Senator Jesse Helms Chairman, Senate Foreign
Relations Committee Remarks to UN Security Council
January 20, 2000
Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, told members of the United Nations Security Council January
20 that "The American people want the UN to serve the purpose for which it
was designed: they want it to help sovereign states coordinate collective action
by 'coalitions of the willing,' (where the political will for such action
exists); they want it to provide a forum where diplomats can meet and keep open
channels of communication in times of crisis; they want it to provide to the
peoples of the world important services, such as peacekeeping, weapons
inspections and humanitarian relief. "This is important work," Helms
said. "It is the core of what the UN can offer to the United States and the
world. If, in the coming century, the UN focuses on doing these core tasks well,
it can thrive and will earn and deserve the support of the American
It was the first time in the history of the United
Nations that a representative of the U.S. Congress had ever addressed the UN
Following is the Helms text, as prepared for
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
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
Having said all that, I am aware that you have
interpreters who translate the proceedings of this body into a half dozen
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
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 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
They have heard UN officials declaring absurdly that
countries like Fiji and Bangladesh are carrying America's burden in
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
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
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.
But let me suggest a few things to consider: First, as
the figures I have cited clearly demonstrate, the United States is the single
largest investor in the United Nations. Under the U.S. Constitution, we in
Congress are the sole guardians of the American taxpayers' money. (It is our
solemn duty to see that it is wisely invested.) So as the representatives of the
UN's largest investors -- the American people -- we have not only a right, but a
responsibility, to insist on specific reforms in exchange for their investment.
Second, I ask you to consider the alternative. The
alternative would have been to continue to let the U.S.-UN relationship spiral
out of control. You would have taken retaliatory measures, such as revoking
America's vote in the General Assembly. Congress would likely have responded
with retaliatory measures against the UN. And the end result, I believe, would
have been a breach in U.S.-UN relations that would have served the interests of
Now some here may contend that the Clinton
Administration should have fought to pay the arrears without conditions. I
assure you, had they done so, they would have lost.
Eighty years ago, Woodrow Wilson failed to secure
Congressional support for U.S. entry into the League of Nations. This
administration obviously learned from President Wilson's mistakes.
Wilson probably could have achieved ratification of the
League of Nations if he had worked with Congress. One of my predecessors as
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge, asked for
14 conditions to the treaty establishing the League of Nations, few of which
would have raised an eyebrow today. These included language to insure that the
United States remain the sole judge of its own internal affairs; that the League
not restrict any individual rights of U.S. citizens; that the Congress retain
sole authority for the deployment of U.S. forces through the league, and so on.
But President Wilson indignantly refused to compromise
with Senator Lodge. He shouted, Never, never!", adding, "I'll never
consent to adopting any policy with which that impossible man is so prominently
identified!" What happened? President Wilson lost. The final vote in the
Senate was 38 to 53, and the League of Nations withered on the vine.
Ambassador Holbrooke and Secretary of State Albright
understood from the beginning that the United Nations could not long survive
without the support of the American people -- and their elected representatives
in Congress. Thanks to the efforts of leaders like Ambassador Holbrooke and
Secretary Albright, the present Administration in Washington did not repeat
President Wilson's fatal mistakes.
In any event, Congress has written a check to the United
Nations for $926 million, payable upon the implementation of previously
agreed-upon common-sense reforms. Now the choice is up to the UN. I suggest that
if the UN were to reject this compromise, it would mark the beginning of the end
of US support for the United Nations.
I don't want that to happen. I want the American people
to value a United Nations that recognizes and respects their interests, and for
the United Nations to value the significant contributions of the American
people. Let's be crystal clear and totally honest with each other: all of us
want a more effective United Nations. But if the United Nations is to be
"effective" it must be an institution that is needed by the great
democratic powers of the world.
Most Americans do not regard the United Nations as an
end in and of itself -- they see it as just one part of America's diplomatic
arsenal. To the extent that the UN is effective, the American people will
support it. To the extent that it becomes ineffective -- or worse, a burden --
the American people will cast it aside.
The American people want the UN to serve the purpose for
which it was designed: they want it to help sovereign states coordinate
collective action by "coalitions of the willing," (where the political
will for such action exists); they want it to provide a forum where diplomats
can meet and keep open channels of communication in times of crisis; they want
it to provide to the peoples of the world important services, such as
peacekeeping, weapons inspections and humanitarian relief.
This is important work. It is the core of what the UN
can offer to the United States and the world. If, in the coming century, the UN
focuses on doing these core tasks well, it can thrive and will earn and deserve
the support of the American people. But if the UN seeks to move beyond these
core tasks, if it seeks to impose the UN's power and authority over
nation-states, I guarantee that the United Nations will meet stiff resistance
from the American people.
As matters now stand, many Americans sense that the UN
has greater ambitions than simply being an efficient deliverer of humanitarian
aid, a more effective peacekeeper, a better weapons inspector, and a more
effective tool of great power diplomacy. They see the UN aspiring to establish
itself as the central authority of a new international order of global laws and
global governance. This is an international order the American people will not
The UN must respect national sovereignty. The UN serves
nation-states, not the other way around. This principle is central to the
legitimacy and ultimate survival of the United Nations, and it is a principle
that must be protected.
The Secretary General recently delivered an address on
sovereignty to the General Assembly, in which he declared that "the last
right of states cannot and must not be the right to enslave, persecute or
torture their own citizens." The peoples of the world, he said, have
"rights beyond borders."
I wholeheartedly agree.
What the Secretary General calls "rights beyond
borders," we in America call "inalienable rights." We are endowed
with those "inalienable rights," as Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in our
Declaration of Independence, not by kings or despots, but by our Creator.
The sovereignty of nations must be respected. But
nations derive their sovereignty -- their legitimacy -- from the consent of the
governed. Thus, it follows, that nations can lose their legitimacy when they
rule without the consent of the governed; they deservedly discard their
sovereignty by brutally oppressing their people.
Slobodan Milosevic cannot claim sovereignty over Kosovo
when he has murdered Kosovars and piled their bodies into mass graves. Neither
can Fidel Castro claim that it is his sovereign right to oppress his people. Nor
can Saddam Hussein defend his oppression of the Iraqi people by hiding behind
phony claims of sovereignty.
And when the oppressed peoples of the world cry out for
help, the free peoples of the world have a fundamental right to respond.
As we watch the UN struggle with this question at the
turn of the millennium, many Americans are left exceedingly puzzled. Intervening
in cases of widespread oppression and massive human rights abuses is not a new
concept for the United States. The American people have a long history of coming
to the aid of those struggling for freedom. In the United States, during the
1980s, we called this policy the "Reagan Doctrine."
In some cases, America has assisted freedom fighters
around the world who were seeking to overthrow corrupt regimes. We have provided
weaponry, training, and intelligence. In other cases, the United States has
intervened directly. In still other cases, such as in Central and Eastern
Europe, we supported peaceful opposition movements with moral, financial and
covert forms of support. In each case, however, it was America's clear intention
to help bring down Communist regimes that were oppressing their peoples -- and
thereby replace dictators with democratic governments.
The dramatic expansion of freedom in the last decade of
the 20th century is a direct result of these policies.
In none of these cases, however, did the United States
ask for, or receive, the approval of the United Nations to
"legitimize" its actions.
It is a fanciful notion that free peoples need to seek
the approval of an international body (some of whose members are totalitarian
dictatorships) to lend support to nations struggling to break the chains of
tyranny and claim their inalienable, God-given rights.
The United Nations has no power to grant or decline
legitimacy to such actions. They are inherently legitimate.
What the United Nations can do is help. The Security
Council can, where appropriate, be an instrument to facilitate action by
"coalitions of the willing," implement sanctions regimes, and provide
logistical support to states undertaking collective action.
But complete candor is imperative. The Security Council
has an exceedingly mixed record in being such a facilitator. In the case of
Iraq's aggression against Kuwait in the early 1990s, it performed admirably; in
the more recent case of Kosovo, it was paralyzed. The UN peacekeeping mission in
Bosnia was a disaster, and its failure to protect the Bosnian people from Serb
genocide is well documented in a recent UN report.
And, despite its initial success in repelling Iraqi
aggression, in the years since the Gulf War, the Security Council has utterly
failed to stop Saddam Hussein's drive to build instruments of mass murder. It
has allowed him to play a repeated game of expelling UNSCOM inspection teams
which included Americans, and has left Saddam completely free for the past year
to fashion nuclear and chemical weapons of mass destruction.
I am here to plead that from now on we all must work
together, to learn from past mistakes, and to make the Security Council a more
efficient and effective tool for international peace and security. But candor
compels that I reiterate this warning: the American people will never accept the
claims of the United Nations to be the "sole source of legitimacy on the
use of force" in the world,
But, some may respond, the U.S. Senate ratified the UN
Charter fifty years ago. Yes, but in doing so we did not cede one syllable of
American sovereignty to the United Nations. Under our system, when international
treaties are ratified they simply become domestic U.S. law. As such, they carry
no greater or lesser weight than any other domestic U.S. law. Treaty obligations
can be superceded by a simple act of Congress. This was the intentional design
of our founding fathers, who cautioned against entering into "entangling
Thus, when the United States joins a treaty
organization, it holds no legal authority over us. We abide by our treaty
obligations because they are the domestic law of our land, and because our
elected leaders have judged that the agreement serves our national interest. But
no treaty or law can ever supercede the one document that all Americans hold
sacred: The U.S. Constitution.
The American people do not want the United Nations to
become an "entangling alliance." That is why Americans look with alarm
at UN claims to a monopoly an international moral legitimacy. They see this as a
threat to the God-given freedoms of the American people, a claim of political
authority over America and its elected leaders without their consent.
The effort to establish a United Nations International
Criminal Court is a case-in-point. Consider: the Rome Treaty purports to hold
American citizens under its jurisdiction -- even when the United States has
neither signed nor ratified the treaty. In other words, it claims sovereign
authority over American citizens without their consent. How can the nations of
the world imagine for one instant that Americans will stand by and allow such a
power-grab to take place?
The Court's supporters argue that Americans should be
willing to sacrifice some of their sovereignty for the noble cause of
international justice. International law did not defeat Hitler, nor did it win
the Cold War. What stopped the Nazi march across Europe, and the Communist march
across the world, was the principled projection of power by the world's great
democracies. And that principled projection of force is the only thing that will
ensure the peace and security of the world in the future.
More often than not, "international law" has
been used as a make-believe justification for hindering the march of freedom.
When Ronald Reagan sent American servicemen into harm's way to liberate Grenada
from the hands of a communist dictatorship, the UN General Assembly responded by
voting to condemn the action of the elected President of the United States as a
violation of international law -- and, I am obliged to add, they did so by a
larger majority than when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was condemned by
the same General Assembly!
Similarly, the U.S. effort to overthrow Nicaragua's
Communist dictatorship (by supporting Nicaragua's freedom fighters and mining
Nicaragua's harbors) was declared by the World Court as a violation of
Most recently, we learn that the chief prosecutor of the
Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal has compiled a report on possible NATO war crimes
during the Kosovo campaign. At first, the prosecutor declared that it is fully
within the scope of her authority to indict NATO pilots and commanders. When
news of her report leaked, she backpedaled.
She realized, I am sure, that any attempt to indict NATO
commanders would be the death knell for the International Criminal Court. But
the very fact that she explored this possibility at all brings to light all that
is wrong with this brave new world of global justice, which proposes a system in
which independent prosecutors and judges, answerable to no state or institution,
have unfettered power to sit in judgement of the foreign policy decisions of
No UN institution -- not the Security Council, not the
Yugoslav tribunal, not a future ICC -- is competent to judge the foreign policy
and national security decisions of the United States. American courts routinely
refuse cases where they are asked to sit in judgement of our government's
national security decisions, stating that they are not competent to judge such
decisions. If we do not submit our national security decisions to the judgement
of a Court of the United States, why would Americans submit them to the
judgement of an International Criminal Court, a continent away, comprised of
mostly foreign judges elected by an international body made up of the membership
of the UN General Assembly?
Americans distrust concepts like the International
Criminal Court, and claims by the UN to be "the sole source of
legitimacy" for the use of force, because Americans have a profound
distrust of accumulated power. Our founding fathers created a government founded
on a system of checks and balances, and dispersal of power.
In his 1962 classic, Capitalism and Freedom, the
Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman rightly declared: "(G)overnment
power must be dispersed. If government is to exercise power, better in the
county than in the state, better in the state than in Washington. [Because] if I
do not like what my local community does, I can move to another local
community... [and) if I do not like what my state does, I can move to another.
[But] if I do not like what Washington imposes, I have few alternatives in this
world of jealous nations."
Forty years later, as the UN seeks to impose its utopian
vision of "international law" on Americans, we can add this question:
Where do we go when we don't like the "laws" of the world?
Today, while our friends in Europe concede more and more
power upwards to supra-national institutions like the European Union, Americans
are heading in precisely the opposite direction.
America is in a process of reducing centralized power by
taking more and more authority that had been amassed by the Federal government
in Washington and referring it to the individual states where it rightly
This is why Americans reject the idea of a sovereign
United Nations that presumes to be the source of legitimacy for the United
States Government's policies, foreign or domestic. There is only one source of
legitimacy of the American government's policies -- and that is the consent of
the American people. If the United Nations is to survive into the 21st century,
it must recognize its limitations. The demands of the United States have not
changed much since Henry Cabot Lodge laid out his conditions for joining the
League of Nations 80 years ago: Americans want to ensure that the United States
of America remains the sole judge of its own internal affairs, that the United
Nations is not allowed to restrict the individual rights of U.S. citizens, and
that the United States retains sole authority over the deployment of United
States forces around the world.
This is what Americans ask of the United Nations; it is
what Americans expect of the United Nations. A United Nations that focuses on
helping sovereign states work together is worth keeping; a United Nations that
insists on trying to impose a utopian vision on America and the world will
collapse under its own weight.
If the United Nations respects the sovereign rights of
the American people, and serves them as an effective tool of diplomacy, it will
earn and deserve their respect and support. But a United Nations that seeks to
impose its presumed authority on the American people without their consent begs
for confrontation and, I want to be candid, eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Thank you very much.