David M. Malone
After dominating the United Nations completely in its first 15 years through its close political relationships with many of the organization's founding members, the United States of America found itself increasingly on the defensive in the UN General Assembly, against growing majorities of recently de-colonized countries unsympathetic to its views. However, its veto in the UN Security Council provided protection against decisions there inimical to its interests. Consequently, on key security issues, the US increasingly viewed the Security Council rather than the General Assembly as its forum of choice at the UN.
With the end of the cold war, a fading of the superpower confrontation at the UN, directly and through proxies, and the advent of a more values-based foreign policy initiated under President Carter (1977-81) selectively reinforced by President Reagan (1981-9) and strengthened under President Bush (1989-93), the US stance in the UN Security Council during the 1990s veered between decisions seemingly taken for diffuse humanitarian reasons and those which reflected a more instrumental US approach. This inconsistency of approach was particularly significant because it was occurring at a time when the UN was addressing a far larger range of conflicts and doing so in greater depth when it came to conflict resolution. Moreover, the importance of the position that the United States took was further demonstrated as it became apparent that, while the UN's normative activities, in the Security Council and elsewhere, could make progress in the absence of active US support, major peacekeeping operations were unlikely to succeed without strong US backing and, in some cases, participation.
This chapter will first provide some evidence of this US inconsistency of behaviour in the 1990s with reference to conflict resolution—including use of force, sanctions, and peacekeeping matters—and then with respect to such humanitarian issues as human rights, democracy promotion, and humanitarian intervention. It will go on to explain the primary influences on this behaviour, arguing that US ambivalence towards the UN has been more affected by struggles over a New International Economic Order in the 1970s and US perceptions of unbalanced UN approaches to the Arab-Israeli dispute