“Exit Jeane Kirkpatrick, enter Vernon Walters. But the changing of the guard at the United Nations signals no change in the Reagan administration’s approach to the world body.”
February 17, 1985
pp. 4, 17
By BROOKE W. KROEGER
Newsday UN Bureau
United Nations — Ambassador Vernon Walters’ impending arrival at the united Nations signals anew kind of chief diplomat for the U.S. mission, but not a new kind of diplomacy.
The Reagan administration indicates no plans to change the approach of outgoing Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and her homogenous team of hand-picked intellectuals, struggling like Sisyphus over the past 3 ½ years for a better U.S. showing in the world forum.
Walters, a retired Army general and former deputy director of the CIA, is expected to take up the post before April 1. He has said he would do his best to continue her “superb work.” Under Kirkpatrick, the United States adopted tough stances in dealing with criticism, especially from Third World critics. There’s no sign that will change.
What will be different, everyone who knows both the general and the professor agrees, will be their style of operation, both at the UN and back in Washington, where the post of UN ambassador retains its cabinet rank.
At 68, Walters is unlikely to aspire to use the high-visibility post as a springboard for political office, as have many of his predecessors.
Walters has said he does not intend to be just a “messenger boy” nor to make difficulties for the nation’s policymakers — an apparent reference to the rancorous relations than can and have developed between a UN ambassador and a secretary of state.
The new ambassador is likely to be less abrasive than Kirkpatrick, though his politics are just as conservative, his associates say. And Walters is likely to work closely with Secretary of State George Shultz.
At the UN, Kirkpatrick has employed what her predecessor in the post, Donald McHenry, calls “zap squad” diplomacy. U.S. delegates are again making it clear to other countries that gratuitous verbal attacks on the United States will not be tolerated, and U.S. responses have ranged from public counterassaults to cutbacks in foreign aid.
And U.S. representatives have been exercising the “right of reply” after any and every verbal attack in committee or the General Assembly.
“It works,” said Kirkpatrick’s Deputy, Jose Sorzano, who holds ambassadorial rank. “Before attacking the United States was not only fashionable, it was cost-free. Once it becomes evident that we’re waiting for you, the response is different.”
Congress, meanwhile, has begun reviewing the UN voting practices of foreign aid recipients to see the “coincidences” with U.S. voting on issues of key American interest. The voting record has become one factor in determining foreign aid.
The perception both inside and outside the administration is that the American position at the UN in 1984 was, as one State Department official put it, “a little less bad.” But McHenry, who served as ambassador at the close of the Carter administration, is critical of the Kirkpatrick approach.
“For example, it is said that the United States now stands up to, and defeats, efforts to do something on Puerto Rico or to kick Israel out of the UN and that the United States wins votes on that.
“The truth is, before this administration, those issues didn’t come to a vote. We kept it from a vote by diplomacy.
“The whole series of things which they tout as success seem rather more to me like the bully than any exercise of diplomatic skill. We didn’t have to threaten countries to get them to support the United States on the hostages [in Iran], on Afghanistan, on Kampuchea, on keeping the Cubans off the Security Council, on keeping Nicaraguans off the Security Council — and by the way they lost that one,“ McHenry said.
“I’m not sure this is diplomacy that we’re seeing. I’m not sure that we have contributed to understanding or enlightenment by the policies that we’ve been following. On the contrary, some of the victories, it seems to me . . . are the result of failures first.”
Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig said he thinks the United States is only benefiting from “a veneer.”
“It takes a lot more than four years to correct the kind of criticism we’ve been experiencing,” he said. “If our economic situation changes, watch out. If we fail to back an ally, watch out.”
Haig, who has known Walters for 30 years, is enthused over the appointment.
“He’s a conceptualizer,” he said. “”What he is not is a showboater. He is a fund of experience unmatched anywhere in the United States today. He was with Eisenhower in the war and has been with every president since Roosevelt. The two of us were go-betweens on every secret meeting held in Paris and a few elsewhere.”
As Reagan’s ambassador-at-large, Walters has quietly visited more than 100 countries over the past four years and is known to hitch rides into town on the backs of pick-up trucks.
Like Kirkpatrick, Walters is known as a staunch anti-Communist and an archconservative.
“He’s an experienced practitioner,” said one former government official who has known him for 20 years. “You’re going to get from him as firm a line as under Jeane Kirkpatrick but in a less abrasive manner. He will be firm, conservative and not quite as ideological. He’s apt to work closely with (Secretary of State) Shultz.”
Others cite Walters’ skill as a raconteur — “a great man at a dinner party” — and his on-a-first-name-basis association with scores of foreign government leaders, not to mention his polyglot fluency in eight languages.
“We find, if you had to generalize, we get better support in capitals than we do at the UN,” one State Department official said. “There is this culture at the UN that Jeane talks about. Frequently, we find that we can go to the foreign minister or the prime minister and we’re going to do better. Walters can call them up and say, “Do you know what’s going on in New York?” And certainly in the off-season he can go there. So a lot of these guys are going to be a lot more worried.”
Haig recalls meetings of two or three hours in length at which no notes were taken for security reasons. Walters could reconstruct every aspect with precision.
Contrasting Kirkpatrick with Walters, one State Department official said, “Jeane has been concerned about certain ideas, about diplomacy, about the world as witness her writings. The UN, under her, has been the center stage of the administration’s ideological confrontation with the Third World. Whether it will remain so is an interesting question.”
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For National History Day contestants. Upcoming — January 30: Iona College. February 4: Sagamore Hill. March 27: Ephemera Society of America. March 30: TBA April 4: Avon-on-Sea Public Library, Avon CT June 4-6: “Métiers et professions des médias (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles),” Université de Lausanne. Link to past appearances.
Coming March 2020: Front Pages, Front Lines: Media and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage, Linda Steiner, Carolyn Kitch, Brooke Kroeger, eds.