In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama made important and valid points on the issues of human rights, arms control, and global governance. But note what the president did not say.
The president addressed Russian and Chinese obstructionism on Syria. Their abuse of veto power has, in the words of US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, held the Security Council “hostage.” But the president wasn’t willing to acknowledge US obstructionism and abuse of its own veto power. Since China joined the UN in 1971, it has used its veto power eight times, while Russia during that same period used its veto power 18 times. By comparison, the US has used its veto power during this period 83 times, most recently when Obama ordered a veto of an otherwise-unanimous UNSC resolution reiterating the illegality of Israeli settlements in territories under foreign belligerent occupation and calling for a freeze on the construction of new settlements.
Another issue the president raised is the proliferation of nuclear weapons, in particular, Iran’s nuclear programme. President Obama has successfully pushed the UNSC to impose tough sanctions against Iran for violating a series of UNSC resolutions by failing to halt its uranium enrichment program. But the US has blocked enforcement of other UNSC resolutions targeting the nuclear programmes of US allies which – unlike Iran – actually have nuclear weapons.
UNSC resolution 487 calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the IAEA. UNSC resolution 1137 calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles. But the Obama administration has not only refused to support implementing these resolutions, it provides all three countries with nuclear-capable jet fighters and other military assistance.
Similarly, the Obama administration has repeatedly blocked the convening of a long-planned international conference on the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone for the Middle East, as called for in UNSC resolution 687 and the most recent conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In 2003, the US blocked a draft UN Security Council resolution reiterating calls for the establishment of such a nuclear weapons-free zone.
While the Obama administration has reversed the outright opposition of previous US administrations to the concept, the US obsession with Iran’s civilian nuclear programme gives the US little credibility in addressing these security concerns.
Another theme in the president’s speech was democracy and human rights. President Obama reiterated his call for greater respect by the world’s nations for fundamental civil and political rights. But the president did not address the fact that the US remains the number one supporter of the world’s remaining autocratic regimes and occupation armies.
Human rights abuses in Syria, Iran, Sudan and other autocratic regimes opposed by the US indeed must be challenged. But the continuing flow of US arms and other security assistance to repressive dictatorships and its attacks on the UN Human Rights Council and reputable international jurists for documenting war crimes by US allies makes it difficult for the Obama administration to take the moral high ground.
President Obama has frequently spoken of the US as an indispensable and exceptional nation. He repeated that idea today. “Some may disagree, but I believe America is exceptional,” Obama said in his speech, taking a swipe at Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times challenging that notion. But US exceptionalism cannot be based on military and economic power alone, but on a willingness to apply the values Obama and other American leaders have espoused as universal principles.
By: Stephen Zunes