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In John Bolton's World


Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005

John Bolton, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (albeit one who took office via a recess appointment), has strong ideas about how the world should look. In Bolton's world, U.S. military incursions face no hindrance, the natural world is little more than a resource, and facilitating corporate power is a higher priority than reducing poverty.

And the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Mine Ban Treaty? They simply don't exist.

The rest of the planet - those other 190 or so countries that belong to the United Nations - got a bracing introduction to Bolton's world last week.

As diplomats made last-minute preparations for the upcoming United Nations summit, scheduled for mid-September, they received a revised copy from the U.S. mission of the reform document that is supposed to be the focus of the summit. That document -- the result of more than a year and a half of negotiations -- had been dramatically edited. Its thirty-nine pages included 750 new changes.

It was the U.N.'s first glimpse of the world according to Bolton.

Respect Corporations, Not Nature

The document is intended as a blueprint for U.N. reform. It is meant to help the United Nations, and the world as a whole, face the core challenges of the Twenty-first Century: to end poverty, protect human rights, preserve the environment, fight terrorism, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

Yet Bolton, it seems, has a somewhat different set of priorities. His meticulous, nearly line-by-line edit of the U.N. reform document reveals a man who, among other things, cares little for the environment (besides the environment for foreign investment), feels no great urgency in fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS, and is hostile to the idea of debt relief to developing countries.

Bolton's skewed perspective is evident from the document's opening pages. One of his first edits is to eliminate a reference to "respect for nature" from the document's list of core values. In the next provision, he cuts a negative reference to "colonial domination and foreign occupation."

A value that he obviously respects, even though it is not enumerated in the document, is that of corporate power and corporate profits. While he recommends against the adoption of policies that promote "corporate responsibility and accountability," he reinforces references to the protection of property rights. And in one of his most shameless edits, he cuts a provision that calls on countries to encourage pharmaceutical companies to "make anti-retroviral drugs affordable and accessible in Africa."

Don't Eliminate All Forms of Child Labor

Some of Bolton's edits speak for themselves.

On page twenty-three of the document, he makes the following deletions: "We emphasize the responsibilities of all states, in conformity with the charter to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinctions of any kind, such as to race, colour, sex, language, or religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

On page eight, in a discussion of employment, he adds the text shown in italics: "These measures should also encompass the elimination of the worst forms of child labor."

On that same page, under the caption "Protecting our Common Environment," he cuts text that says: "We recognize that climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the world .... We therefore resolve to ... [u]ndertake concerted global action to address climate change, including through meeting all commitments and obligations under the Kyoto Protocol ..."

On page twenty-six, he eliminates a call for cooperation with "the International Criminal Court, the existing ad hoc and mixed criminal tribunals and other mechanisms for international justice ..."

And What About the Deliberate Killing of Civilians?

Bolton's most predictable edits center around military action. Unsurprisingly, he deletes a provision that affirms that "the use of force should be considered as an instrument of last resort." But even more assertively, he also cuts one that purports to recognize "the need to continue discussing principles for the use of force."

What is even more worrying is the limiting language he adds to the document's condemnation of terrorism, which is shown in italics in the following text: "We affirm that the targeting and deliberate killing of civilians and non-combatants by terrorists cannot be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance ..."

Bolton is notorious for having said that U.N. headquarters could lose ten stories and it wouldn't matter. While he has not yet brought the building down, he may have settled for undermining its foundations.

Joanne Mariner is a New York-based human rights attorney.

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