: "The American people want the UN to serve the purpose for which it was designed: they want it to help sovereign states coordinate collective action by 'coalitions of the willing...;' they want it to provide a forum where diplomats can meet and keep open channels of communication in times of crisis; they want it to provide to the peoples of the world important services such as peacekeeping, weapons inspection and humanitarian relief."
We all know the grand, over-arching benefits to UN membership set out in the Charter -- coordinating actions to maintain international peace and security; developing friendly relations among nations; achieving international cooperation to address economic, social, and humanitarian problems; and promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Without the collective action coordinated by the UN there would not have been an armistice in Korea in 1953, or more recently, the peaceful resolution of crises in El Salvador, Mozambique, Bosnia or East Timor, to cite but a few examples.
But there are many more benefits derived from the UN, as you well know from your experience as members of the many UN agencies. Consider the elimination of disease. Through the efforts of the World Health Organization, we have completely eliminated smallpox -- once one of the world's most dangerous illnesses. The UNAIDS program is at the forefront of addressing that terrible pandemic. We are making progress in many other humanitarian areas through the UN, including efforts to meet the basic nutritional requirements for all the world's people through the World Food Program. I would also mention another key to the global improvement of living standards -- the UN's programs to foster universal literacy. Moreover, the delivery of letters, the flight of aircraft around the world, the separate bands of electromagnetic radiation that make modern radio and television possible -- all are regulated in an orderly manner thanks to agencies of the UN system. I think it is fair to say that international commerce would be more costly and more difficult without the Universal Postal Union, based right here in Bern, or without ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] or the International Telecommunications Union.
Looking back at the history of my country, the national sovereignty we Americans prize so highly has always been at the heart of our debate over membership in the United Nations, as it was in the case of its predecessor, the League of Nations. America's rejection of the League in 1919, despite President Wilson's strong support, revolved around this issue. In the speech that sounded opposition to the League, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Republican of Massachusetts, expressed fears that the League's charter, the Covenant, would unacceptably diminish America's sovereignty, particularly the power of the U.S. Congress over the budget. He feared that the League could impose fees on member states even for peacekeeping missions they did not support. Twenty-five years later similar arguments formed the core of the U.S. debate over the formation of the United Nations, and they still resonate in America today.
In contrast to the approach of Woodrow Wilson's Administration in 1919, Franklin D. Roosevelt sought the early involvement of both of America's foremost political parties in Congress on the question of joining the United Nations. Roosevelt, a Democrat, asked a prominent Republican, Senator Arthur H. Vandenburg of Michigan, to chair the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks meetings in Washington that produced the UN Charter. This bipartisan effort ensured that the United Nations became, as its name implies, an organization for cooperation among sovereign nations.
But that was not the end of the debate in the United States. During the last 30 years in particular, increasing numbers of Americans came to believe that the views of the United States were not taken seriously at the UN. Many also felt that the large proportion of the UN's funding paid by the U.S. was not being used effectively. Our departure from UNESCO in 1984 was one result of that concern. Right down to the present day, the financial probity of the UN remains a key concern of ours, particularly because our annual assessed and voluntary contributions now total some three billion [3,000 million] dollars.
Given the size of this commitment to the United Nations, you should expect us to continue to take a lead in advocating UN reform. We believe that the UN has made important strides in the last several years. Reform of the UN's scales of assessment has muted one of the most contentious issues for the U.S. with the other member states of the United Nations. But we will need to continue to ensure that the UN's administrative structure remains robust, appropriately staffed, and efficient. This will require close cooperation among all UN members. Should Switzerland join the UN, we would welcome your participation in this effort.
America helped to found the United Nations during one of history's darkest moments, World War II. As the eminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr characterized our attitude then, "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary." In that spirit, we sought to build a world organization that would strengthen peace and security and lay the foundation for a democratic globe. Even after taking into account all of our concerns, we believe the United Nations has helped us move toward that goal. The UN has proved its worth.