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U.S. at the UN: A Fresh Look

U.S. at the UN: A Fresh Look


The second half of the League's current in-depth study of the United Nations(UN) continues to "reexamine the UN system with emphasis on relations between the developed and undeveloped countries and their implications for U.S. policy." This portion concentrates on the future United States role in the UN including proposals and prospects for restructuring the UN system.

It also asks the opinion of the League members on whether they recommend further changes, deletions or shifts in emphasis in the League's current UN position.


How should the U.S. participate in the UN?

Should we condition our participation on "good behavior" and simply cease participating in those UN bodies that have taken actions considered illegal, unfair, politicized, or generally distasteful to the U.S?

Following are the options open to the U.S., short of outright withdrawal:

  1. Withhold funds from specialized UN agencies.

    Pro: Nations may think twice before they vote if it means the UN loses a major source of funding for programs from which they benefit.

    Con: By withholding or reducing contributions, good programs could be adversely affected. It could also turn more countries against the U.S. and deepen the polarization between the North and the South. The character of these agencies is non-political and aid is given on the basis of need.

  2. Reduce financial contributions to regular UN budget.

    Pro: U.S. pays a higher percentage of the budgets of other programs.

    Con: The U.S. pays less per capita than many European countries, and less than it should on a straight ability-to-pay basis. U.S. could lose its vote over a period of time(2 years' grace) if it does not pay its dues.

  3. No votes. no aid - the "punishment policy."

    Pro: Those nations that vote against U.S. positions should be cut off from U.S. bilateral assistance. The State Department announced a year ago that voting patterns would be taken into consideration in U.S. bilateral relations with member nations.

    Con: Such measures would be ineffective and even counter-productive. U.S. aid levels are so low that nations could be willing to sacrifice aid to vote as they please on issues where they believe a matter of principle to be involved. Threat or retaliation could force nations to vote against the U.S. simply to show their independence.

  4. Selective participation to show displeasure with certain UN actions.

    Pro: Temporary actions do not affect long-run U.S. participation in UN. We would show our displeasure with a specific action rather than with the UN system as a whole.

    Con: U.S. would lose its ability to explain publicly and lobby privately for positions the United States supports.

  5. Activist U.S. policy.

    Pro: U.S. leadership within UN can still make a difference. It should press its views on subjects much earlier and more vigorously at a much higher level than in the past. It should temper its criticism of the UN with proposals for positive change. U.S. strategy of tough diplomacy on the one hand and practical accommodation on the other might work.

    Con: U.S. efforts should concentrate on preventing adverse action and the organization(UN) should not be regarded as a major focus of American foreign policy.


Purpose for change

First: To gain more influence on UN decisions. At present, the North enjoys a weighted-voting advantage in any agency where votes are proportionate to contributions and seeks to maintain this advantage. The South jealously defends its voting majority in the General Assembly(GA) while the North argues for negotiated "consensus" decisions acceptable to all factions.

Second: To perform new functions. Both North and South favor creating pew UN agencies to serve emerging global needs but their priorities differ. The North nations are concerned with problems of pollution, environmental protection, etc., while the South nations are more interested in industrialization.

Third: To promote efficiency. This call comes from those who pay the biggest share of the bill. The South suspects the North of using it as an excuse to reduce their financial contributions.

UN reform and restructuring can be done by: 1-Charter revision and the Security Council veto; 2-Streamlining procedures in GA, and 3-Economic and Social "Restructuring."

Charter Revision and the Security Council Veto

Any charter change requires a vote of two-thirds of the GA and two-thirds vote of the Security Council, including the approval of each of

the five permanent members. The South would like to do away with the veto power of the five permanent members of the Council. They argue that the limited membership with the veto power of the five nations is undemocratic.

Neither the U.S. or the Soviet Union is likely to remain in the UN without its veto power and any proposal to weaken it through a change in the charter will most likely be vetoed.

General Assembly: Streamlining Procedures


  1. Voting system be weighted according to each nation's population, gross national product, financial contributions to the UN, or some combination of the three.

  2. Do away with the voting system, use consensus.

  3. Reduce the number of issues put up for voting. Voting to be done only when there is a true consensus. The developing nations interpret this as a subterfuge for a "concealed veto."

  4. Require affirmative votes of two-thirds of all GA members instead of two-thirds of those present and voting. This would prevent adoption of some resolutions but could also prevent action on some emergency matters, e.g., resolution providing funds to extend Middle East peacekeeping forces.

Economic and Social "Restructuring"


  1. Make Economic and Social Council(ECOSOC) the UN's central coordinating policy organ. Simplify its organization, set up consultative groups to negotiate disputes on economic and social issues - two years given to reach a workable consensus.

  2. Consolidate all development funds into a single UN Development Authority, responsible to ECOSOC, except for UNICEF. Abolish individual governing bodies.

  3. Appoint a director general ranking under the Secretary General to coordinate all UN economic and social programs.

  4. Synchronize program and budget cycles in all UN agencies.

  5. Increase voting power of developing nations in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)


Summary of the League's Position on the UN*

"The League of Women Voters of the United States supports U.S. policies to strengthen the UN system and its ability to keep the peace." The League supports:

  1. Improving peacekeeping procedures.

    The League attaches great importance to UN preventive diplomacy (observation, fact-finding, conciliation) as well as to the necessity for advance planning for military or police action if it should become necessary.

  2. Collective financial responsibility. The costs of the world organization, including administration, peace keeping and development, should be shared by member nations according to their ability to pay, and without big power domination.

  3. Continuing negotiations to reduce the risk of war.

    The League has supported U.S. ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty barring the spread of nuclear weapons, a comprehensive test ban treaty, the Geneva Protocol on chemical biological warfare, and the Seabed treaty.

  4. Maintaining the principle of one vote for each member nation.

    The UN Charter gives each nation one vote in the General Assembly regardless of size, wealth, or military power. In 1964 the League concluded that in spite of the changed composition of the UN this provision was wise. A deliberative body discussing the concerns of all mankind must mirror these concerns and act with a sense of responsibility toward all mankind.

  5. Preserving the integrity of the office of the Secretary-General.

    The Secretary-General must have the power and freedom to carry out his duties free from the pressure of national interests or from a veto imposed by any hydra-headed executive arrangement.

  6. Making greater use of the World Court to settle international disputes.

The League opposes self-judging clauses such as the Connally Amendment, which restricts U.S. access to the World Court. World peace must rest in part on the body of law which will develop through treaties, covenants, agreements and the judgments of international courts.

"League support for the UN is not uncritical. We are mindful of the organization's shortcomings and advocate U.S. leadership in attempting to strengthen it."

* Adapted from Study & Action 1972-74 National Program and Documents


Suggested Readings: UN: What is and what can be. Barbara M. White, National Voter, Summer, 1976, pp.21-23.

The Tides at Turtle Bay. National Voter, Fall, 1975, pp24-27.

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