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United States Loses Position On U.N. Drug Control Board

By Robin Wright


The vote wasn’t mentioned at the time, as attention instead was focused on the stunning U.S. loss of a seat held for half a century on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. But on the same day, in the same room, the United States also lost its seat on the U.N. International Narcotics Control Board.

It was a humiliating defeat. The United States not only played the key role in founding the board in 1964; a senior U.S. diplomat had co-chaired the board for the past decade.

Once again, America’s allies had assured the State Department of U.S. candidate support for both the seat and a top job. Once again, the United States was shocked by the outcome. The State Department acknowledged Monday that the defeat was “very regrettable.”

What’s happening to the singular leadership of the world’s only superpower? For starters, it’s no longer so singular.

“There’s no permanent seat for anyone. You have to earn your seat year to year,” said Pierre Schori, Sweden’s U.N. ambassador, whose country was among those that won seats on the human rights panel. “Global problems need global solutions. You can’t go it alone any longer in this globalizing world.”

Washington’s main mistake was assuming that, in the end, no country would really dare to kick the United States off two U.N. bodies where it had long played a powerful role, said former Ambassador William Luers, now president of the U.N. Association of the United States.

Hubris was exacerbated by tactics. Consolidating support has been “particularly difficult” because the new administration has not placed the U.N. at the center of its foreign policy, Luers said.

The Bush administration might be paying a price for some of its policy positions.

“I think there’s a sock-back for the unilateralism and the allergies to treaties that this administration is developing,” said former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright. “People are concerned about several unilateral moves the United States has taken recently.”

The list of such issues is long and growing. The latest was President Bush’s speech last week on missile defense. After promising to consult with allies before he took any major step, he instead announced the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- and only this week dispatched teams around the world to explain the decision and plans for an alternative approach to defense.

“Anti-American attitudes have always existed. What’s new is that they have acquired new expressions and new reasons -- and a new willingness to express them short of bombing the World Trade Center or the USS Cole,” said Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine in Washington. “It’s a mistake for the world not to have the U.S. in both these bodies, but at the United Nations we’re also operating in the world of symbolism.”

The subtle power shift is due in part to the rise of the European Union, which is turning out to be a rival for position and leadership in international organizations. As a bloc, its countries increasingly exercise new muscle -- and often against the United States.

As a bloc, the EU countries pay more dues to the United Nations than the United States, and they want that reflected within the U.N. hierarchy and various U.N. commissions and agencies, Albright said.