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To Create a New World? American Presidents and the United Nations

By John Allphin Moore Jr.; Jerry Pubantz | Go to book overview

(9) The Persian Gulf War in 1991, which removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait, was based on UN Security Council resolutions (particularly 678); thus this war was a genuine "collective security" operation designed to uphold the sovereignty of a UN member. 11

Significant to understanding all these UN-related events is the relationship each had with various American presidents. That is, in all the cases mentioned above, American presidents have demonstrated a keen interest or, more often than not, taken a direct leadership role. None of these activities could have taken place without approval and support of presidents. The customary scholarly approach to UN studies is to point out that the organization works when the great powers all concur on an action, and that, thus, the United Nations essentially "reacts" to traditional great power politics, which continues to be the most important factor in international affairs. 12 While there is merit to this proposition, an additional factor—maybe the most crucial factor—in the course of UN history has been the particular role of American presidents.

There is no reason to engage in clamorous debate with hardened opponents, from pure idealists to crafty realists, 13 to sense a troubling confusion: America desires to see the spaceship earth on a trajectory toward liberal democracy while at the same time avoiding unwise, hopeless, and potentially expensive U.S. involvements overseas. The following study will underscore the role of presidents in the evolution of the United Nations by charting that wavering history of, on the one hand, an idealistic vision of world affairs often associated with Woodrow Wilson and his followers, and, on the other hand, a realistic vision of the world, as frequently associated with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, among others.


Woodrow Wilson and American Idealism

It was, indeed, President Woodrow Wilson who wedded American "exceptionalism" to a nascent internationalism, and in a way that commanded a new level of support in American public opinion. We

____________________
11
A quick and efficient way to chart these developments is through the UN website at www.un.org.
12
John G. Stoessinger, The United Nations and the Superpowers, 4th ed. ( New York: Random House, 1977).
13
See the debate between Senator Jesse Helms and several UN supporters in Foreign Affairs ( September/October 1996 and November/December 1996).

-12-

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