NEW YORK — Sen. Barack Obama would talk directly with adversaries, without the fig leaf of multilateralism.
Sen. John McCain wants to create a League of Democracies to take action when a divided U.N. Security Council won’t.
And Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton would beef up peacekeeping missions around the globe with American cash, assets, trainers and technocrats.
None of the candidates would radically alter when or how the United States engages the United Nations, according to their own senior foreign-policy advisers, but each would tweak the relationship in his or her own way. And the consensus around the halls of the United Nations is that the U.S.-U.N. relationship is likely to warm noticeably in January, regardless of who becomes the next president.
All three presidential candidates support the broad notion of a strong and independent United Nations, according to their campaign staffs: They want to pay American dues fully and on time; they all want the United States to have greater influence; and they say the world body should be more effective in counterterrorism and national security but note that the United Nations is not the only multilateral option.
The candidates, all members of the Senate Foreign Relations or Armed Services committees, have reservations in their support of the world body.
Each agrees that the Security Council should be expanded to reflect the current world power structure but won’t share the veto with any new permanent members, and each wants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to grow some teeth and an antenna in monitoring emerging nuclear powers.
A McCain administration certainly would share intelligence with the IAEA more freely than the Bush administration has, said Randy Scheunemann, the campaign’s foreign policy and national security aide.
The IAEA is critical to the nonproliferation regime we have right now, he told The Washington Times. Whatever flaws it has and improvements it needs, we need a strong IAEA, fully resourced, and that’s more than just dollars.
Mr. Scheunemann said suspected nuclear scofflaws should be referred automatically to the Security Council if the IAEA board of governors cannot agree what action to take. It now takes the unanimous agreement of the 35-member body to send countries such as Iran or North Korea to the council’s chambers.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, also plans to create a separate association of democracies to craft its own approach when developing or dictatorial governments refuse to support U.S. goals. Mr. McCain thinks this is especially important in bringing multilateral pressure against Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, China or Burma, the adviser said, noting that all have power or protectors in various U.N. bodies.
The U.N. community has derided the idea of a coalition of only the like-minded. Critics note that allies already agree on most of the important issues.
Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, does not plan to create a new organization, but he supports multilateral engagement outside the United Nations, whether it’s the EU3 nations of Great Britain, France and Germany leading nuclear negotiations with Iran, or the Southern African Development Community pressuring Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
The Security Council ought to be the venue of first resort when and if effective, said Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s senior foreign-policy adviser. If not, there are other mechanisms. That includes direct conversation with Tehran, a position that is more popular among diplomats than it is with many U.S. voters.