The power center of American foreign policy has seldom taken the United Nations very seriously. It has used the organization when convenient as an instrument for the pursuit of traditional foreign policy goals. Pursuing a global policy, U.S. officials may even have been surprised at the number of times they found a global body of use. Nevertheless, their resort to the United Nations was episodic, and they continued to regard it as marginal to the conduct of international relations.
That attitude is now changing. Slowly, a realization is spreading among U.S. policymakers that even a debating society-and the United Nations is more than that-can have a very significant impact on international relations depending on the subject debated and whether those speaking have influence on actions outside the forum of discussion. U.S. officials increasingly realize that U.N. debates do have this impact. As a result, whatever their private feelings or public statements, American officials are taking the United Nations much more seriously than in the past.
All of which poses a dilemma for the United States: we are taking the United Nations more seriously precisely at a time when our prestige there has never been lower. Thus, what we need to do is to develop a strategy for increasing U.S. influence in an organization that will continue to affect American foreign policy.
To begin with, Washington must make an effort to understand an apparent contradiction in American attitudes toward the United Nations, a body we dismiss in one breath as powerless and denounce in the next as dangerous. An explanation for these conflicting attitudes can be found if we face up to the fact that on some subjects the United States now has no choice but to take the United Nations much more seriously whereas on other subjects it still has considerable discretion. The difference between disarmament issues on the one hand and economic issues on the other illustrates this point.
In the disarmament field, U.N.
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