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 …

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Letters

The Other State Department January 16, 1969