US Out of The UN? Bolton Says World Body As a Whole Not a ‘Sovereignty Threat’

Patrick Goodenough | September 11, 2018 | 4:20am EDT
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National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks to the Federalist Society at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Monday, September 10, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

( – National Security Advisor John Bolton was asked Monday why the U.S. does not simply withdraw from the United Nations – and replied that, for the most part, the world body does not threaten U.S. sovereignty.

He underlined in particular the importance of the veto power which the U.S. wields as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

“I don’t think in significant respects most of the U.N. system poses a sovereignty problem to the United States,” Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N. long viewed by detractors as a foe of multilateralism, said after a speech to the Federalist Society.

“I think there are aspects of the U.N. system that do pose sovereignty problems,” he continued, pointing to the U.N. Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

That was one reason, he said, for the administration’s recent decision to exit the HRC and to defund both the council and the OHCHR.

Bolton was answering questions after a speech in which he laid out a new U.S. approach to the International Criminal Court – an entity which he argued constitutes “an assault on the constitutional rights of the American people and the sovereignty of the United States.”


Picking up on the issue of safeguarding national sovereignty, a questioner asked him, “Why is the United States still in, as a member of the United Nations?”

Bolton began his reply by quoting one of his predecessors at the U.S. mission to the U.N., Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served during President Reagan’s first term.

Asked once why the U.S. did not withdraw from the U.N., Bolton recalled, Kirkpatrick “paused for a moment and thought and said, ‘Because it’s not worth the trouble.’”

“Only Jeane could come up with an answer like that, I have to say.”

Bolton said that as long as the U.S. retains its veto in the Security Council, “I don’t think [the U.N.] can do that kind of damage to us.”

He noted that the U.N. Charter would have to be amended in order to remove the veto power enjoyed by the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia. And since amending the charter would require the consent of those five nations, “I don’t think this is going to happen anytime soon.”

Of the U.N., he said, “It does advance some American interests. It wastes a lot of American money. But I don’t see the U.N. system as a whole – we’d have to look at specific cases – I don’t see that as a sovereignty threat.”

The U.N. Security Council meets in New York on September 10, 2018. The U.S. is one of the five permanent members on the council that have veto power. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Unlike an institution like the ICC, Bolton said, the U.N. had always been “imagined as an organization of sovereign governments – that’s basic to the charter: To be admitted to the U.N. you have to be a state.”

As an aside, he added, that was one reason why the Palestinian self-rule entity should never have been allowed to accede to the treaty that founded the ICC, and should never have been admitted to a U.N. body, as happened in the case of the education and culture agency UNESCO in 2011.

Answering a broader question on multilateralism, Bolton called NATO “an excellent example of an international organization that advances American interests, is consistent with American sovereignty, and strengthens America and its allies around the world.”

The problem, he said, was with organizations and treaties “that purport to create authorities and institutions outside of, beyond, above, the [U.S.] Constitution.”

With many treaties, state parties meet periodically and essentially reinterpret them, putting new obligations on countries that are never ratified by the Senate.

Bolton also drew attention to entities like the European Union which was, he said, “founded on the notion that the nation state was a failure” and aims to create institutions above those of the nation state.

“That’s what they’ve been in the process of doing, God bless them, it’s their democratic choice to do it if that’s what they want,” he said. “And God bless the people of Great Britain who two years ago voted to get out of the European Union.”

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