ADDRESS BY SENATOR JESSE HELMS, CHAIRMAN, U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
BEFORE THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
JANUARY 20, 2000
Mr. President, Distinguished Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I genuinely appreciate your welcoming me here this morning. You are distinguished world leaders and it is my hope that there can begin, this day, a pattern of understanding and friendship between you who serve your respective countries in the United Nations and, those of us who serve not only in the United States Government but also the millions of Americans whom we represent and serve.
Our Ambassador Holbrooke is an earnest gentleman whom I respect, and I hope you will enjoy his friendship as I do. He has an enormous amount of foreign service in his background. He is an able diplomat and a genuine friend to whom I am most grateful for his role and that of the Honorable Irwin Belk, my longtime friend, in arranging my visit with you today.
All that said, it may very well be that some of the things I feel obliged to say will not meet with your immediate approval, if at all. It is not my intent to offend you and I hope I will not.
It is my intent to extend to you my hand of friendship and convey the hope that in the days to come, and in retrospect, we can join in a mutual respect that will enable all of us to work together in an atmosphere of friendship and hope - the hope to do everything we can to achieve peace in the world.
Having said all that, I am aware that you have interpreters who translate the proceedings of this body into a half dozen different languages.
They have an interesting challenge today. As some of you may have detected, I don't have a Yankee accent. (I hope you have a translator here who can speak Southern - someone who can translate words like "y'all" and "I do declare.")
It may be that one other language barrier will need to be overcome this morning. I am not a diplomat, and as such, I am not fully conversant with the elegant and rarefied language of the diplomatic trade. I am an elected official, with something of a reputation for saying what I mean and meaning what I say. So I trust you will forgive me if I come across as a bit more blunt than those you are accustomed to hearing in this chamber.
I am told that this is the first time that a United States Senator has addressed the UN Security Council. I sincerely hope it will not be the last. It is important that this body have greater contact with the elected representatives of the American people, and that we have greater contact with you.
In this spirit, tomorrow I will be joined here at the UN by several other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Together, we will meet with UN officials and representatives of some of your governments, and will hold a Committee "Field Hearing" to discuss UN reform and the prospects for improved U.S.-UN relations.
This will mark another first. Never before has the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ventured as a group from Washington to visit an international institution. I hope it will be an enlightening experience for all of us, and that you will accept this visit as a sign of our desire for a new beginning in the U.S.-UN relationship.
I hope - I intend - that my presence here today will presage future annual visits by the Security Council, who will come to Washington as official guests of the United States Senate and the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee which I chair.
I trust that your representatives will feel free to be as candid in Washington as I will try to be here today so that there will be hands of friendship extended in an atmosphere of understanding.
If we are to have such a new beginning, we must endeavor to understand each other better. And that is why I will share with you some of what I am hearing from the American people about the United Nations.
Now I am confident you have seen the public opinion polls, commissioned by UN supporters, suggesting that the UN enjoys the support of the American public. I would caution that you not put too much confidence in those polls. Since I was first elected to the Senate in 1972, I have run for re-election four times. Each time, the pollsters have confidently predicted my defeat. Each time, I am happy to confide, they have been wrong. I am pleased that, thus far, I have never won a poll or lost an election.
So, as those of you who represent democratic nations well know, public opinion polls can be constructed to tell you anything the poll takers want you to hear.
Let me share with you what the American people tell me. Since I became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I have received literally thousands of letters from Americans all across the country expressing their deep frustration with this institution.
They know instinctively that the UN lives and breathes on the hard-earned money of the American taxpayers. And yet they have heard comments here in New York constantly calling the United States a "deadbeat."
They have heard UN officials declaring absurdly that countries like Fiji and Bangladesh are carrying America's burden in peacekeeping.
They see the majority of the UN members routinely voting against America in the General Assembly.
They have read the reports of the raucous cheering of the UN delegates in Rome, when U.S. efforts to amend the International Criminal Court treaty to protect American soldiers were defeated.
They read in the newspapers that, despite all the human rights abuses taking place in dictatorships across the globe, a UN "Special Rapporteur" decided his most pressing task was to investigate human rights violations in the U.S. -- and found our human rights record wanting.
The American people hear all this; they resent it, and they have grown increasingly frustrated with what they feel is a lack of gratitude.
Now I won't delve into every point of frustration, but let's touch for just a moment on one -- the "deadbeat" charge. Before coming here, I asked the United States General Accounting Office to assess just how much the American taxpayers contributed to the United Nations in 1999. Here is what the GAO reported to me:
Last year, the American people contributed a total of more than $1.4 billion dollars to the U.N. system in assessments and voluntary contributions. That's pretty generous, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. The American taxpayers also spent an additional EIGHT BILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED AND SEVENTY NINE MILLION DOLLARS from the United States' military budget to support various U.N. resolutions and peacekeeping operations around the world. Let me repeat that figure: EIGHT BILLION, SEVEN HUNDRED AND SEVENTY NINE MILLION DOLLARS.
That means that last year (1999) alone the American people have furnished precisely TEN BILLION, ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY NINE MILLION DOLLARS to support the work of the United Nations. No other nation on earth comes even close to matching that singular investment.
So you can see why many Americans reject the suggestion that theirs is a "deadbeat" nation.
Now, I grant you, the money we spend on the UN is not charity. To the contrary, it is an investment - an investment from which the American people rightly expect a return. They expect a reformed UN that works more efficiently, and which respects the sovereignty of the United States.
That is why in the 1980s, Congress began withholding a fraction of our arrears as pressure for reform. And Congressional pressure resulted in some worthwhile reforms, such as the creation of an independent UN Inspector General and the adoption of consensus budgeting practices. But still, the arrears accumulated as the UN resisted more comprehensive reforms.
When the distinguished Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was elected, some of us in the Senate decided to try to establish a working relationship. The result is the Helms-Biden law, which President Clinton finally signed into law this past November. The product of three years of arduous negotiations and hard-fought compromises, it was approved by the U.S. Senate by an overwhelming 98 -1 margin. You should read that vote as a virtually unanimous mandate for a new relationship with a reformed United Nations.
Now I am aware that this law does not sit well with some here at the UN. Some do not like to have reforms dictated by the U.S. Congress. Some have even suggested that the UN should reject these reforms.
See Part II of Helms Speech