So what is the strategy here? Schifter outlines one that is both simple to understand and difficult (but far from impossible) to execute. “Identify those countries that consistently vote against the United States and are, in terms of the makeup of their government, friendly to the United States,” he told us. “Many of them receive hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. assistance annually. Get the heads of government to understand that the U.S. really cares about the votes that they cast and call attention to how their ambassadors vote consistently against the United States and ask that they give instructions to change the voting pattern. The question, of course, is who can do it. And that is where the problem arises. The State Department finds it difficult to go over the heads, so to speak, of a foreign ministry and reach a head of government directly. The White House rarely has the time to get involved in all of this.”
He did, however, point to a notable success using this strategy. “In 2006,” Schifter recalls, “Venezuela announced its candidacy for the Security Council. The Bush administration decided to block it. The President and the Vice President got on the phone and started calling the various countries that were voting. Venezuela was running against Guatemala. The voting for the Security Council is by secret ballot. 47 rounds of voting took place before Venezuela gave up. The results of these 47 votes, if averaged, are 103 ayes for Guatemala and 79 for Venezuela. A clear majority — but in order to get a Security Council seat you need a two-thirds majority. The way it finally worked out was that Panama was chosen to be the Latin American representative for that period. We succeeded in preventing Venezuela from serving on the Security Council. A few years later, under the Obama administration, Venezuela was elected without opposition.”
It’s clear that the U.S. can make a difference here. And it seems clear that it should try, as well. For Schifter, it is primarily a question of a coming contest for global primacy.
“The United States should really assert itself at the U.N. as effectively as we can, because China is interested in essentially replacing the United States in a leadership position in the world,” he notes. “And China under its current leadership is highly nationalistic. As far as Russia is concerned, I think we have a problem there with Putin, but Russia is economically not really in good shape. It's declining, so it is a factor still but probably less so than it was in the past. I think China is what we need to be concerned about.”