Holbrooke explores U.N. decline

| 11/13/08 4:04am
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ormer U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke blames America for weakening the United Nations during his Wednesday speech.
by Alice Zhao / The Dartmouth

During his lecture, "United Nations: Past and Present, Successes and Challenges," which filled several rooms at the Rockefeller Center on Wednesday, Holbrooke criticized the current president's failure to adequately fund the United Nations.

The United States now owes the U.N. around $1 billion in unpaid dues, which has hindered the organization's ability to carry out many of its policy efforts, he said.

"The economic stability of the United Nations is dependent on its member nations because it doesn't have an endowment like Dartmouth, and its alumni association is not as generous," Holbrooke said. "The Bush administration had undermined [the United Nations], underfunded it and weakened it steadily even while needing it."

Holbrooke, who served as the U.N. ambassador from 1999-2001, also criticized the Bush administration's use of what he described as inaccurate evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to justify the Iraq War, which was not authorized by the U.N.

Disregard for U.N. authority has damaged America's reputation, he added. Holbrooke further emphasized that the U.N. can only carry out its resolutions through action by its member states, particularly the United States as its host nation, largest donor and strongest member of the organization.

For example, the United Nations has no standing army of its own and relies on troop contributions from member nations for peacekeeping efforts.

"People constantly attack the U.N., but they don't understand it is not a tightly-knit organization," Holbrooke said. "It is a membership organization made up of 192 nations ranging from the largest countries to countries with a population smaller than Hanover. It represents all the strengths and weaknesses of humanity."

President-elect Barack Obama will inherit more international problems than any other president in American history ever has before, Holbrooke said, ranging from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to unstable relationships with Russia and China. Holbrooke believes this is a result of the U.N. Security Council's inability to carry out its peacekeeping mission, in part due to widespread corruption and inefficiency, he said.

"The U.N. is only as strong as its members want it to be," he said. "Above all, it's only as strong as its leading members want it to be -- that is, the 15 members of the Security Council and above that, the five permanent members of the Security Council."

Holbrooke said he has called for the enlargement of the Security Council to 23 or 24 members, to include several new permanent members such as Germany and Japan. The council is currently composed of 15 nations, with 10 nations filling rotating positions and five permanent members that wield veto power -- France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. This structure is often criticized for not representing the power balance in today's world, he said.

Reform efforts have failed due to internal rivalries between nations in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, he added.

Holbrooke praised organizations like the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme for their work, and noted the success of the Millennium Development Goals.

At the same time, he criticized the U.N. General Assembly, which he described as a forum for "nutty" speeches, citing a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September 2007 and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's shoe-banging incident in October 1960.

Holbrooke said he was inspired by the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 to begin his diplomatic career. He urged Dartmouth students to channel their enthusiasm over the 2008 presidential election into a career of service for the United States.

"[President-elect] Barack Obama is for your generation what John F. Kennedy was for mine," Holbrooke said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "He is your president. You gave him the energy to do what he did, and your generation should rally to work for the government or NGOs or any type of service."

Holbrooke served as the assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs from 1977 to 1981 and for European and Canadian Affairs from 1994 to 1996. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, Holbrooke is a top contender for the Secretary of State position in Obama's administration.

"I have served the country that I love on and off since I graduated from college," he said. "And if the president-elect feels I can help him in any way, I will do so, and that is without any specific position in mind."

The event was part of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Centennial lecture series and was sponsored by the Class of 1930 fellowship, which brings speakers to campus each year.