No matter what comes of the Bush administration's demand that the UN be tough on Iraq, the diplomatic showdown in New York could alter the long-strained ties between the global body and the US.
President Bush faces strong anti-UN views on the Republican right, but he was pushed into seeking a resolution from the Security Council by pressure from the American public which favors a UN stamp of approval on a US-led war against Iraq. Mr. Bush himself made a strong gesture toward warmer ties by announcing last month that the US would rejoin UNESCO after an 18-year absence.
Such steps show more than just a renewed American appreciation of the UN and its many affiliates. They also reflect the efforts of Secretary-General Kofi Annan since he took office in 1997 to listen to US concerns and to make the UN more efficient.
UN officials now regularly lobby on Capitol Hill, mainly to get the US to pay its UN dues. And Mr. Annan has tried hard to accommodate the US while not losing credibility with the various blocs of nations often opposed to the US.
Bush is making up for decades of anti-US behavior at the UN. The body lost its way starting in the 1970s when the Soviet Union and third-world countries not only dominated the debate but used the UN to attack the interests of the West. A case in point was UNESCO's attempt to set up a "New World Information Order" that would have restricted the media. It was one reason the US and Britain left UNESCO.
But UNESCO director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, has worked hard to turn the Paris-based organization around with better management since 1999. The US now hopes UNESCO will use its education programs to promote respect for freedom and to eliminate hateful propaganda from textbooks. That's part of the Bush administration's recognition that it needs more than a strong military to fight terror.
A report on US-UN ties, released jointly yesterday by the Council on Foreign Relations and Freedom House, suggests that the US set up a new bloc of nations based on "the effective promotion of democracy, human rights and counterterrorism."
If Bush can shape the UN around American values and not just immediate US interests, he will help the global body find a wider acceptance in Congress and among Americans.
And further reform of the UN under the secretary-general's "quiet revolution" can make it work much more effectively for all nations.