As Congress prepares to switch majority parties in January, it may be useful to think about how this shift could affect US-UN relations. Initially, perhaps the most identifiable consequence of the election may be that it delivered a death knell to Congressional threats to force United Nations reform by withholding UN dues.
The latest permutation of this effort came in 2005 when the House passed the so-called “United Nations Reform Act” championed by the retiring Chair of the House International Relations Committee, Henry Hyde. The bill passed House largely on party lines, but was opposed by the Bush administration. It has since languished in the Senate.
At the time, Tom Lantos, the minority leader of the House International Relations Committee, opposed the legislation (he compared it to “a guillotine on autopilot.”) Instead, he and Republican Christopher Shays offered a substitute to the bill that reaffirmed the need for UN reform, but tempered down the threats to withhold payment.
When the new Congress takes office in January, Lantos will likely become Chair of the House International Relations Committee. This is a powerful position for setting US priorities with the United Nations. And while Lantos has historically shared his Republican predecessor’s goals for UN reform, he has opposed threatening to withhold dues as a tactic to achieve reform. For the time being, I think it is safe to say that parochial bills intended to strong arm the UN will have a less receptive audience in the House International Relations Committee.