Losing a Voice for International Justice in the Senate

Senator Chris Dodd announced today that he will not be running for re-election as U.S. Senator from Connecticut. Dodd was first elected to the Senate in 1980, and in during his 30 year career on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he emerged as one of the more thoughtful voices of constructive U.S. global engagement.  Over at Foreign Policy Annie Lowrey notes that Dodd was one of the leading Senate voices on Latin America–a region for which he has had keen interest since his days as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Domincan Republic in the 1960s.  

Dodd was also an instrumental senate voice on international justice issues. His father was one of the lead prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials and Dodd himself is one of the senate’s staunchest supporters of the International Criminal Court.

In 2001, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms introduced the American Service Members Protection Act, which was a response to the forthcoming advent of the International Criminal Court. The bill, in its original form, was a frontal assault on the very concept of an International Criminal Court for those accused of genocide and mass atroticty.  It even stipulated that the President can “use all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any US or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court.” This, presumably, would include an amphibious assault on the Netherlands, where the court is located, earning the bill the nickname “The Hague-Invasion Act.”

Dodd fought hard against this bill, but he was ultimately outnumbered.  He was, however, able to insert an item that became known as the “Dodd Amendment” which allowed the United States to cooperate with the ICC in cases of foreign nationals accused of gencoide and mass atrocities.  This provided the opening for American cooperation with the ICC in its four current cases: Darfur, Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   

Dodd fought the good legislative fight on behalf of international justice and it will be sad that his voice will be absent in future senate debates. 

When it came to dealing with the United Nations, Dodd was also very forward thinking. Here is his opening statement from the confirmation hearing for Susan Rice: 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I would like to join my colleagues in congratulating Dr. Rice on her nomination.  I know, Dr. Rice, that you will bring a wealth of experience and skills to the office of the Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years.

The challenges facing the United States today, perhaps more than ever before, require multilateral solutions.  The international financial crisis and instability in world markets have far-reaching implications and call for coordinated strategies and cooperation to an extent rarely seen.  Conflicts old and new demand an international response. 

The HIV/AIDS pandemic and global food shortages are heart-wrenching illustrations that humanitarian crises know no borders, and that national failures and policies have international consequences and effects—many times unintended.  In many cases, international cooperation is the only path to alleviating suffering and finding long-term solutions to complex crises.

The ongoing genocide in Darfur, concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, continued violence in central Africa, and global warming are just a few of the problems that threaten national and international security, but that no country can solve alone, including the United states.  The United Nations has flaws – which must be addressed – but it remains the best venue for serious international dialogue and coalition building.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the United States has failed to appreciate the value of the United Nations as an avenue to engage the international community, build consensus, and rally the international community’s strengths to face common threats and challenges. 

In my view, the U.N. is not a soapbox for destructive rhetoric and ideology – not for banging shoes on the lectern or calling heads of state “devils” – but rather for pragmatic, constructive problem-solving.  It is not a venue for dividing east and west, north and south, but rather a serious body for building on the values and interests that we have in common. 

Likewise, the General Assembly is not a venue for us to tally who is “with us” and “who is against us.”  The side-lining of the United Nations in recent years has squandered opportunities for the United States and left us more vulnerable.  It has damaged our image —and our interests.

We have an opportunity now for the United States to reshape its relationship with and policy toward the United Nations.

It is my sincere hope that the incoming administration will craft a relationship with the United Nations that seeks to provide robust leadership on issues of strategic concern to the United States, but is also willing to play a supporting role to the leadership and strengths of our international partners on issues of importance to them. 

The United States must also recognize the critically important role the United Nations plays as a forum for public debate and diplomacy.  The Security Council, in particular, has the potential of both steering international dialogue, and crafting creative diplomatic solutions to crises.  We must strike the right balance – as we have during administrations of both parties in the past – between providing proper leadership and partnering with friends and allies.  Effective representation of our interests in the Security Council does not preclude listening to the positions of others.  Indeed, I would argue that listening is essential.

Finally, we need to get serious about reforming the United Nations.  There is no doubt that United Nations bureaucracy is in need of reform, and the United States can and should play a constructive role in looking for ways to better organize and streamline the United Nation’s various bodies and missions. 

Moreover, Dr. Rice, I hope that during your service at the UN, we make progress toward a new formula of representation that gives greater voice to the large emerging powers around the world which are willing, eager and able to provide fresh leadership.  Democratic powerhouses such as India, Brazil and others should not have only rotating access to this extremely important Council.  If the Council is to remain relevant in our evolving international landscape, we need to make it more inclusive. 

The United Nations is an imperfect institution, but it is still a remarkable one that serves vital humanitarian needs for the world’s most vulnerable and in many cases forgotten populations.  From the thousands of troops deployed on peacekeeping missions, to providing vital services to millions of refugees, from combating global disease, to feeding the world’s hungry, tens of millions of men, women and children have been given a lifeline by United Nations programs—programs which the United States must continue to support.

Dr. Rice, I look forward to working with you in advancing America’s interests at the United Nations and to reforming and strengthening that institution to better serve us all.  Let me once again congratulate you on your nomination and thank you for appearing before this committee.  I look forward to our conversation today and to working closely with you in the future.

Like I said, he’ll be missed.