Ever since it was decided to locate the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the world body has been beset by constant meddling by the host country, that is, the United States, which is increasingly violating the letter and spirit of the 1947 treaty between the United States and United Nations regarding the headquarters of the UN. The treaty, signed on June 26, 1947 at Lake Success, New York between UN Secretary General Trygve Lie and US Secretary of State George Marshall guarantees the extraterritorial nature of the UN headquarters in Manhattan. Furthermore, it guarantees that the US will not interfere with the expeditious granting of US visas to foreigners and UN personnel transiting through US territory in furtherance of their responsibilities to their own governments and the UN.
The United States has increasingly violated the US-UN Treaty by refusing to grant visas to foreign officials, UN personnel, members of the press, representatives of non-governmental organizations, UN guests, conducting business at the UN. The US has also ignored the treaty’s insistence on the inviolability of UN territorial jurisdiction by conducting illegal electronic surveillance on the communications of the UN and permanent missions accredited to the UN. A chief harasser of UN diplomatic immunity was New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who, as mayor in 1997 told the UN to leave New York. In 1995, Giuliani ordered Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasir Arafat expelled from a UN 50th anniversary New York Philharmonic Orchestra concert at Lincoln Center. Giuliani also said he would order Cuban President Fidel Castro ejected from New York if he visited the UN. Giuliani now serves as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
Former acting US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, who was refused Senate confirmation and subsequently given a Senate recess appointment by President George W. Bush, is on record talking about the need to obliterate the top ten stories of the UN Secretariat building. Bolton now serves as Trump’s national security adviser. Giuliani and Bolton are not the only anti-UN extremists calling the foreign policy shots inside the Trump administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an original Republican Tea Party fanatic, echoes the same anti-UN feelings as other longstanding right-wing movements and entities, including the John Birch Society, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Federalist Society.
Donald Trump’s last two speeches before the UN General Assembly were punctuated by right-wing talking points aimed at his right-wing domestic base, not the world body or the peoples of the countries represented therein. The Trump administration has shown its utter disdain for the UN by withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Universal Postal Union (UPU); the Paris Climate Accord; the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program; and suspending financial aid to the UN relief agency for Palestine. The US has also threatened to leave the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
Trump has also shown his utter disregard for the UN by nominating as the next US ambassador, replacing Nikki Haley, former Fox News “talking head” and current State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who is uniquely unqualified for such a position.
The Trump administration stands in flagrant violation of the UN-US Treaty by denying visas to the domestic partners of UN personnel. In the past, successive US administrations have denied visas to foreign officials to attend UN meetings. Those affected have included government officials and diplomats from Libya, Cuba, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Palestine, and Abkhazia.
The US has also had an undue influence on the UN’s acceptance of new members and official observers. The US, with its permanent member status and a veto on the UN Security Council has pressured the body to reject membership applications from several nations. In 2011, the US wielded its Security Council veto to reject the membership application of Palestine. In 2012, the General Assembly was successful in approving Palestine’s application to become a nonmember observer state, a distinction that also permits Vatican City to speak at General Assembly meetings but not have a vote on resolutions.
There have been calls from various member states to reform the General Assembly in order to pull it out from the shadow of the US-dominated Security Council. In 1950, the US was successful in providing the General Assembly with substantial power over the Security Council by having the Assembly adopt the “Uniting for Peace Resolution.” The resolution gave the General Assembly the ability to act without the prior approval of the Security Council. The 1950 resolution took aim at the Security Council by giving the assembly the right to take primary action when the Security Council “fails to exercise its primary responsibility” for maintaining international peace and security. The Uniting for Peace Resolution permits the General Assembly to take collective action on its own.
Clearly, the Uniting for Peace contrivance, which was used to commit UN troops to the Korean and Suez conflicts in the 1950s, should be used to circumvent the intransigence and diplomatic disorder brought about by the Trump administration. The General Assembly should start by circumventing the “status quo” enthusiasts of the US State Department and approve additional states for full membership and state and non-state observer status in the world body. If the US continues to interfere with the granting of visas to delegates and observers, the UN should begin the process of relocating its headquarters to Geneva, a city that already hosts numerous UN specialized agencies and was once the home of the League of Nations, the UN’s forbearer.
Proposals to expand the permanent members of the Security Council to include India, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and, perhaps, others, will only curb the powers of the General Assembly even further.
Without the threat of a veto by the US and its neo-colonialist permanent member allies – the United Kingdom and France – a reformed General Assembly could invite as new members various states that have expressed an interest in full membership, including New Zealand’s “associated states” of the Cook Islands and Niue. There is no reason why UN membership should not be expanding. Instead, the last new member accepted was South Sudan in 2011.
The history of US dominance of the UN has seen several aspirant nations fail to achieve even a hearing before the Security Council or General Assembly, thanks mainly to the US status quo proponents.
The US has a long history of not only denying visas to representatives of nations whose independence was snuffed out by larger powers but actively assisting neo-colonial powers in extinguishing the right of self-determination of aspirant member states. After Bhutan’s admission to the UN in 1971, it was expected that is sister Himalayan kingdom, Sikkim, would follow suit. However, India had commenced with plans to invade the tiny kingdom on the pretext of quelling civil disorder, all of which was fomented by India. The Sikkimese head of state, the Chogyal, had even received assurances from UN officials that he should be prepared to see Sikkim’s flag raised at UN headquarters.
In 1975, Sikkim was forcibly annexed to India after it was invaded by Indian military forces. Attempts to have Sikkimese representatives visit UN headquarters in New York were rebuffed by the US administration, particularly by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Joseph Sisco, and Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Rush.
In 1948, a similar scene played out when the government of the princely state of Hyderabad, under the threat of an Indian military invasion, tired to dispatch delegates to the UN, then headquartered in Lake Success, New York. Hyderabad, in vain, called for UN Security Council action against India. Such action never arose, and the state was invaded and absorbed into India. During partition talks between Hindu and Muslim parties in British India in 1948, the Sikh Maharajah of Nabha sought UN assistance in creating a Sikh state in East Punjab. However, thanks to collusion between Hindus and the British colonial authorities, there was never a provision for a Sikh state, a situation that continues to fester today on the Indian subcontinent. Had the US facilitated the participation at UN headquarters in Lake Success of the Muslim Nizam of Hyderabad and the Sikh Maharajah of Nabha, which, like Hyderabad, was briefly independent, later tensions and violence might have been avoided. The fact that the UN, with the connivance of the US and Britain, ignored the pleas for independence from the Maharajah of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, laid the groundwork for the present Indo-Pakistani conflict over the contested territory, which was divided into Indian- and Pakistani-ruled sectors.
Twenty years later, the self-declared Republic of Biafra, which was engaged in a bloody civil war with Nigeria, managed to send its Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Matthew Mbu, to New York to appeal to UN Secretary General U Thant. However, the Burmese diplomat, under pressure from the Security Council’s Permanent Five, issued a rebuke to the Biafran diplomat. U Thant stated: “when a State applies for membership in the United Nations, and when the United Nations accepts the membership of that applicant, all the members tacitly accept the principle that that particular State has an entity or unity. In other words, when a Member State is admitted to the United Nations, there is the implied acceptance by the entire membership of the principle of territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of that particular State.” In other words, secessionist movements and aspirant nations, no matter how justified their actions and causes, were not welcome at the UN.
However, secession was not the case with Sikkim, Hyderabad, Western Sahara, or East Timor. They were invaded by other nations with their pre-existing autonomy snuffed out. The UN did not raise any objections to their forced incorporations into other states. The UN also fails to recognize retro-independence. States like Somaliland, Zanzibar, South Yemen, Sarawak, and Sabah have been briefly independent prior to unification with other nations. If the UN were to reject retro-independence, Singapore would not be independent today, but would exist as a state of Malaysia.
The UN General Assembly should be a universal place where nations and aspirant nations can interact without pressure from the five permanent members of the Security Council or the US, as host nation. There is no reason why the General Assembly should not have accredited state or non-state observer missions from Somaliland, Taiwan, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Tibet, Kosovo, Catalonia, Flanders, South Arabia, Mahra, Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Transnistria, Quebec, Kashmir, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, Itenge, Northern Syria-Rojava, Greenland, the Faroes, Scotland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Cabinda, Toubouland, West Papua, Corsica, Puerto Rico, Rapa Nui, Kanaky, Polynesia, Chiapas, Biafra, Ambazonia, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azawad, Casamance, Sarawak, Sabah, Barotseland, Zanzibar, and dozens of other national liberation movements around the world. Such aspirant nations and peoples should be able to interact with the UN and their metropolitan overlords in a neutral setting.
The UN has turned away pleas from leader after leader, much in the same way that the League of Nations ignored a personal plea by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, made before its assembly in Geneva, to help him and his nation turn away military aggression launched by Fascist Italy.
The UN was formed to avoid wars by having nations and peoples discuss their grievances in a global forum. If the status quo enthusiasts and advocates of unilateralist policies of the Trump administration want to interfere in this pursuit, the UN should relocate to Switzerland, where it can be assured of non-interference in its affairs by the host nation. And if the United States, like many Trump supporters advocate, decides to leave the UN, the world body would be better off without a brigand, pariah, and thuggish state deciding policies for 192 other member states.