American Enterprise Institute senior fellow John Bolton gave the “Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture” at the Heritage Institute yesterday. He’s about to publish a book, Surrender is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad and his speech focused mostly on the question of whether or not the UN advances the cause of freedom. His answer? “minimally, occasionally, and accidentally.” You can watch the webcast here.

Bolton’s argument is familiar to anyone who has read or listened to his speeches since he left public service (and occasionally, while still in government.) Essentially, Bolton argues that the UN Secretariat lacks a basic legitimacy because the Secretariat does not take marching orders from the member states that pay the bulk of UN operating expenses.

On the contrary, the legitimacy engendered to the UN comes precisely from the fact that it does not work exclusively for any one member state or group of states. Rather, the UN derives its legitimacy because 180 member states belong to it–and at least in the General Assembly one country has one vote. Things are a bit different in the Security Council. But even there, a Security Council resolution means that the world’s powers have coalesced around a single unifying principle. When the UN Security Council votes to authorize the use of force (say for example for the 1991 Gulf War) that sort of operation is viewed with overwhelming credibility and therefore is much easier to mount.

Bolton made other points, many of which we have addressed previously on UN Dispatch, such as the dangerous notion that the UN should be funded through voluntary contributions rather than assessed dues. Finally, perhaps the most newsworthy moment of the lecture was when Bolton, in the midst of trashing his former colleagues at the State Department, quipped that “North Korea is more likely to get full diplomatic credentials than Taiwan.”

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