There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States...The Secretariat Building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference - John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations
Given that his campaigning self promised a more internationalist outlook, it is striking how Barack Obama hews more closely to the John Bolton School of International Relations (now there's a thought for you) than that of Eleanor Roosevelt. In addition to keeping that shining example of American justice Guantanamo Bay alive and strong, the Obama administration has done little in terms of Roosevelt's "concerted citizen action" at home. As Eleanor Roosevelt suggested, a likely reason why we often "look in vain for progress in the larger world" is because of unyielding negativity about the UN from the country it is headquartered in. Home ain't where the heart is.
As I will enumerate, the US routinely flouts conventions people from other parts in the world consider valuable--especially in terms of advancing rights. Given the plenitude of such examples, it is best to consider the US a delinquent parent of the organization. Unfortunately, John Bolton's flippant suggestion that nothing much would be lost if ten floors of the UN were blown off is not far from actual US policy. Indeed, the Obama administration is next to no improvement seen in this light -
"The United States is concerned about children's rights and welfare."
Americans blather on and on about human rights. Call it the white man's harangue. So much so that you'd expect it to have ratified the well-meaning UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), right? If you read my lengthy post on why the shameless publicity seeker Amy Chua is more American than Chinese, then you would know that it isn't. How embarrassing is this? Well, aside from a failed state (Somalia), the US is the only other country that hasn't ratified it. Alike Guantanamo, it appears Obama has not been more talk than action in behaving in an internationally acceptable manner.
For all its human rights happy talk, the truth, dear readers, is this: the United States is a miserable place to be a kid. But don't take my word for it. The OECD recently compared the well-being of children across developed countries and found that the US ranked second worst next to the UK--and by quite some margin. Perhaps you and I should be concerned about this American failing that is only reinforced by its failure to ratify this convention. Child misery, thy name is America:
"The United States wishes that women have equal rights to men."
While the US does somewhat better on measures of gender equality such as the pay gap, it has yet to achieve several milestones others have alike having a female head of state. Most plausibly, America's chauvinistic tendencies are behind it not inking the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In another shameful display, the US is noted by commentators to be the only developed nation not to ratify CEDAW. A shining beacon of gender equality for the world to follow? I think not.
"The United States condemns crimes against humanity."
The Bush administration was famously hostile to pursuing the ratification of US membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in the Hague. While the Obama administration has stopped its predecessor's outright hostility to the body, it still remains aloof to the idea of ratifying participation. Then again, given the United States' continuing penchant for extrajudicial imprisonment, I guess membership in the ICC is not on the game plan for the immediate future despite more internationalist voices calling for it.
"The United States cares about the welfare of migrants."
It is well-known that virtually all signatories to the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families are migrant-sending nations. Despite calling itself the land of opportunity, a melting pot, and so forth, the truth is that the US is just as reluctant as other developed nations to sign on to something which concerns guaranteeing the welfare of migrants. In trade terms, it is unsurprising a country that has so far been unwilling to implement WTO provisions concerning temporary migration is also unwilling to extend them substantive international rights.
"The United States does not want to deploy land mines indiscriminately."
Activists have, for a long time, been championing the reduction in the use of land mines for the simple reason that they tend to kill and maim civilians--often long after conflicts that resulted in them being deployed have ended. However, the US has once again not ratified the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention. For a country that is already malodorous in so many parts of the world due to its militaristic excursions, this shameful omission only reinforces America's negative image.
"The United States cares about the environment."
Kyoto Protocol. Nuff said.
"The United States has a national interest in respecting international maritime law."
Of all the conventions left unsigned by the US at the UN, the Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is perhaps the most interesting one in terms of geopolitical implications. In fact, Hillary Clinton alluded to it last year during the non-controversy over the South China Sea the US fomented at the ASEAN Regional Forum. As I have explained, the utterly hypocritical point is that the US has not ratified UNCLOS but claims that its stipulations should be followed when it comes to resolving others' disputes. Hypocrisy aside, meddling in others' disputes without a discernible legal basis to do so takes a lot of nerve.
All in all, here is the bottom line when it comes to the US and the UN: If you don't bother with much of anything people of the world devote their valuable time and effort to, then you might as well not host the United Nations. Let's face it: Americans tend to be very parochial in outlook. This negative kind of American exceptionalism poisons international relations through thinking that what goes on in the UN is not in US interests in so many instances. Alike with the IMF which really ought to be in Beijing, the time has come to move the UN elsewhere. The world has moved on. I won't even get into the US offering the sole veto over discouraging continued Israeli settlement of the occupied territories.
There's a saying that you shouldn't stick around where you're not wanted. I guess now is as good as time as any for the UN to move from a country of the past that doesn't care much for it (by brushing off any number of conventions) to a country of the future that at least embraces its core belief in the value of multilateralism. There is no point remaining in a location which undermines it at almost every turn like the United States does. A reason why the UN is often ineffective is because of America's delinquent parenting as its host nation. Think of a child continuously being belittled, insulted and threatened by its parents and modern US treatment of the UN comes to mind. (Not that actual American parenting is much better--see above.) That it even functions at all is a wonder.
When the United States is such an all-around bad example for core UN principles alike human rights, justice, opportunity, and non-discrimination, it's best to skip town. That's something John Bolton and I can probably agree on. Does modern America do Eleanor Roosevelt proud? As I said, the UN should be anywhere but New York.