President George W. Bush’s nomination of John R. Bolton as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations has divided members of Congress along party lines. But it is unclear if Democrats will have any more luck in derailing Bolton’s nomination to the new post than they did four years ago when Bush tapped the conservative favorite as the Department of State’s point man on arms control and nonproliferation issues.
Bolton, currently undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, has long been a close political ally of top conservatives, such as former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), and served Bush as a lawyer during the Florida recount of the 2000 presidential elections. But he has drawn fire from the political left and from some Republicans for his vocal and often colorful criticism of the value of international organizations and multilateral treaties in addressing security concerns.
Still, on March 7, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that Bush was nominating Bolton to the high-profile UN post. She championed Bolton, who has served both the current president and his father in senior-level State Department posts, as a “tough-minded diplomat.” Four days later, Bush announced his intention to nominate a former Rice aide, Robert Joseph, to succeed Bolton.
“Through history, some of our best ambassadors have been those with the strongest voices, ambassadors like Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan,” Rice said. Rice touted Bolton’s record as undersecretary of state. In particular, she cited his development of the Proliferation Security Initiative, to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related goods to terrorists and countries of proliferation concern; his role in prodding Libya to give up its nuclear and chemical weapons programs and some longer-range missiles; and his part in crafting the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which pledged to cut within a decade the number of strategic nuclear warheads operationally deployed by the United States and Russia to 1,700-2,200 warheads apiece.
Yet, that record has drawn criticism from foreign diplomats, Democrats, and some Republicans who say that Bolton is an odd pick for the UN post, given his cutting remarks about many forms of multilateral diplomacy and his opposition to many multinational arms control agreements and extended negotiations.
In his current position, Bolton has been blamed by Democrats and some U.S. allies for helping to block efforts to negotiate an end to Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs. He is also seen as slowing efforts to secure and dismantle Russia’s Cold War arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and related delivery systems and helping to torpedo efforts to establish a verification protocol to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
They worry that handing Bolton a UN platform will obstruct tentative moves by the Bush administration toward a more diplomatic approach. North Korea’s failure to abide by its nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments is already before the UN Security Council, and key European nations have recently signaled a new willingness to consider referring Iran’s case to that body if Tehran moves forward with its efforts to develop a uranium-enrichment program.
“This is a disappointing choice and one that sends all the wrong signals,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “At a time when President Bush has recognized we need to begin repairing our damaged relations with the rest of the world, he nominates someone with a long history of being opposed to working cooperatively with other nations.”
In addition, some administration officials have raised questions about Bolton’s willingness to challenge his direct superiors.
In Bush’s first term, Bolton clashed routinely with Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage over nonproliferation and arms control policy, aides said, often siding with the Department of Defense and Vice President Dick Cheney over his putative superiors. These aides said senior officials routinely sought to water down Bolton’s claims about foreign countries’ weapons programs, such as his contention that Cuba and Libya had active biological weapons programs. In Libya’s case, such claims appear to have been disproven after Tripoli agreed to disarm all of its weapons programs in December 2003.
Still, Bolton can count on the support of most Senate Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), for example, called Bolton an ‘’outstanding candidate.’’ Even some who had raised initial questions about Bolton’s nomination, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s second-ranking Republican, have fallen into line.
Moreover, Republicans now outnumber Democrats 55 to 44 in that chamber (one independent, James Jeffords (Vt.), generally votes with the Democrats). The Senate was evenly split between both parties when Bolton was confirmed by a vote of 57-43 as undersecretary for arms control and international security in May 2001.
The first hurdle for Bolton is expected to come April 7-8 when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds its Senate confirmation hearing. When the panel considers Bolton’s nomination, it is largely expected to vote along party lines (it has 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats) in favor of his nomination, although there are some wild cards.
For example, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) generally supports a president’s nominees as a matter of principle and supported Bolton’s previous nomination in 2001. Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), on the other hand, has been a strong critic of Bush and his foreign policy and is up for re-election next year in strongly Democratic Rhode Island.
In addition, panel chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), while vowing that he would move forward with consideration of the nomination, has pointedly not expressed his support for Bolton.
Most panel aides believe Bolton will ultimately win confirmation but will first need to convince committee members of his willingness to take a more diplomatic approach.
This tack has succeeded in the past. In his 2001 confirmation hearings, Bolton played down Democratic attempts to hold off his nomination, citing his previously published views on various arms control subjects, such as his opposition to past agreements to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“I’ve actually changed my mind from time to time,” Bolton said.
Joseph’s Senate confirmation hearing is expected sometime in April During Bush’s first term, Joseph served as senior director for proliferation strategy, counterproliferation, and homeland defense at the National Security Council. He also held senior arms control posts in past Republican administrations.
Joseph’s views are considered similar to those of Bolton, and he has played a key role in shaping administration policy toward North Korea, Iran, and Libya, as well as in the deployment of U.S. nuclear forces.
Panel members may raise questions about Joseph’s role in a claim that Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union speech that the White House later acknowledged was based on inaccurate information. Those remarks touched on what Bush said were Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger.
Joseph’s post at the National Security Council has been filled by John Rood. (See ACT, March 2005.)
However, another senior NSC arms control post has recently become open. Frank Miller, senior director for defense policy and arms control left in March to join a consulting group led by former Defense Secretary William Cohen.