David L. Bosco is Assistant Professor in the School of International Service at American University. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a former Senior Editor at Foreign Policy and has been a political analyst and journalist in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a deputy director of a joint United Nations – NATO project in Sarajevo. His most recent book, Five To Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of The Modern World, tells the inside story of this remarkable diplomatic creation, illuminating the role of the Security Council in the postwar world, and making a compelling case for its enduring importance. In the original post below, Bosco reflects on Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly today.
President Obama accomplished some important objectives in his speech to the UN General Assembly today. He emphasized how much has already changed under his administration, mentioning torture, Guantanamo, climate change, and Iraq in particular. But he also tried to to call the broader UN membership to task for what he called “reflexive anti-Americanism” and a tendency to always point at others when discussing international problems. As has often been the case internationally, the president is trying to both acknowledge American missteps but also convince the world to follow its lead.
Obama did some finger-pointing of his own. He identified Iran and North Korea as threats that might take the world down “a dangerous slope” of regional arms races and unchecked nuclear proliferation. He demanded that these countries face consequences if they continue to ignore the Security Council. But the language here was much more tempered than that used by President Bush in 2002 when he was trying to rally the world to confront Iraq. He did not even hint that the U.S. might work around the UN if that becomes necessary.
One notable absence in his speech: he did not mention reform of the Security Council, which has been a staple of other speeches at the General Assembly, particularly from developing world leaders. In general, the Obama administration has been quiet about the question of whether and how the Council should be expanded. It will be interesting to see whether he mentions the subject tomorrow, when he chairs a Council meeting on nonproliferation.