USIS Washington File

20 January 2000

Text: Senator Helms before the UN Security Council, January 20, 2000

(Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair makes blunt appraisal)

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee told
members of the United Nations Security Council January 20 that "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,' (where the political will for
such action exists); 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 inspections and humanitarian

"This is important work," Helms (Republican of North Carolina) said.
"It is the core of what the UN can offer to the United States and the
world. If, in the coming century, the UN focuses on doing these core
tasks well, it can thrive and will earn and deserve the support of the
American people."

It was the first time in the history of the United Nations that a
representative of the U.S. Congress had ever addressed the UN Security

Following is the Helms text, as prepared for delivery:

(begin text)


JANUARY 20, 2000

Mr. President, Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen, I
genuinely appreciate your welcoming me here this morning. You are
distinguished world leaders and it is my hope that there can begin,
this day, a pattern of understanding and friendship between you who
serve your respective countries in the United Nations and, those of us
who serve not only in the United States Government but also the
millions of Americans whom we represent and serve.

Our Ambassador Holbrooke is an earnest gentleman whom I respect, and I
hope you will enjoy his friendship as I do. He has an enormous amount
of foreign service in his background, He is an able diplomat and a
genuine friend to whom I am most grateful for his role and that of the
Honorable Irwin Belk, my longtime friend, in arranging my visit with
you today.

All that said, it may very well be that some of the things I feel
obliged to say will not meet with your immediate approval, if at all.
It is not my intent to offend you and I hope I will not.

It is my intent to extend to you my hand of friendship and convey the
hope that in the days to come, and in retrospect, we can join in a
mutual respect that will enable all of us to work together in an
atmosphere of friendship and hope - the hope to do everything we can
to achieve peace in the world.

Having said all that, I am aware that you have interpreters who
translate the proceedings of this body into a half dozen different

They have an interesting challenge today, As some of you may have
detected, I don't have a Yankee accent. (I hope you have a translator
here who can speak Southern -- someone who can translate words like
"y'all" and "I do declare.")

It may be that one other language barrier will need to be overcome
this morning. I am not a diplomat, and as such, I am not fully
conversant with the elegant and rarefied language of the diplomatic
trade. I am an elected official, with something of a reputation for
saying what I mean and meaning what I say. So I trust you will forgive
me if I come across as a bit more blunt than those you are accustomed
to hearing in this chamber.

I am told that this is the first time that a United States Senator has
addressed the UN Security Council. I sincerely hope it will not be the
last. It is important that this body have greater contact with the
elected representatives of the American people, and that we have
greater contact with you.

In this spirit, tomorrow I will be joined here at the UN by several
other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Together, we
will meet with UN officials and representatives of some of your
governments, and will hold a Committee "Field Hearing" to discuss UN
reform and the prospects for improved U.S.-UN relations.

This will mark another first. Never before has the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee ventured as a group from Washington to visit an
international institution. I hope it will be an enlightening
experience for all of us, and that you will accept this visit as a
sign of our desire for a new beginning in the U.S.-UN relationship.

I hope -- I intend -- that my presence here today will presage future
annual visits by the Security Council, who will come to Washington as
official guests of the United States Senate and the Senate's Foreign
Relations Committee which I chair.

I trust that your representatives will feel free to be as candid in
Washington as I will try to be here today so that there will be hands
of friendship extended in an atmosphere of understanding.

If we are to have such a new beginning, we must endeavor to understand
each other better. And that is why I will share with you some of what
I am hearing from the American people about the United Nations.

Now I am confident you have seen the public opinion polls,
commissioned by UN supporters, suggesting that the UN enjoys the
support of the American public. I would caution that you not put too
much confidence in those polls. Since I was first elected to the
Senate in 1972, I have run for re-election four times. Each time, the
pollsters have confidently predicted my defeat. Each time, I am happy
to confide, they have been wrong. I am pleased that, thus far, I have
never won a poll or lost an election.

So, as those of you who represent democratic nations well know, public
opinion polls can be constructed to tell you anything the poll takers
want you to hear.

Let me share with you what the American people tell me. Since I became
chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I have received literally
thousands of letters from Americans across the country expressing
their deep frustration with this institution.

They know instinctively that the UN lives and breathes on the
hard-earned money of the American taxpayers. And yet they have heard
comments here in New York constantly calling the United States a

They have heard UN officials declaring absurdly that countries like
Fiji and Bangladesh are carrying America's burden in peacekeeping.

They see the majority of the UN members routinely voting against
America in the General Assembly.

They have read the reports of the raucous cheering of the UN delegates
in Rome, when U.S. efforts to amend the International Criminal Court
treaty to protect American soldiers were defeated.

They read in the newspapers that, despite all the human rights abuses
taking place in dictatorships across the globe, a UN "Special
Rapporteur" decided his most pressing task was to investigate human
rights violations in the U.S. -- and found our human rights record

The American people hear all this; they resent it, and they have grown
increasingly frustrated with what they feel is a lack of gratitude.

Now I won't delve into every point of frustration, but let's touch for
just a moment on one -- the "deadbeat" charge. Before coming here, I
asked the United States General Accounting Office to assess just how
much the American taxpayers contributed to the United Nations in 1999.
Here is what the GAO reported to me:

Last year, the American people contributed a total of more than $1.4
billion dollars to the U.N. system in assessments and voluntary
contributions. That's pretty generous, but it's only the tip of the
iceberg. The American taxpayers also spent an additional EIGHT
United States' military budget to support various U.N. resolutions and
peacekeeping operations around the world. Let me repeat that figure:

That means that last year (1999) alone the American people have
DOLLARS to support the work of the United Nations. No other nation on
earth comes even close to matching that singular investment.

So you can see why many Americans reject the suggestion that theirs is
a "deadbeat" nation.

Now, I grant you, the money we spend on the UN is not charity. To the
contrary, it is an investment -- an investment from which the American
people rightly expect a return. They expect a reformed UN that works
more efficiently, and which respects the sovereignty of the United

That is why in the 1980s, Congress began withholding a fraction of our
arrears as pressure for reform. And Congressional pressure resulted in
some worthwhile reforms, such as the creation of an independent UN
Inspector General and the adoption of consensus budgeting practices.
But still, the arrears accumulated as the UN resisted more
comprehensive reforms.

When the distinguished Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was elected,
some of us in the Senate decided to try to establish a working
relationship, The result is the Helms-Biden law, which President
Clinton finally signed into law this past November. The product of
three years of arduous negotiations and hard-fought compromises, it
was approved by the U.S. Senate by an overwhelming 98-1 margin. You
should read that vote as a virtually unanimous mandate for a new
relationship with a reformed United Nations.

Now I am aware that this law does not sit well with some here at the
UN. Some do not like to have reforms dictated by the U.S. Congress.
Some have even suggested that the UN should reject these reforms.

But let me suggest a few things to consider: First, as the figures I
have cited clearly demonstrate, the United States is the single
largest investor in the United Nations. Under the U.S. Constitution,
we in Congress are the sole guardians of the American taxpayers'
money. (It is our solemn duty to see that it is wisely invested.) So
as the representatives of the UN's largest investors -- the American
people -- we have not only a right, but a responsibility, to insist on
specific reforms in exchange for their investment.

Second, I ask you to consider the alternative. The alternative would
have been-to continue to let the U.S.-UN relationship spiral out of
control. You would have taken retaliatory measures, such as revoking
America's vote in the General Assembly. Congress would likely have
responded with retaliatory measures against the UN. And the end
result, I believe, would have been a breach in U.S.-UN relations that
would have served the interests of no one.

Now some here may contend that the Clinton Administration should have
fought to pay the arrears without conditions. I assure you, had they
done so, they would have lost.

Eighty years ago, Woodrow Wilson failed to secure Congressional
support for U.S. entry into the League of Nations. This administration
obviously learned from President Wilson's mistakes.

Wilson probably could have achieved ratification of the League of
Nations if he had worked with Congress. One of my predecessors as
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge,
asked for 14 conditions to the treaty establishing the League of
Nations, few of which would have raised an eyebrow today. These
included language to insure that the United States remain the sole
judge of its own internal affairs; that the League not restrict any
individual rights of U.S. citizens; that the Congress retain sole
authority for the deployment of U.S. forces through the league, and so

But President Wilson indignantly refused to compromise with Senator
Lodge. He shouted, Never, never!", adding, "I'll never consent to
adopting any policy with which that impossible man is so prominently
identified!" What happened? President Wilson lost. The final vote in
the Senate was 38 to 53, and the League of Nations withered on the

Ambassador Holbrooke and Secretary of State Albright understood from
the beginning that the United Nations could not long survive without
the support of the American people -- and their elected
representatives in Congress. Thanks to the efforts of leaders like
Ambassador Holbrooke and Secretary Albright, the present
Administration in Washington did not repeat President Wilson's fatal

In any event, Congress has written a check to the United Nations for
$926 million, payable upon the implementation of previously
agreed-upon common-sense reforms. Now the choice is up to the UN. I
suggest that if the UN were to reject this compromise, it would mark
the beginning of the end of US support for the United Nations.

I don't want that to happen. I want the American people to value a
United Nations that recognizes and respects their interests, and for
the United Nations to value the significant contributions of the
American people. Let's be crystal clear and totally honest with each
other: all of us want a more effective United Nations. But if the
United Nations is to be "effective" it must be an institution that is
needed by the great democratic powers of the world.

Most Americans do not regard the United Nations as an end in and of
itself -- they see it as just one part of America's diplomatic
arsenal. To the extent that the UN is effective, the American people
will support it. To the extent that it becomes ineffective -- or
worse, a burden - the American people will cast it aside.

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," (where the political will for
such action exists); 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 inspections and humanitarian

This is important work. It is the core of what the UN can offer to the
United States and the world. If, in the coming century, the UN focuses
on doing these core tasks well, it can thrive and will earn and
deserve the support of the American people. But if the UN seeks to
move beyond these core tasks, if it seeks to impose the UN's power and
authority over nation-states, I guarantee that the United Nations will
meet stiff resistance from the American people.

As matters now stand, many Americans sense that the UN has greater
ambitions than simply being an efficient deliverer of humanitarian
aid, a more effective peacekeeper, a better weapons inspector, and a
more effective tool of great power diplomacy. They see the UN aspiring
to establish itself as the central authority of a new international
order of global laws and global governance. This is an international
order the American people will not countenance.

The UN must respect national sovereignty. The UN serves nation-states,
not the other way around. This principle is central to the legitimacy
and ultimate survival of the United Nations, and it is a principle
that must be protected.

The Secretary General recently delivered an address on sovereignty to
the General Assembly, in which he declared that "the last right of
states cannot and must not be the right to enslave, persecute or
torture their own citizens." The peoples of the world, he said, have
"rights beyond borders."

I wholeheartedly agree.

What the Secretary General calls "rights beyond borders," we in
America call "inalienable rights." We are endowed with those
"inalienable rights," as Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in our
Declaration of Independence, not by kings or despots, but by our

The sovereignty of nations must be respected. But nations derive their
sovereignty -- their legitimacy -- from the consent of the governed.
Thus, it follows, that nations can lose their legitimacy when they
rule without the consent of the governed; they deservedly discard
their sovereignty by brutally oppressing their people.

Slobodan Milosevic cannot claim sovereignty over Kosovo when he has
murdered Kosovars and piled their bodies into mass graves. Neither can
Fidel Castro claim that it is his sovereign right to oppress his
people. Nor can Saddam Hussein defend his oppression of the Iraqi
people by hiding behind phony claims of sovereignty.

And when the oppressed peoples of the world cry out for help, the free
peoples of the world have a fundamental right to respond.

As we watch the UN struggle with this question at the turn of the
millennium, many Americans are left exceedingly puzzled. Intervening
in cases of widespread oppression and massive human rights abuses is
not a new concept for the United States. The American people have a
long history of coming to the aid of those struggling for freedom. In
the United States, during the 1980s, we called this policy the "Reagan

In some cases, America has assisted freedom fighters around the world
who were seeking to overthrow corrupt regimes. We have provided
weaponry, training, and intelligence. In other cases, the United
States has intervened directly. In still other cases, such as in
Central and Eastern Europe, we supported peaceful opposition movements
with moral, financial and covert forms of support. In each case,
however, it was America's clear intention to help bring down Communist
regimes that were oppressing their peoples -- and thereby replace
dictators with democratic governments.

The dramatic expansion of freedom in the last decade of the 20th
century is a direct result of these policies.

In none of these cases, however, did the United States ask for, or
receive, the approval of the United Nations to "legitimize" its

It is a fanciful notion that free peoples need to seek the approval of
an international body (some of whose members are totalitarian
dictatorships) to lend support to nations struggling to break the
chains of tyranny and claim their inalienable, God-given rights.

The United Nations has no power to grant or decline legitimacy to such
actions. They are inherently legitimate.

What the United Nations can do is help. The Security Council can,
where appropriate, be an instrument to facilitate action by
"coalitions of the willing," implement sanctions regimes, and provide
logistical support to states undertaking collective action.

But complete candor is imperative. The Security Council has an
exceedingly mixed record in being such a facilitator. In the case of
Iraq's aggression against Kuwait in the early 1990s, it performed
admirably; in the more recent case of Kosovo, it was paralyzed. The UN
peacekeeping mission in Bosnia was a disaster, and its failure to
protect the Bosnian people from Serb genocide is well documented in a
recent UN report.

And, despite its initial success in repelling Iraqi aggression, in the
years since the Gulf War, the Security Council has utterly failed to
stop Saddam Hussein's drive to build instruments of mass murder. It
has allowed him to play a repeated game of expelling UNSCOM inspection
teams which included Americans, and has left Saddam completely free
for the past year to fashion nuclear and chemical weapons of mass

I am here to plead that from now on we all must work together, to
learn from past mistakes, and to make the Security Council a more
efficient and effective tool for international peace and security. But
candor compels that I reiterate this warning: the American people will
never accept the claims of the United Nations to be the "sole source
of legitimacy on the use of force" 'in the world,

But, some may respond, the U.S. Senate ratified the UN Charter fifty
years ago. Yes, but in doing so we did not cede one syllable of
American sovereignty to the United Nations. Under our system, when
international treaties are ratified they simply become domestic U.S.
law. As such, they carry no greater or lesser weight than any other
domestic U.S. law. Treaty obligations can be superceded by a simple
act of Congress. This was the intentional design of our founding
fathers, who cautioned against entering into "entangling alliances."

Thus, when the United States joins a treaty organization, it holds no
legal authority over us. We abide by our treaty obligations because
they are the domestic law of our land, and because our elected leaders
have judged that the agreement serves our national interest. But no
treaty or law can ever supercede the one document that all Americans
hold sacred: The U.S. Constitution.

The American people do not want the United Nations to become an
"entangling alliance." That is why Americans look with alarm at UN
claims to a monopoly an international moral legitimacy. They see this
as a threat to the God-given freedoms of the American people, a claim
of political authority over America and its elected leaders without
their consent.

The effort to establish a United Nations International Criminal Court
is a case-in-point. Consider: the Rome Treaty purports to hold
American citizens under its jurisdiction -- even when the United
States has neither signed nor ratified the treaty. In other words, it
claims sovereign authority over American citizens without their
consent, How can the nations of the world imagine for one instant that
Americans will stand by and allow such a power-grab to take place?

The Court's supporters argue that Americans should be willing to
sacrifice some of their sovereignty for the noble cause of
international justice. International law did not defeat Hitler, nor
did it win the Cold War. What stopped the Nazi march across Europe,
and the Communist march across the world, was the principled
projection of power by the world's great democracies. And that
principled projection of force is the only thing that will ensure the
peace and security of the world in the future.

More often than not, "international law" has been used as a
make-believe justification for hindering the march of freedom. When
Ronald Reagan sent American servicemen into harm's way to liberate
Grenada from the hands of a communist dictatorship, the UN General
Assembly responded by voting to condemn the action of the elected
President of the United States as a violation of international law --
and, I am obliged to add, they did so by a larger majority than when
the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was condemned by the same General

Similarly, the U.S. effort to overthrow Nicaragua's Communist
dictatorship (by supporting Nicaragua's freedom fighters and mining
Nicaragua's harbors) was declared by the World Court as a violation of
international law.

Most recently, we learn that the chief prosecutor of the Yugoslav War
Crimes Tribunal has compiled a report on possible NATO war crimes
during the Kosovo campaign. At first, the prosecutor declared that it
is fully within the scope of her authority to indict NATO pilots and
commanders. When news of her report leaked, she backpedaled.

She realized, I am sure, that any attempt to indict NATO commanders
would be the death knell for the International Criminal Court. But the
very fact that she explored this possibility at all brings to light
all that is, wrong with this brave new world of global justice, which
proposes a system in which independent prosecutors and judges,
answerable to no state or institution, have unfettered power to sit in
judgement of the foreign policy decisions of Western democracies.

No UN institution -- not the Security Council, not the Yugoslav
tribunal, not a future ICC -- is competent to judge the foreign policy
and national security decisions of the United States. American courts
routinely refuse cases where they are asked to sit in judgement of our
government's national security decisions, stating that they are not
competent to judge such decisions. If we do not submit our national
security decisions to the judgement of a Court of the United States,
why would Americans submit them to the judgement of an International
Criminal Court, a continent away, comprised of mostly foreign judges
elected by an international body made up of the membership of the UN
General Assembly?

Americans distrust concepts like the International Criminal Court, and
claims by the UN to be "the sole source of legitimacy" for the use of
force, because Americans have a profound distrust of accumulated
power. Our founding fathers created a government founded on a system
of checks and balances, and dispersal of power.

In his 1962 classic, Capitalism and Freedom, the Nobel-prize winning
economist Milton Friedman rightly declared: "(G)overnment power must
be dispersed. If government is to exercise power, better in the county
than in the state, better in the state than in Washington. [Because]
if I do not like what my local community does, I can move to another
local community... [and) if I do not like what my state does, I can
move to another. [But] if I do not like what Washington imposes, I
have few alternatives in this world of jealous nations."

Forty years later, as the UN seeks to impose its utopian vision of
"international law" on Americans, we can add this question: Where do
we go when we don't like the "laws" of the world?

Today, while our friends in Europe concede more and more power upwards
to supra-national institutions like the European Union, Americans are
heading in precisely the opposite direction.

America is in a process of reducing centralized power by taking more
and more authority that had been amassed by the Federal government in
Washington and referring it to the individual states where it rightly

This is why Americans reject the idea of a sovereign United Nations
that presumes to be the source of legitimacy for the United States
Government's policies, foreign or domestic. There is only one source
of legitimacy of the American government's policies -- and that is the
consent of the American people. If the United Nations is to survive
into the 21st century, it must recognize its limitations. The demands
of the United States have not changed much since Henry Cabot Lodge
laid out his conditions for joining the League of Nations 80 years
ago: Americans want to ensure that the United States of America
remains the sole judge of its own internal affairs, that the United
Nations is not allowed to restrict the individual rights of U.S.
citizens, and that the United States retains sole authority over the
deployment of United States forces around the world.

This is what Americans ask of the United Nations; it is what Americans
expect of the United Nations. A United Nations that focuses on helping
sovereign states work together is worth keeping; a United Nations that
insists on trying to impose a utopian vision on America and the world
will collapse under its own weight.

If the United Nations respects the sovereign rights of the American
people, and serves them as an effective tool of diplomacy, it will
earn and deserve their respect and support. But a United Nations that
seeks to impose its presumed authority on the American people without
their consent begs for confrontation and, I want to be candid,
eventual U.S. withdrawal.

Thank you very much.

(end text)