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U.S. Unilateralism at the UN: Why Great Powers Do Not Make Great Multilateralists.

The 1990s saw a renewed interest by U.S. scholars in multilateralism as an important institution in international affairs. These scholars may have been sparked by former president George Bush's call for a new world order in which the U.S. government was to be more receptive to universal aspiration, cooperative deterrence, and joint action against aggression. Thus, Robert Keohane and others rediscovered a U.S. commitment to multilateralism as a "practice of coordinating national policies in groups of three or more states." [1] It is fitting that Keohane's article appeared in a Canadian journal devoted entirely to the subject because multilateralism has long been a major theme in the study of Canadian foreign policy. One major addition to this literature in the 1990s was by Tom Keating. [2] Indeed, the Canadian practice of multilateralism might well serve as a benchmark for judging U.S. commitment to it.

There are, after all, grounds for doubting the constancy of the U.S. commitment to multilateralism. In negotiations leading to the 1997 landmine treaty and the 1998 international criminal court treaty, the United States not only refused to lead the world community but--in a striking display of unilateralism--also refused to sign agreements supported by a majority of states and most of its Western allies. This behavior led the Economist, a British magazine not usually noted as a bastion of radicalism or anti-U.S. sentiment, to publish an editorial in December 1998 calling the United States "a two-faced, half-hearted friend" rather than a champion of international law. Important indicators of multilateralism are the negotiation and support of new international norms. However, as the editorial observed, "the United States has a sorry record of shilly-shallying, or plain obstruction, in the development of international law. Instead of leading, America has ratified many human-rights treaties only after most other countries have already done so." A litany followed.

It took 40 years to ratify the Genocide Convention, 28 for the Convention Against Racial Discrimination, 26 for even the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the most important treaty of all. Over 160 countries have ratified the convention banning discrimination against women but not the United States. Only two in the world have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. . . . And even when America has ratified treaties, it has often attached extensive reservations, making them inapplicable at home. It has also paid scant respect to monitoring mechanisms set up by the treaties, and to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. . . . Alone among its allies, it now opposes the permanent international criminal court endorsed by 120 nations at a UN conference last July primarily because it could not win an absolute exemption for its own soldiers. [3]

In assessing commitment to multinationalism, the UN also provides an important benchmark. But consider the unilateralist behavior of the United States at the UN in the selection of the last secretary-general and the ongoing financial crisis provoked by nonpayment of U.S. dues. [4] Any observer of the UN General Assembly in the 1980s would more likely be impressed with the obvious unilateral nature of U.S. voting behavior. In the last year of the Bush administration--after the end of the Cold War and the supposed creation of a new world order--the U.S. representative to the Forty-seventh General Assembly was moved to vote "nay" on 61 percent of final resolutions adopted by a majority of the membership. This record was unmatched even by Israel, the second most "nonaccommodating" member, which had a record of voting against the majority only 45 percent of the time.

Accordingly, my purpose here is to examine this apparent paradox and to raise three questions: (1) Does U.S. behavior in the General Assembly confirm or disconfirm the claim of U.S. commitment to multilateralism? (2) Were the Reagan and Bush presidencies the beginning and end of unilateralism, or is this a more persistent phenomenon across Republican and Democratic administrations? [5] (3) Can an alternative explanation for U.S. unilateralism be expounded based in traditional realist great-power theory?

The Commitment to Multilateralism

John G. Ruggie's major study of multilateralism, Multilateralism Matters, suggests both narrow and broad definitions of the term. The narrow definition, or what Ruggie calls the nominal definition, is given as that used previously from Keohane. According to Ruggie, this narrow definition focuses on mere policy coordination or joint action by three or more nations. Ruggie expands the definition to mean "an institutional form [including norms, regimes, and formal multilateral organizations] that coordinates relations among three or more states on the basis of generalized principles of conduct." He links multilateralism to hegemonic stability theory and underlines the importance of judging the nature of the leadership provided by the hegemon. "All hegemonies are not alike," and U.S. leadership since World War II is described as multilateral. He claims the United States showed a preference for multilateralist behavior in the creation of the Marshall Plan, the UN system, the Bretton Woods economic system, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance: in all of these policies, the U.S. government sought to create an open institutional environment. The multilateralist operational code values partnership, consultation, and consensus building with other states. [6]

Peter F. Cowhey associates this U.S. commitment to multilateralism with domestic politics. He sees it as inherent in U.S. democratic institutions and stresses its domestic ideological role in legitimizing U.S. foreign policy actions. Beginning with FDR and Truman, multilateralism or internationalism was presented to the public as an alternative to isolationism and unilateralism. [7]

Several authors in Ruggie's book deal with the distinction between universalism and multilateralism. They point out that the latter does not require a universal normative consensus: dropping the League of Nations requirement of unanimity in assembly voting is seen as a step forward in this regard. Citing the problem of coordinating large numbers, Ruggie discusses an approach (proposed elsewhere by Russell Hardin) in which many multilateral agreements are at least intially created and maintained by a subset of the membership, called K-Groups. Similarly, Miles Kahler speaks of a minilateralist group. [8]

But in making this distinction between universal/consensus and mini-lateral/core group, a conceptual Pandora's box is opened as to the status of multiple groups or blocs within the institution. Even within NATO, a long tradition exists of identifying hawks and doves. How, then, are we to determine which group in NATO should be considered the core group? But the best example of this phenomenon is perhaps found in the General Assembly, where groups of three or more states coordinating their voting behavior have long existed.

Leaving aside the question of multiple blocs, the General Assembly also provides another, more damaging counterexample. Ruggie gives great importance to the hegemon's behavior in establishing the norm of multilateralism. If this is true, then certainly its inverse must follow: consistent unilateral behavior by the hegemon would seem to delegitimize the multilateralist order and would also call into question the assertion by many of these authors of a deep U.S. commitment to multilateralism. U.S. allies have frequently questioned this commitment over trade issues involving U.S. protectionist measures. I examine the record of U.S. voting in the General Assembly to avoid the anecdotal nature of such example-citing studies and to evaluate U.S. behavior in a systematic and quantitative manner.

The Great-Power Explanation for Unilateralism

Before turning to the voting behavior data, I suggest a traditional thesis for explaining unilateralist behavior by the United States (and other major powers) as an alternative to the theoretical position of the recent multilateralist literature discussed earlier. Just as Keohane, Ruggie, and others have linked U.S. multilateralism to domestic considerations or hegemonic stability theory, so too can theoretical justification be given to an alternative, great-power view of the United States as a unilateralist.

Prior to the development of hegemonic stability theory, [9] a long-established attitude guided most realist/idealist debates about the development of multilateral institutions. Most realists accepted the idea that under conditions of anarchy a hierarchy of nations would emerge, ranking states by their power levels from great to minor powers. Greater power enabled greater capacity to act and to influence outcomes to the great power's liking. The desire to maximize the freedom to use their greater power made the top powers poor multilateralists. However, the interest of the small powers was to lessen their power disadvantage by binding the great powers to legal, alliance, and other multilateral institutions. Great powers relied on their own power advantage; minor powers relied on law and international organization. Put simply, great powers tended to be unilateralist, small and medium powers multilateralist.

Support for this position can be found in the works of traditional realist writers. In Power Politics, Martin Wight states: "History affords little support for the assertion the great powers like to make that they are more restrained and responsible than minor powers. It suggests, rather, that they wish to monopolize the right to create international conflict." Discussing the League of Nations (which he said brought "the formal enfranchisement of the minor powers"), Wight claimed that these minor powers in fact "were more capable than the great powers of pursuing consistently what might be regarded as the universal interest of upholding international law and order." [10]

Compared to Wight, other realists have been more sanguine about the multilateralist great-power concert idea, or what the idealist David Mitrany mocked as the "rich man's burden" assumption. However, even Hedley Bull based great-power multilateralism on the balance of power and argued that power imbalance breeds noncompliance. "It is clear," Bull said, "that situations in which one state has a position of preponderance are situations in which that state may be tempted to disregard rules of law.... Where one state is preponderant, it may have the option of disregarding the rights of other states, without fear that these states will reciprocate by disregarding their rights in turn." He characterized such situations of regional dominance as "the Unilateral Exercise of Local Preponderance" and cited as examples early-twentieth-century interventionism by the United States in the Caribbean and by the U.K. in the Middle East. These unilateralist situations, Bull said, demonstrate a "habitual disregard [by the great power] of the universal norms of interstate behavior that confer rights of sovereignty, equality and independence upon these [smaller] states." [11]

This great-power thesis was at work in the creation of the UN itself. At the San Francisco conference, many small and middle powers were unhappy with the special status given to the permanent members of the Security Council. But the realists among them argued that the veto was a necessary inducement to gain the support of the USSR, the United States, and others. The lesser powers could only hope that in the long run the new institution would reduce the role of force and power in international affairs. This same prospect, however, made the more powerful states more ambivalent in their commitment to the organization. Inis Claude summarized this veto-as-bribe argument precisely:

At San Francisco the small states accepted the superiority of the mighty as a fact of life. Their first objective was to ensure that all of the great powers would accept their place in the leadership corps of the new organization; in this they were successful, and this fact was perhaps the major basis for the hope that the UN would prove more effective than the League. Their second objective was to constitutionalize the power of the international oligarchy; towards this end they achieved the incorporation in the Charter of a surprising array of limitations upon arbitrary behavior. [12]

Over the years, all five permanent powers have had recourse to the veto at one time or another. Several have been deeply in arrears in their payments to the institution over matters of policy. The great naval powers--the United States, the USSR, and the U.K.--were among the last to agree to the new restrictions of the Law of the Sea. This explanation would predict that the United States, as the largest of the great powers, would exhibit in the long term the greatest unilateralism and ambivalence toward the UN. Furthermore, traces of that behavior may be noted even in the early years of greatest U.S. cooperation with or dominance of the UN. The Korean War (1950-1953), the first major UN collective security operation, provides many examples of less than complete cooperation, such as the U.S. government's refusal to place U.S. troops under a non-U.S. commander and MacArthur's flouting of General Assembly guidelines on the conduct of the military operations. In this article, I document the extent of U.S. unilate ralism in the General Assembly and show its growth in more recent years.

Finally, Thomas M. Franck provides compelling anecdotal evidence of the great-power thesis in General Assembly voting to condemn military intervention and aggression. He observes that the large powers are the most guilty of double standards in this regard: "The superpowers ... consistently do not vote for the principle but [vote] for political self-interest. As heads of alliances, they feel they cannot afford to be principled. As militarily mighty states able to look after their own security, they are not as reliant as the majority on the protection of rules and principles. They can do more or less as they like, and often they do. The superpowers, and a few other states that perceive themselves as lions among sheep, value these short-term gains." [13] This observation succinctly states the case against hegemonic stability theory and the United States as multilateralist.

The Research

Multilateralism defined as coordinating policy among three or more states has long been evident at the General Assembly. [14] An observer of that body's debates is likely to see a West European member rise and begin her remarks by saying that she speaks for the common European Union position on the current matter. Likewise, Richard Jackson documents the various caucusing methods employed by the Nonaligned Movement at the General Assembly. [15] Finally, the 100 percent voting agreement among the members of the pre-1990 Soviet bloc implied some prior multilateral (if not autonomous) coordination. Most of these blocs involve a significant pattern among ten or more states. For my purposes here, I employ Keohane' s criterion of three or more states voting together. The most evident situation for identifying such blocs involves those occasions when a group of states is so hostile to a resolution that the states are unable to cast a diplomatic abstention but would rather go on record as voting "no," even against an overwhelming majority. Therefore, I concentrate on these small "no" minorities of ten or less and of less than three. In fact, this study may serve as a corrective to past studies, which have excluded these small minority votes from their analyses. [16]

Because my focus is on tracing U.S. behavior over time and across differing administrations, I selected years that correspond to major regime changes--a shift of the presidency from Democratic to Republican or vice versa. [17] Thus, I examine 1968 and 1969, 1976 and 1977, 1980 and 1981, and 1992 and 1993. [18] Along with my assistants, I coded and checked the data for 1992 and 1993 from the annual UN press releases that report the text of and votes on all resolutions passed in the annual General Assembly session. The data for 1968 to 1981 were entered from tables published by the Canadian Peace Research Institute. [19] Entering all the data sets into a spreadsheet (Quattro Pro 3) allowed us to create the simple indicators and statistics described later.

Before continuing, it may be useful to say something about the nature of the votes contained in these data sets. Under the UN Charter, the General Assembly may consider, debate, and pass resolutions on any matter not currently being considered by the Security Council. At the end of each annual session, a large number of resolutions are accepted, many without recourse to a recorded vote. Resolutions can be grouped by the subject matter of the committee from which they arose: security, special political, economic, social, decolonization, budgetary, or legal. [20] In addition, certain important resolutions are assigned directly to the plenary without reference to a subcommittee. To demonstrate the wide scope of such resolutions, Appendix 1 shows some recent distributions of resolutions and votes.

Another consideration is that many votes arose from resolutions critical of Israeli policy in the Middle East. These anti-Israel votes are scattered among the various committees and seem to arise on any subject. Such votes, as will be seen, are identified by their distinctive pattern: the United States and Israel vote "no," most other high-average-income states (HASs) abstain, and the low-average-income states (LASs) comprising the majority vote "yes." In an earlier study, which carefully read and coded resolutions for subject matter, I found that in 1991 (the Forty-sixth Session), around 38 percent of all voted resolutions mentioned Israeli policy or the Palestinian issue. [21] Although this subset of narrowly focused votes exists, the remaining issues cover a wide range of topics, including the Law of the Sea, chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and the human rights situation in a variety of other states. Furthermore, in the analysis of voting minorities that follows, it is relativel y easy to sort out the Israeli-Palestinian votes.

Returning to the issue of multilateralism, the simplest statistic to generate is the percentage of times the United States and other members voted "no" or abstained on resolutions. For recent years, when every final resolution has passed, this percentage of "no" votes provides a measure of voting with a minority or dissension from the majority view. However, in the earlier sessions (1968--1969), the "no" votes were sometimes the majority. So a method of identifying the losing side (that is, the minority, or dissenting, side) had to be built into the analysis (see Table 1). Member states were then sorted by dissension from least aligned (primarily by negative, or "opposed," votes and secondarily by abstentions) to most aligned with the majority.

Given past studies, it would not be surprising to find that the United States frequently loses votes. The General Assembly agenda for some years has been controlled by the priorities and interests of LASs or members of the Nonaligned Movement. Likewise, previous studies have documented the existence of fairly permanent voting blocs. As we have seen in the literature on multilateralism, there is justification for examining smaller clusters or minilateralist blocs. Therefore, my research monitored the size of the minority and counted the number of nonmultilateralist votes (less than three in the minority). Because many resolutions condemn Israeli policy in the Middle East, I kept a special count of Israel-U.S. pairs (alone). On the basis of these simple indicators, I was able to track the extent and variation of U.S. nonmultilateralist behavior.

The Findings

The findings allow me to rank member states in eight selected General Assembly sessions to show the most nonaccommodating or nonmultilateralist (in the broadest sense of the word) among them. Table 1 shows in some detail the percentage of votes by type of vote cast (no, abstain, yes) for 1968. Table 2 ranks twenty-five members according to percentage of lost votes for selected years from 1968 through 1993. In results for 1968-1992, that percentage reflects times a member either voted "no" when a motion passed or "yes" when a motion was defeated; it does not include abstentions. Results for 1993 (when no General Assembly resolutions failed) rank member states simply by the percentage of "no" votes cast.

As Table 2 shows, the United States ranked alone at the top in voting against the majority in six of the eight sessions (all but the first two cases). In 1968, it lost 41.5 percent of votes cast and thus tied with South Africa and Portugal for first in the ranking. In 1969, it came in second behind Portugal, which was frequently condemned for its colonial policies. Such a pattern does not place the United States in savory company in those years. In 1969, the incidence of dissent declined to 36.4 percent and then dropped back further in 1976 to 31.5 percent of all votes. It leaped to 53.4 percent in 1981 during the Reagan administration, peaked at 60.5 percent in 1992 (Bush), and dropped slightly to 57.6 percent in 1993 (Clinton). Hence, there is little sign of a new world order of greater U.S. accommodation to the LAS majority in the General Assembly, even with the changes of administration.

It is also interesting to observe the spread in the ranking between the United States and its NATO allies. The United States was separated from the NATO member ranked next highest by 4 percentage points in 1968, 2 points in 1969, 13 points in 1975, 10 points in 1977, 13 points in 1980, 25 points in 1981, 36 points in 1992, and 30 points in 1993. The nearest NATO ally was the U.K. in every case except 1969, when it was Canada. In every year but 1968, the U.K. or Canada was within 5 or 6 percentage points of another NATO ally in the ranking. In other words, a pattern exists of the United States separating itself from its NATO allies in level of nonaccommodation with the LAS majority. The biggest jumps in this trend occurred in 1981 and 1992 under Reagan and Bush, respectively.

Examining another aspect of U.S. voting practices in the General Assembly, Table 3 summarizes small U.S. minorities for the eight sessions by type of minority. It begins by tracking the number of occasions in the selected sessions when the United States--in the extreme situation of finding no other state willing to vote with it--chose to vote against the majority. From 1976 through 1993, this number represents the United States casting a lonely unilateral "no," whereas in 1968 and 1969, it represents opposition to a motion the majority supported. The number excludes abstaining votes. For the first two sessions, there were no examples of this extreme unilateralism. In 1977 and 1980, there were only one and two, respectively. What is striking is the leap in unilateralism beginning with Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick (Reagan) and continuing through Edward Perkins (Bush) and Madeleine Albright (Clinton). Although the absolute number of unilateral negatives declined in the last two years depicted, the total number of votes declined, and so the percentage of negative votes actually increased.

Table 3 next counts the number of times the United States and Israel were alone in opposition. Undoubtedly, many of these occasions concerned resolutions that condemned Israeli practices and policies in the Occupied Territories and in the Middle East generally. Some may also have concerned quid pro quos: Israel supporting a U.S. position in return for U.S. support. Separating out this category allowed me to isolate the Palestine/Israel question and see that this one issue cannot explain all U.S. unilateralism. Tables 1 and 2 and the first category in Table 3 all demonstrate that the United States has been much more isolated and unilateralist in the General Assembly even than Israel.

Table 3 also indicates those other occasions where the United States was in an opposed minority of two with a state other than Israel. Only one example occurred in the first four sessions. Every example in the last four sessions involved the U.K. as the nation joining the United States. Given the criterion of multilateralism expressed in groups of three or more states, the sum of the numbers in the first three columns of Table 3 thus represents all incidence of U.S. nonmultilateral behavior.

The fourth column of Table 3 represents a minimum threshold of multilateralism or minilateralism, reflected in minorities of three to ten states. The bloc voting in these minorities usually included U.S. allies--the U.K., France, Israel, the Federal Republic of Germany, and sometimes Canada, Belgium, Australia, or others. The only LASs in the small minorities were Nicaragua, Haiti, and Grenada in 1976 and--once each--Uruguay and Guatemala in 1977. The remaining columns show the total number of negative or opposed votes (expressed as both a count and a percentage of total votes) and the total votes.

Table 3 also shows the changes from Democratic to Republican administrations over time. Here we can clearly see that the greatest increase in unilateralism occurred with the arrival of Ambassador Kirkpatrick and the Reagan administration in 1981. This statement must be placed in the context of a general long-term increase in the percentage of negative votes cast by the United States and its HAS allies. Although negative voting declined from 1976 to 1977 (with the arrival of Andrew Young and the Carter administration), it increased dramatically in the 1980s. What is truly unique is the increase in unilateral or nonmultilateral negatives, as graphed in Figure 1. This graph sums the nonmultilateral votes (the first three columns of Table 3) and also shows the sum as a percentage of total votes. The leap from 1980 to 1981 is clearly visible.

Given that some multilateralist authors suggest a domestic base for a U.S. foreign policy of multilateralism, some general observations should be made as to the impact of regime change. In general terms, if domestic factors are important, we might expect a change in presidential administration to produce variation in the level of multilateralism or unilateralism. When we specify a relationship between party and direction of change, two rival hypotheses appear. On the one hand, if we see the Democrats as the party of Wilson and FDR and hence as more idealist or multilateralist, then we would expect greater accommodation with the UN during Democratic administrations. On the other hand, if we see the Democrats as the more domestically focused and less internationalist of the two parties (a case sometimes made in the 1970s), we might expect the opposite relationship.

The Democratic to Republican regime change of 1968 to 1969 produced no change in U.S. nonmultilateralism; there was none either year, and the total percentage of opposition votes declined slightly (42 percent to 36 percent) under Nixon appointee Charles Yost. The next comparison--of the Republican Ford to Democratic Carter regime change of 1976 and 1977--is complicated by the fact that the Republican administration had appointed a Democrat (Daniel Patrick Moynihan) as delegation head. Under Ambassador Young, however, there was a marked decline in nonmultilateralism and a large decline in overall negative votes.

The largest change occurred between the Democrat (Donald McHenry) and Republican (Kirkpatrick) shift of 1980 to 1981. From both table and graph, we see a dramatic shift toward unilateralism and an overall increase in total negative votes to over 50 percent for the first time. Although George Bush was portrayed as ideologically much more moderate than Reagan, the behavior of his ambassador to the UN, Ed Perkins, is surprisingly unilateral, especially given the advent of the end of the Cold War and the Bush administration's new world order rhetoric.

Even more surprising is the lack of dramatic change from a Republican administration in 1992 to a Democratic one in 1993. One might be tempted to exceptionalize the Republican unilateralism as unique to the personal style of Reagan or Kirkpatrick and to believe that a return to a Democratic administration would herald a voting pattern more similar to the Carter years, with greater conciliation and more understanding of LAS concerns. In fact, the decline in nonmultilateralism is so slight under Ambassador Albright that it would be more correct to stress continuity rather than change from the previous administration.

I include a final figure and table to examine specifically the predictions of the great-power thesis for U.S. unilateralist behavior. As was shown earlier, traditional great-power realists such as Wight and Bull suggest a basis for explaining U.S. unilateralism as a behavior common to all great powers. Figure 2 is a graphic representation of the information on negative voting for individual states found in Tables 1 and 2. Specifically, the figure compares the percentage of lost (or "contra-majority") votes for the United States, the U.K., Canada, and an average of eight European NATO allies. [22] Interesting patterns emerge from this graph. A truism at the General Assembly holds that, with the admission of former colonies in the 1960s, the UN agenda shifted away from the West, and this truism is often used to justify the large and growing negativism of the United States. However, the European NATO allies had apparently completed their adjustment to the Third World majority prior to 1968. Figure 2 shows an ov erall downward trend in their negative votes, from 26 percent in 1968 to 16 percent in 1993, whereas at the same time such votes rose for the United States, from 42 percent to 58 percent. The U.S. trend line moves in the opposite direction from that of its closest allies.

This opposition clearly disputes even the minilateralist version of multilateralism. A consistent gap is seen between the United States and its closest allies, and it has grown wider. Comparing the Canadian line to the U.S. line shows that Canada is a minilateralist, but the United States is not. Consistent with the great-power explanation, however, the U.K. line invariably falls between the European NATO allies and the U.S. level, just as Britian's power ranks as a great power but not a superpower. In recent years, France's voting pattern has been similar to Britain's.

Table 4 provides even better support for the great-power thesis. Elsewhere, I used hierarchical cluster analysis on the 1991 votes to group states into blocs on the basis of their overall voting similarities. [23] I applied the same cluster analysis to the 1993 data set in this study. Because hierarchical cluster analysis forms groups on the basis of the similarity of the states voting and clusters them in order from the most similar to the least similar, it provides a crude but easily interpreted measure of maverick voting behavior. The clustering iteration continues until all states and groups are merged into one group. Therefore, the later the stage at which a state is first grouped, the more idiosyncratic its voting behavior. Table 4 shows that once frequently absent members were removed, it took 157 steps or stages to merge all remaining General Assembly members into one group. The table ranks the stage of entry into the grouping process from latest (most dissimilar) to earliest. Thus, Canada was first grouped at stage 52, whereas the United States was not grouped with any state until stage 153 (fourth from last). In fact, the U.S.-Israel pair was the last entry for individual states because the last stages all involved merging groups with each other.

Table 4 includes all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and a few other large regional powers sometimes considered for permanent council membership (India and Japan). The Permanent Five powers all cluster late in the routine, and a strong relationship appears to exist between power and stage of grouping. The earliest great powers to join any group are Germany, Japan, and China, although Germany and Japan should be described as constrained great powers on the basis of their World War II legacy and current regional situations. Two other points can be made. First, the great strength of this method is that it rules out the ideological impact of any shift in the overall agenda of the General Assembly (more radical, more pro-LAS). Indeed, one of the earliest groups to form (step 14) was the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) plus Italy group, which became the core of the European NATO allies group. [24] Second, although Israel is apparently the state with the voting pattern most similar to t hat of the United States, the fact that the two countries do not form a pair until the fourth-from-last stage shows that their voting patterns differ notably overall. Thus, voting with Israel does not explain the highly idiosyncratic U.S. voting pattern.


At this point, it may be useful to summarize my findings.

1. U.s. negative, or "rejectionist," voting increased as a proportion of total votes from 1968 to 1993.

2. Although the general trend line is upward, some variation exists between Democratic and Republican administrations--lower rejectionism under Carter compared with Reagan and Ford but surprisingly little change between Clinton and Bush.

3. U.S. behavior in the General Assembly can be characterized as nonmultilateralist not only in the large sense (not accommodating to the majority) but also in the minilateralist sense (not voting with its closest NATO allies).

These findings confound those who have claimed a new order in U.S.UN relations and must foretell continuing conflict between the two. They also raise serious questions for the hegemonic stability theory and the new multilateralism literature. They cannot be explained away as an idiosyncratic quirk of one U.S. ambassador; the trend toward unilateralism existed before Kirkpatrick, has continued after her, and has even survived a change to a Democratic administration. However, these findings are consistent with the great-power thesis, which suggests that with the end of the balancing constraint of the Soviet Union, the United States has become even more unilateralist.

Several objections may be raised to these conclusions. The first would claim that findings derived from UN voting apply only to the General Assembly and nowhere beyond. That is, observations about General Assembly behavior do not necessarily tell us anything about behavior outside that institution. The claim deserves careful consideration; at a minimum, I can say merely that my study confirms only the claim of U.S. unilateralism in the General Assembly. However, when added to Anthony Tuo-Kofi Gadzey's study of U.S. self-interested unilateralism in trade negotiations and to points made by the Economist concerning international law, it represents a large anomaly for the multilateralist thesis and hegemonic stability theory. [25]

Furthermore, the multilateralist thesis itself licenses generalizing from U.S.--General Assembly behavior. Multilateralists use a demonstration effect--that the hegemon, leader, or minilateralist's own behavior is crucial in establishing or teaching other states about the norms and expectations for world order and in legitimizing international institutions. What forum other than the UN system provides a broader stage for such a demonstration effect? The annual meetings of the General Assembly and other assemblies are attended by nearly all states in the global system and allow delegates firsthand observation of U.S. hostility and unilateralism there.

Such behavior not only demonstrates U.S. scorn for the UN but also risks delegitimizing multilateral institutions and multilateral behavior generally.

Other critics may dismiss the finding of U.S. unilateralism as merely a consequence of the U.S. commitment to Israel. Such a characterization is only partly true and in any case does not help the multilateralists. Indeed, the challenge for them is to explain why the United States would set aside its global and minilateralist interests to support one particular state to such an extent.

Further, U.S. behavior cannot be completely explained as a reaction to a decline in the influence of the West or of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in that forum. Since 1968, U.S. NATO allies have actually sought greater accommodation with the LAS majority and cast fewer negative votes in the General Assembly. What I highlight here is the way the United States has broken with its own allies in taking extreme positions.

Comparison with U.S. allies raises an important point: multilateralism and unilateralism are comparative and not absolute concepts. Therefore, it is nearly pointless for critics to argue that the United States voted alone only six times in 1993, that it is significantly less unilateralist if one factors out votes concerning the Palestine question, or that the study ignores the large number of consensus decisions. All of these are absolute measures of multilateralism. The real question is: Given all these considerations, who was more unilateralist than the United States? Given the special focus of world attention on the United States as world leader and the importance of the demonstration effect of U.S. behavior, such a relative definition of multilateralism is justified.

One can use Canada as a benchmark with regard to multilateralism. The dramatic difference in its behavior is immediately apparent in Figure 2. Despite the overall decline in support for Western positions at the General Assembly, Canada has never voted unilaterally against a resolution. Instead, as a team player Canada has preferred consultation and consensus in finding common, if minority and opposed, positions. In contrast, the U.S. tendency toward unilateralism, whether in security matters (Korea and Vietnam) or trade (the omnibus trade bill), has long been an issue for Canada and other U.S. allies. Thus, on the issue of multilateralism, U.S. policymakers and academics may have something to learn from consulting their allies.

In the U.S.-multilateralism literature, as I mentioned earlier, the multilateralist writers themselves link multilateralism to hegemonic stability theory. And such a link is important. After all, multilateralism releases hegemonic stability theory from the quandary of the predatory, or malign, hegemon by imputing other-regarding motives and a collaborative spirit to its methods. Hegemonic stability theory is buttressed by this assumption of a well-intentioned (multilateralist) hegemon facing down bad-intentioned (free-rider) smaller states. In this study, however, I question that fundamental characterization of both the hegemon (as a great power) and the middle and small powers. It is time, as Gadzey wrote, to stop "overemphasising the importance of the powerful" and to "underscore the importance of successful co-operation from even the smallest nation-states" [26] in the maintenance of global institutions.

In this study, I also raise questions about the link between traditional realism and hegemonic stability theory. It has become common to assert that hegemonic stability theory is a realist theory. Even in Gadzey's work, for example, the two titles are used almost interchangeably. But an examination of the core writings of Wight and Bull provides scant support for this assumption of greater multilateralism among the leading states. Wight blames the great powers for the demise of the League order. Even Bull, the theorist most supportive of the Concert of Europe approach, sees world order emerging out of the balance of power among the great powers. Both writers suggest that asymmetry of power is more likely to produce unilateralism, intervention, and predation of the great on the small state. Yet hegemonic stability theory, with its asymmetric hegemon, surely denies this relationship between world order and great-power balance. How, then, can these traditional realists be expected to accept paternity of this pa rticular foundling?


Steven Holloway is professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

(1.) Robert Keohane, "Multilateralism: An Agenda for Research," International Journal 45, no. 4 (autumn 1990): 731.

(2.) Tom Keating, Canada and World Order: The Multilateralist Tradition in Canadian Foreign Policy (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1993).

(3.) Economist (5 December 1998): 16.

(4.) U.S. unilateralism in the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization is covered at some length in Roger Coate, Unilateralism, Ideology, and U.S. Foreign Policy: The U.S. in and out of UNESCO (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1988).

(5.) Different parties may control Congress and the presidency at the same time, and Congress may at times be a significant player in such UN matters as the payment of U.S. dues. I make a simplifying assumption in this essay, however, that the president's influence is usually most important in foreign policy making, in the selection of the U.S. ambassador to the UN, and in UN policy generally.

(6.) John G. Ruggie, ed., Multilateralism Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), pp. 11, 25.

(7.) Peter F. Cowhey, "Elect Locally, Order Globally: Domestic Politics and Multilateral Cooperation," in ibid.

(8.) Russell Hardin, Collective Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), cited in Ruggie, Multilateralism Matters, p. 34; Miles Kahler, "Multilateralism with Small and Large Numbers," in Ruggie, Multilateralism Matters.

(9.) The continuing influence of this model, which posits the benefits to global order of U.S. leadership or dominance, is debated in Robert Kagan, "The Benevolent Empire," Foreign Policy 109 (summer 1998): 24--35; Charles William Maynes, "The Perils of (and for) an Imperial America," Foreign Policy 109 (summer 1998): 36--47; and Fareed Zakaria, "The Challenges of American Hegemony: Then and Now," International Journal 54, no. 1 (winter 1998/99): 9--27.

(10.) Martin Wight, Power Politics (Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1978), pp. 42--43, 66.

(11.) David Mitrany, A Working Peace (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1943), p. 41; Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), pp. 108, 214.

(12.) Inis Claude, Swords into Plowshares, 4th ed. (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 73.

(13.) Thomas M. Franck, Nation Against Nation: What Happened to the UN Dream and What the U.S. Can Do About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 230.

(14.) Past studies of UN bloc voting include Margaret Ball, "Bloc Voting in the General Assembly," International Organization 5, no. 1 (winter 1951): 3-31; Thomas Hovet, Africa in the United Nations (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1963); Hayward Alker and Bruce Russet, World Politics in the General Assembly (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965); Russet, "Discovering Voting Groups in the United Nations," American Political Science Review 60, no. 2 (June 1966): 327--339; Hanna Newcombe et al., "United Nations Voting Patterns," International Organization 24, no. 1 (winter 1970): 100--121; Richard Powers, "United Nations Voting Alignments: A New Equilibrium," Western Political Quarterly 33, no. 2 (June 1980): 167--184; Steven K. Holloway, "Forty Years of United Nations General Assembly Voting," Canadian Journal of Political Science 23, no. 2 (June 1990): 279--296; Holloway and Rodney Tomlinson, "The New World Order and the General Assembly: Bloc Realignment at the UN in the Post--Cold War Worl d," Canadian Journal of Political Science 28, no. 2 (June 1995): 227--254; Soo Yeon Kim and Russett, "The New Politics of Voting Alignments in the United Nations General Assembly," International Organization 50, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 629--652.

(15.) Richard Jackson, The Non-Aligned, the UN, and the Superpowers (New York: Praeger, 1983).

(16.) As was done in Kim and Russett, "The New Politics of Voting Alignments." Dropping votes on which the United States voted alone or in very small minorities, such as Star Wars, nuclear disarmament, and test bans, removes issues of special importance in U.S. foreign policy. It also produces results that down-play U.S. isolation and unilateralism in the General Assembly.

(17.) I use Joe D. Hagan's definition of political regime here: "the particular political group, or coalition of groups, that controls the highest authoritarian policymaking bodies of the national government." Hagan, Political Opposition and Foreign Policy in Comparative Perspective (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1993), p. 2. In democracies, the greatest top personnel change occurs when there is a shift in the political party (or parties) that form the government.

(18.) U.S. administrations since the mid-1960s include Johnson (Dem.), 1963-1969; Nixon (Rep.), 1969-1974; Ford (Rep.), 1974-1977; Carter (Dem.), 1977-1981; Reagan (Rep.), 1981-1989; Bush (Rep.), 1989-1993; Clinton (Dem.), 1993-present. U.S. representatives to the UN since 1968 include George Ball, 1968; James Russell Wiggins, 1968-1969; Charles Yost, 1969-1971; George Bush, 1971-1973; John Scali, 1973-1975; Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1975-1976; William Scranton, 1976-1977; Andrew Young, 1977-1979; Donald McHenry, 1979-1981; Jeane Kirkpatrick, 1981-1985; Vernon Walters, 1985-1989; Thomas Pickering, 1989-1992; Edward Perkins, 1992-1993; Madeleine K. Albright, 1993-1996; Bill Richardson, 1997-1998; Richard Holbrooke, 1999-present.

(19.) Hanna Newcombe et al., Nations on Record: United Nations General Assembly Roll-Call Votes, 1946-1973 (Dundas, Oat.: Peace Research Institute, 1975); Newcombe et al., Nations on Record: United Nations General Assembly Roll-Call Votes, 1974-1977 (Dundas, Oat.: Peace Research Institute, 1981); Newcombe et al., Nations on Record: United Nations General Assembly Roll-Call Votes, 1978-1983 (Dundas, Ont.: Pence Research Institute, 1986). The author thanks the Peace Research Institute for the use of these data.

(20.) Six main subcommittees deal with agenda matters of the General Assembly--First Committee: Disarmament and International Security; Second Committee: Ecomomic and Financial; Third Committee: Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural; Fourth Committee: Special Political and De-colonization; Fifth Committee: Administrative and Budgetary; Sixth Committee: Legal.

(21.) Holloway and Tomlinson, "The New World Order and the General Assembly."

(22.) Specifically, original members: Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and the U.K. Portugal was dropped because of missing data in the 1976 session.

(23.) Holloway and Tomlinson, "The New World Order and the General Assembly."

(24.) Further confirmation of the great-power thesis is the fact that the earliest stages of the clustering (steps 1-6) all involved very small states: Bahrain, Maldives, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka, and United Arab Emirates. The states with the most similar, coordinated voting were all small states.

(25.) Anthony Tuo-Kofi Gadzey, The Political Economy of Power: Hegemony and Economic Liberalism (Houndsmill, England: Macmillan, 1994); editorial in the Economist, cited in note 3.

(26.) Gadzey, The Political Economy of Power, p. 3.
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Author:Holloway, Steven
Publication:Global Governance
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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