The United States in the General Assembly

Two decades ago, conservative columnist George Will wrote “it is bad enough we pay for the United Nations; surely we do not have to pay attention to it.”[1] Since that time, US payments to the United Nations have become much less reliable, but US readiness to ignore the world organization is as great as ever. US behavior in the Security Council, where it tried to bully, bribe, and spy upon other Council members to endorse its illegal war against Iraq has been much discussed, but the US record in the General Assembly has received very little coverage. It is a record that is worth looking at, however, for it reveals an astounding level of imperial arrogance.

The UN General Assembly, in its 57th session, running from September 2002 to the present, passed a total of 306 resolutions. Most of these, 235 of them, were passed without a vote; one other resolution involved a vote, but was passed unanimously. The remaining 70 resolutions were contested, meaning that there was at least one abstention or negative vote. Data regarding these 70 resolutions is shown in the table at the end of this article.

On 11 of these 70 contested resolutions, the United States voted with the majority – that is, voted in the affirmative. Some of these votes were nearly unanimous. On a resolution endorsing a report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (57/9), only North Korea voted no. On a resolution dealing with the law of the sea (57/141), only Turkey voted no. On a resolution supporting conventional arms control on the regional and subregional level (57/77), only India voted no. And on a resolution appealing to states to offer scholarships to Palestinian refugees for higher education (57/120), Israel was the lone abstainer (and no one voted in the negative).

On the other 59 contested resolutions, 84 percent, the United States either abstained or voted no. Sixteen times the U.S. was joined in its no vote or abstention by at least 10 other countries, but much more often – 43 times, comprising 61 percent of all the contested resolutions — Washington‘s abstention or no vote was part of a small minority. On 29 occasions the United States either cast the lone negative vote or else had as its voting partners only Israel and/or a few tiny Pacific island nations. The Pacific islands were usually Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, and sometimes Palau as well. The Marshall Islands (population 74,000), Micronesia (population 136,000), and Palau (population 19,000) are all in a “compact of free association” with the United States, rely heavily on US financial assistance, and are totally dependent on the US for their defense. Micronesia and Palau house US military bases.[2]

On what sorts of issues did the United States buck the Assembly’s consensus?

Resolution 57/11 called for the lifting of the US embargo against Cuba; there were only three negative votes: the United States, Israel, and the Marshall Islands.

Resolution 57/49 called for cooperation between the United Nations and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization; Washington cast the sole negative vote.

Resolution 57/57 expressed its opposition to an arms race in space; the United States, Israel, and Micronesia were the only no votes.

Resolution 57/58 called for nuclear weapons states to reduce their non-strategic nuclear arsenals; the United States joined with the UK and France in voting no. Resolution 57/59 urged a nuclear-free world; the six no votes all came from nuclear weapons states: the United States, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel.

Resolution 57/62 aimed to uphold the authority of the 1925 Geneva Protocols banning the use of chemical and biological weapons. The resolution called upon states which had signed the Protocols with reservations to withdraw their reservations. The only non-affirmative votes were the abstentions from the United States, Israel, and Micronesia. (The United States signed the Protocols with reservations.)

Resolution 57/71 called simply for the General Assembly to continue studying the question of missiles and their implications for world peace and security. The United States, along with Israel and Micronesia, voted no. Resolution 57/65 endorsed further consideration of the relationship between disarmament and development. Only the United States voted no. Resolution 57/73, which advocated a nuclear-weapons free southern hemisphere, received negative votes only from the United States, Britain, and France. Resolution 57/78 laid out a path to total nuclear disarmament – earning negative votes only from the United States and India. The United States, Israel, and Micronesia voted no on resolution 57/97, which dealt with nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. On resolution 57/100 on the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, the United States cast the sole no vote.

On four other resolutions dealing with nuclear weapons (57/79 on disarmament, 57/84 on reducing the nuclear danger, 57/85 on the legality of nuclear weapons, and 57/94 on the prohibition of nuclear weapons), the United States was one of several dozen nations to vote no. And on resolution 57/56, calling for international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons, the United States was one of 55 abstainers.

The United States was also one of two dozen abstainers on resolution 57/74 urging the signing and ratification of the land mine convention (a convention Washington has refused to accept).

More than a dozen resolutions dealing with Palestine were contested, with the United States and Israel joined by a few Pacific island nations generally pitted against the opinion of the world. These were by no means extreme resolutions. For example, 57/110 called for the peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, with a two-state solution, the principle of land for peace, and an end to “all acts of violence including military attacks, destruction and acts of terror.” 57/125 urged the application of the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in time of war to the occupied territories. 57/198 affirmed the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people. 57/188 demanded that Israel apply to Palestinian children the rights of the child and the Geneva conventions. 57/126 restated the view that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were illegal and demanding the cessation of settlement activity (a view consistent with Security Council resolution 465 from 1980, which had been adopted unanimously, including the affirmative vote of the United States). Washington voted no on each of these General Assembly resolutions.

Resolution 57/112 called for Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights — Syrian territory conquered in 1967 — in the context of a comprehensive peace. Negative votes were cast only by the United States, Israel, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

Resolution 57/190 urged states to sign the Convention on the Rights of the Child and for signatories to withdraw their reservations to the Convention. The vote was 175-2-0, with only the United States and Micronesia dissenting. Resolution 57/226 called upon states to give adequate priority in their development strategies and expenditures to the right of their citizens to food. Washington cast the sole negative vote. The United States, along with Israel and Palau, were the only countries to vote no on resolution 57/227 which called for states to allow freedom of travel and the freedom of foreign nationals to remit funds to their relatives in their countries of origin.

The United States was one of seven nations voting against continued UN support for the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (resolution 57/175).

Resolution 57/199 adopted and urged acceptance by all states of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Protocol provided for international visits to make sure that prisoners were not being tortured. There were only four negative votes: from the United States, Micronesia, Palau, and Nigeria.

Resolution 57/132 reaffirmed the right of peoples of non-self-governing territories to self-determination and to dispose of their resources in their best interest. Only the United States, Israel, and the Marshall Islands voted no. 57/139 endorsed UN efforts to disseminate information about decolonization; the United States, Israel, Micronesia, and the UK cast the four negative votes. The United States, Britain, and Micronesia voted no on 57/140, which called for the implementation of the declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples.

That development is a basic right was affirmed in resolution 57/223, which also noted that the lack of development was no excuse for abridging other internationally recognized rights. The United States, along with Australia, Micronesia, and Palau, voted no.

The United States had many supporters in its negative votes against resolutions promoting a democratic and equitable international order (57/213), reaffirming people’s right to peace (57/216), and warning of the dangers to human rights posed by globalization (57/205).

All told, on the 70 contested resolutions, the United States voted affirmatively 11 times, abstained 10 times, and voted no 49 times. Thus, the United States cast negative votes on 70 percent of the contested resolutions. No other nation rejected the international consensus as often. Israel voted no 38 times (54 percent), Micronesia 36 times (51 percent), the Marshall Islands 23 times (33 percent), Canada 11 times (16 percent), Sweden 8 times (13 percent), and Brazil 0 times.

These data do not tell the whole story of the US role in the General Assembly, of course. In many cases, resolutions which were adopted without a vote had involved votes on particular parts of the resolution.

So for example, resolution 57/189, adopted without a vote, expressed the Assembly’s concern about the discrimination against girl children and violations of their rights. But before the text was adopted as a whole, operative paragraph 1 was put to a vote. That paragraph stated:

1. Stresses the need for full and urgent implementation of the rights of the girl child as guaranteed to her under all human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, as well as the need for universal ratification of those instruments;

The retention of the paragraph was approved by a vote of 168 in favor to 2 against (the United States and the Marshall Islands) with 1 abstention (Israel).[3]

Resolution 57-215, also adopted without a vote, condemned forced disappearances. The resolution made reference to the International Criminal Court; the US sought to remove this wording, but the Assembly by a lop-sided vote (166-1-9) retained it, with only the United States voting no.[4]

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The US Declaration of Independence acknowledged the need for “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” The United States government today shows no such respect. To be sure, the views of the entire world should not matter if one is right. But in its consistent rejection of justice, peace, and international cooperation, Washington‘s General Assembly voting record is not right, but shameful.



  1. Quoted in Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Loyalties, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984, p. 94.

  2. CIA World Factbook, 2002

  3. General Assembly Press Release, Dec. 18, 2002, GA/10124.

  4. GA/10124.

See the full table of UN Resolutions:
Click http://www.zmag.org/shalomtable.htm


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