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Mission Impossible

The “Other” State Department: The United States Mission to the United Nations—Its Role in the Making of Foreign Policy

by Arnold Beichman, with a Foreword by Leland M. Goodrich
Basic Books, 224 pp., $5.95

Mr. Beichman is a journalist, with long experience of covering United Nations activities, and of being briefed by the United States Mission to the United Nations (“USUN”). He is now, it appears, a graduate student in political science at Columbia, and his present book is an effort to apply the concepts, methods, and language of a school of contemporary American political science to an institution with which he has had close professional contact. It is also an effort to show that the institution—USUN—is more important, and more nearly autonomous, than most students of the United Nations have hitherto supposed.

The expression, “my other State Department in New York,” is said to have been used by President Kennedy. How seriously President Kennedy may have used it, if he did use it, we do not know. Mr. Beichman does take it seriously. He sets out to show “that USUN has become a major factor in the decision-making process of American foreign policy.”

I set out below the principal cases cited by Mr. Beichman, in support of this contention, with my own comments thereon:

  1. Beichman (p. 14): “American policy in South West Africa took a specific turn October 27, 1966, when the USUN backed a resolution declaring the South African mandate at an end [and setting a deadline]. This deadline forced action (or inaction) [Reviewer’s italics of Beichman’s own words] and specific evaluation of other agencies of the government….”

Reviewer’s comment: This constituted a major change in the presentation of US policy in South West Africa, and therefore toward South Africa. Changes in presentation are not negligible, and may well have a potential to influence actual policy (one scenario as to how this might happen in the case of South West Africa is presented in this reviewer’s United Nations: Sacred Drama). But Mr. Beichman does not show that, up to now, this USUN speech and vote have in any way affected the substance of US policy; elsewhere (p. 135) he refers, accurately, to “the verbal alteration in United States policy towards Pretoria.” But capacity to provoke “verbal alterations,” and formulations of inaction, is something less than one might expect from “a major factor in the decision-making process.”

  1. Beichman (p. 52): The State Department would have preferred that the USUN should not vote for a certain UN resolution on “non-intervention” because it “might be interpreted to mean an attack on our Vietnam policy.” USUN, however, decided to vote in favor, arguing “that if the United States votes for the resolution, it can’t mean Vietnam.”

Reviewer: One would expect USUN to have a degree of autonomy on how to vote on a general question like this, especially since it can spell out how its vote may or may not be interpreted. US policy was not, and could not be, even faintly inflected by “decision-making” of this kind.

  1. Beichman (pp. 97-98): Objections from USUN led the Department of Commerce, in 1965, to withdraw authorization for the sale of six single-engine Cessna aircraft to the Republic of South Africa.

Reviewer: Interesting, as the only example cited by Mr. Beichman of a case in which USUN representatives influenced a US decision on a concrete issue, as distinct from questions of presentation, through votes and speeches at the UN itself. The scale of the example—six single-engine aircraft—is eloquent, but not in the sense of Mr. Beichman’s argument.

  1. Beichman (pp. 98-100): In February, 1968, Mr. Goldberg, on his own initiative, made a speech attacking Soviet treatment of dissident intellectuals. Some high State Department official criticized this speech as possibly disturbing US-Soviet bridge-building.

Reviewer: Mr. Beichman, a declared admirer of Mr. Goldberg, devotes more than two pages to this non-event, in language appropriate to the making of an epoch. (“Work began on the speech on March 5…. A few minutes after 5 P. M. Goldberg began….”) The occasion, according to Mr. Beichman, had “high political significance.” Yet what it all amounted to is accurately assessed by Beichman himself: “…So far as can be judged it has neither upset nor strengthened understanding between the two countries.”

  1. Beichman (pp. 106-109): Henry Cabot Lodge on more than one occasion—on Korea and on Suez—voted contrary to the State Department’s instructions.

Reviewer: Lodge, through his influence with Eisenhower, did enjoy wide discretion, in practice, in how he presented US policy at the United Nations. Such presentations may well have some impact on the substance of policy; they can certainly have an impact on public opinion, both in the US and in the world. But UN resolutions, even supported by the US, do not automatically become US policy; they can be, and often are, explained away (and the existence of a putative “other State Department” can be a useful mode of explanation). Mr. Beichman does not present any evidence to show that the substance of US policy was affected by Lodge’s deviant votes and speeches.

  1. Beichman (pp. 149-159): The Soviet Union having refused to contribute to the costs of certain UN operations which it regarded as ultra vires, Congress insisted that it should be treated as a defaulting country under Article 19 of the Charter, and deprived of voting rights. Stevenson, however, took an initiative leading to a compromise, getting less than what Washington originally thought obtainable: Stevenson’s compromise was that the General Assembly should meet without delay.

Reviewer: The State Department was seeking a compromise, and it was clearly within the competence of its representative at the United Nations—on even the most modest assessment of his functions—to try the ground, and recommend the lines of a compromise to the Secretary of State. This is what Stevenson did, and Dean Rusk accepted his recommendations. If it is true—as Mr. Beichman’s informants suggest—that a better compromise could in fact have been obtained, the most that this could show is that Stevenson was an incompetent or unlucky Ambassador. Despite the space allocated to this transaction, it does nothing at all to establish the existence of “the other State Department.”

  1. Beichman (p. 178): USUN began quite early “to demonstrate its hunger for a life of its own and freedom from too much State Department control.” This was demonstrated by Ernest Gross, Deputy Representative, in the following way: Gross had been instructed not to support the inscription of the question of Tunisian independence on the UN agenda. Gross complied with his instructions, but prefixed his delivery of the State Department’s formula with the words: “Mr. President, I express the following views of my government on this subject.” According to Gross himself, as quoted by Beichman: “After I read that opening sentence, from that point on it didn’t matter what I said. The blunt tone of that sentence was enough…I was surrounded in the Delegation’s Lounge by a group of Asians and…Africans…. They shook my hand and they were so pleased….

Reviewer: This proves that Ernie Gross is a nice guy, and had a way with the blacks back in 1950. Apart from that it illustrates a continuing function of USUN, that of presenting US policy—which in substance is not designed to please Africans and Asians—in the most pleasing possible Afro-Asian light. This effect cannot now be achieved quite as economically as it was in 1950. Compare this little device of Gross’s with Goldberg’s vote on South West Africa sixteen years later.

These case-histories constitute the relatively solid part of the book: the rest of its more than 200 pages are filled with matter of remote or imperceptible relevance to what he seeks to prove and with that kind of “political science” verbiage which inflates a lunch-time conversation into a move across the boundary separating one subsystem from another in the form of an output-input relationship.

Professor Goodrich in his Foreword praises Mr. Beichman for his effort “to clarify the relationship of the United States Permanent Mission…to the policy makers in Washington.” Mr. Beichman, according to Professor Goodrich, writes “with authority.” Mr. Beichman might indeed be able to write “with authority” about some of the work of USUN, but certainly not about the aspect of USUN which he has chosen to study, which is precisely that aspect most closed to journalistic investigation. It is clear from certain asides and anecdotes that he could have written an interesting—and unpalatable—book about what is in fact the most important aspect of USUN’s work, the open part: its activity in public relations, domestic and international, in that order. Instead of this, he has been led to practice that form of “political science” which consists in formulating, in pretentious language, complicated answers to silly questions. The “Other” State Department—whose very title seeks to validate a function—is the sad record of the diversion of a knowledgeable man from an important subject which he must know intimately to a less important one which he cannot know intimately, and about which he presents in a misleading way even what is known. The praise given to this book in the Foreword by the Shotwell Professor at Columbia is symptomatic of the lamentable condition of most of what passes at present for the study of international relations.

Letters

The Other State Department January 16, 1969

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