Guest Writings
1/8/05 UN Credentials Committee Can Reject Bolton Mark G. Levey

Copyright, 2005, Mark G. Levey

The UN doesn’t have to accept John Bolton’s credentials. This may come as a rude surprise to George W. Bush, who this morning appointed Bolton U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, despite his rejection several weeks ago by the Senate. The unintended consequence of Bolton’s appointment, which is creating a lightning rod at the UN for resentment, anger and fear of Bush Administration foreign policy, is a possible move by the General Assembly to limit U.S. actions in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

It is likely that one or more General Assembly member states will challenge Bolton’s credentials. In that case, under Articles 27-29, he will be seated provisionally until the nine members of the Credentials Committee can vote on the question. See, ;

The members of the Credentials Committee appointed at the 59th session are:

Russian Federation
Trinidad and Tobago
United States

This could force what Bush likes to call an “up or down” vote on the issue, and likely Bolton’s first direct conflict with Russia and China at the UN. It is unclear how the smaller states on the committee might vote.


Bolton’s nomination signals the Bush Administration’s intention to use the UN to legitimize an attack against Iran – something most of the world surely wants to avoid.  A challenge to Bolton’s credentials may be a tactic to stall or delay a U.S. push toward a resolution authorizing force against Iran.  Some members may welcome this opportunity to make their influence felt on this little-known committee, rather than risk an open vote challenging the United States in the General Assembly.

Opponents of Bolton at the UN certainly have an unusually large amount of ammunition to use against him, should they take a stand. Democrats in the U.S. Senate had blocked his nomination through parliamentary maneuvering, even though the Republicans control that body. Allegations have arisen that Bolton misrepresented the fact that he was questioned by investigators looking into his possible role in the illegal disclosure of Valerie Plame, a CIA officer. Bolton is furthermore on record as making numerous hostile statements against the UN, and perhaps on this basis opponents could mount a challenge. likely not happen, but it’s worth contemplating.

Bolton’s appointment to the UN is perhaps most alarming as he is a principal leader of the neocon faction that has been most aggressively  pushing the Bush Administration toward military action intended to overthrow the government of the Islamic Republic. Bush’s move to appoint him during a Congressional recess is likely to be taken as sign that U.S.-Iranian relations have entered a dangerous new phase. This is not a welcome development by the vast majority of UN members.


While challenges are not infrequent, actual rejection of the credentials of UN representatives is extraordinary. In the last 30 years, the committee rejected the credentials of Burmese and Cambodian UN representatives because of serious doubts about the legitimacy of the regimes and factions that sent them. While Bolton is widely feared and disliked among diplomats, Bolton’s outright rejection by a majority of the committee would be stunning, almost unimaginable. It is far more likely that the General Assembly may take this opportunity to attempt to impose conditions on U.S. international actions, such as its occupation of Iraq and any arm twisting it may attempt to force the world body to authorize military action against Iran.  No doubt, many delegates would welcome a low-risk opportunity to send a clear message to the US that Bolton’s notoriously undiplomatic methods are unwelcome. Representation in the world body It’s not an internal US matter – the UN chooses who it finds acceptable among its own representatives.

Ironically, the U.S. helped to create precedent for this three decades ago.  In 1991, a block of Arab states moved (unsuccessfully) to limit Israel’s membership in the UN by declaring its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to be illegal.  As the Arab states pointed out at the time, the US had itself in 1973 voted to impose limitations on Portugal’s credentials at the UN, effectively forcing it to abandon its colonial claims on Angola.  See,

Therefore, the Bolton appointment presents an opportunity for a state or states to motion to limit U.S. actions or jurisdiction in some way, both in its occupation of Iraq and in whatever unilateral designs it may have on Iran. 

Copyright 2005, Mark G. Levey.

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