|United Nations Association of Greater Oklahoma City
|Every list of Famous Oklahomans includes the name of Jeane J. Kirkpatrick (1926 - 2006), the first woman to
serve as the United States' Ambassador to the United Nations.
Ms. Kirkpatrick was born in Duncan, in Stephens County, on November 19, 1926. She spent her early years
there, attending public schools, and enjoying the ordinary life of an Oklahoma girl. Her father, Welcher Jordan,
was an oilfield wildcatter. Her mother, the former Leona Kile, was a homemaker.
To her classmates, Ms. Kirkpatrick was known as Duane Jordan. By all accounts, she was a good student --
smart, with a talent for language. At age 12, her father moved the family to southern Illinois. After graduating
from high school in Mt. Vernon, IL, Ms. Kirkpatrick went on to earn degrees at Stephens College (Columbia, MO)
and Barnard College (New York, NY). In 1968, Kirkpatrick received a PhD in political science from Columbia
University. She also spent a year at the University of Paris, in post-graduate studies.
Ms. Kirkpatrick was not an obvious
choice to serve in the position of U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations. She
was not a diplomat and never served in
the Foreign Service prior to her appoint-
ment as UN Ambassador. In her pro-
fessional career she enjoyed success as
a political scientist. She taught at
Georgetown University, where she joined
the faculty in 1967. Research and analysis
were her specialties.
A turning point for her came in 1979 when she wrote an influential essay, "Dictatorships and Double Standards,"
published in Commentary Magazine. The article set forth a controversial opinion. It addressed the problem of
repressive governments which impose strict limits on the freedoms of their citizens. Ms. Kirkpatrick described a
distinction between traditional authoritarian governments and revolutionary Communist governments. She was a
staunch anti-Communist, and she held out little hope that Communist governments would ever allow freedom to
flourish within their borders. On the other hand, she recommended that the United States should support gradual
change in the policies of traditional authoritarian regimes. Her prescription included offering military assistance
to dictators who were threatened by revolutionary change.
Kirkpatrick's essay was inherently critical of the human rights policies of President Jimmy Carter. As a result,
it caught the attention of Ronald Reagan and other top Republicans who opposed Mr. Carter's re-election.
After his election in 1980, President Reagan named Kirkpatrick to represent the United States at the UN.
Ms. Kirkpatrick was a Democrat, but this didn't matter to Reagan. He employed the talent of people from both
political parties in his administration.
At her confirmation hearing in 1981, Ms. Kirkpatrick offered praise for specific programs and agencies of the
United Nations. She acknowledged the good results of several UN
activities which, in her words, "share the sense of positive purpose
which speaks to the organization's oldest and highest ideals."
In particular, Ms. Kirkpatrick mentioned UNICEF, the UN Develop-
ment Program, the World Health Organization, the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees, and the Office of United Nations Disaster
She also gave a nod of approval to the UN's important work in arms
control and peacekeeping.
Speaking about the broad purpose of the United Nations, Ms. Kirkpatrick
addressed the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
"Mr. Chairman, Peace is one of mankind's oldest dreams and most elusive goods. Like Love, Freedom, and
Justice, it is more often invoked than achieved, more often wished for than worked for.
"But Peace is not won by wishing. It is won by the painstaking construction of institutions in which
diverse peoples may come to know one another; by the invention of processes through which conflict
can be rationally explored; by the careful cultivation of an environment in which habits of restraint,
consultation, and a degree of mutual trust can grow.
"Foremost among the institutions through which the nations of the world can meet, discuss, explore, and act
is the United Nations...."
Ambassador Kirkpatrick served as America's leading voice in the United Nations from 1981 to 1985.
During her tenure, a succession of crises challenged the international order.
In 1981, rebels in El Salvador launched a military campaign against the government. Meanwhile, President
Reagan signed a top-secret order authorizing the CIA to support the 'Contra' rebels in Nicaragua.
In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, and Israel invaded Lebanon (drawing a censure from the
United Nations Security Council).
The crisis in Lebanon continued into 1983. A bomb destroyed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people.
U.S. marines were deployed to support an Israeli withdrawal from the country. In October of that year,
241 U.S. soldiers fell victim to a suicide bomber. Elsewhere, in Far East Asia, a Soviet military jet shot down
a Korean airliner that had strayed into restricted air space.
In 1984, President Reagan called for an international ban on chemical weapons. (The Chemical Weapons
Convention, an arms control treaty prohibiting the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons, was
ultimately approved by the UN General Assembly in Nov., 1992). Famine in Ethiopia killed a million people.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was sworn in as the General Secretary of the Communist Party in the USSR.
In April of that year, Kirkpatrick was replaced as UN Ambassador by Vernon Walters.
Midway through her years of service at the UN, Ambassador Kirkpatrick had a chance to reflect on her
experience. She expressed frustration with what she perceived to be the ineffectiveness of the UN.
And she bemoaned the inability of the United States to find many allies in the organization.
In a lecture organized by the Heritage
Foundation, she told her audience:
"I know, indeed no one knows better, that the
United Nations poses a problem for the United
States. It's expensive, it's often ineffective, it
seems particularly inclined to push policies that
we do not desire to adopt, decisions from
which we dissent, agreements with which we
disagree. My analysis of the causes and the
possible cures of these problems at the United
Nations has undergone significant evolution
during my nearly 18 months now at Turtle Bay....
"In that eighteen months I have not become
an expert on that institution. Eighteen months
is not long enough to become expert about any
complex institution, and God knows the United
Nations is a complex institution.... Eighteen
months is long enough to have observed at
first hand the relative powerlessness of the
United States at the United Nations, to have
felt in virtually all the arenas of that body our
lack of influence...."
But, Ambassador Kirkpatrick did not advocate
U.S. withdrawal over her frustration with the
UN. And, though she disliked the lack of
success that she experienced, she did not
blame this on any flaw within the UN itself.
"Above all," she said, "I have been occupied,
preoccupied, with our own American
incapacities, our inability... to find reliable
allies, to make persuasive arguments, to put
together winning combinations."
She noted that, during the Falkland Islands crisis, the British government had been effective advocating for its
position within the UN.
"They have made the organization function in ways that are responsive to their interests and their policy goals,
and the fact they have been able to do it means it can be done. Why, then, haven't we been able to achieve our
goals inside this organization?"
Ambassador Kirkpatrick diagnosed the problem as a lack of capacity within the American foreign policy
establishment as employed by successive administrations.
"Through decades," she said, "we have not been good at politics at the United Nations."
She reminded her audience that the UN is a political arena, a forum for debates and the free interchange of ideas.
"It is a strange thing that we Americans who are very gifted
at clubhouse politics, statehouse politics, the politics of
voluntary associations, at legislative politics in Washington
and presidential politics, should be so inept at international
politics in multilateral arenas like the United Nations. It is a
strange thing, really. The more one reflect upon it, the stranger
"I believe that we have not understood that the same principles
of politics that apply in our national life apply in multilateral
international institutions as well."
She referred her audience to the experience of our allies -- Britain and France, for example -- who have learned
how to navigate the UN system successfully. She represented this as a challenge for America to do better:
"By not really learning the rules, the players, the game, we have often behaved liked a bunch of amateurs in the
United Nations. Unless or until we approach the United Nations as professionals -- professionals in its politics --
with a clear-cut conception of our purposes and of the political arena in which we operate, knowledge of the
colleagues with whom we are interacting, and of their goals and interests, then we won't ever know whether the
United Nations could be made a hospitable place for the American national interest.
"Until then it would be irresponsible even to think about withdrawing from the United Nations."
This belief of Ambassador Kirkpatrick -- that America's national interests can best be served by
engaging seriously with the United Nations -- seemed to evolve into one of her core convictions.
Even after leaving the Reagan administration, Ms. Kirkpatrick remained involved in anti-Communist causes and the
study of politics. She returned to teaching at Georgetown University. She also became a fellow at the American
Enterprise Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank. After
changing her party registration to Republican, she briefly
considered running for President in 1988. Eventually,
she endorsed Bob Dole and campaigned for him.
Nearly 20 years after leaving her post at the UN, in 2003,
President George W. Bush invited Ambassador
Kirkpatrick to head the US delegation to the United
Nations Commission on Human Rights. She did not
let the opportunity pass her by.
In a talk at the University of California - Irvine,
Ambassador Kirkpatrick reported on her experience:
"The Human Rights Commission is, like the United
Nations itself, a mélange of every region, every people,
and every culture....
"There were some interesting and unexpected aspects of
this year’s Human Rights Commission of 2003, which
reminded me again of why it is complicated to govern...
to make wise policies with the consent of the governed....
"Our doctrine of legitimacy is based on the consent of the
governed.... It is that consent of the governed that makes
our policies legitimate. It is also the protection of our
human rights. We are endowed by our creator with
certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness.
"Like the authors of the universal declaration of human rights, Americans believe that human rights
are shared by all and can only be protected by the rule of law. In theory and in fact, the rule of law
protects a government based on consent."
Ms. Kirkpatrick noted that these fundamental values -- respect for human rights, the importance of the rule of
law, and the consent of the governed -- are present in one of the primary documents of the United Nations:
"The Human Rights Commission has a very special relationship to the governed. The universal declaration of
human rights says, I quote
'Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the
conscience of mankind. Whereas it is essential if man is not to have recourse as a last resort to rebellion against
tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.'"
It was an implicit endorsement of the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and their compatibility
with American values of governance.
For many years, Jeane Kirkpatrick was one of the most recognized women in the world. Her list of honors is
long and impressive -- including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation's highest civilian honor. She
received honorary degrees from the Universidad Francisco Marroquín, Central Connecticut State University,
and Brandeis University. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard created a Kirkpatrick Chair in
International Affairs in her honor. In 2007, Conservative Political Action Conference honored her memory
with the creation of the Jeane Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award. She was inducted into the Oklahoma
Women's Hall of Fame in 1984.
Like anyone in public office, Ambassador Kirkpatrick's career was not without its flaws. She was always
known for blunt talk and controversial opinions.
In 1984, she appeared at the Republican Party's nominating convention.
She delivered a blistering speech that criticized "San Francisco Democrats"
who "blame America first." The speech fired up the base of the party, and
it helped to carry President Reagan to an easy re-election. But, it also
antagonized many Democrats who felt that their loyalty to America was
By the end of the 1980's, the premise of Ms. Kirkpatrick's celebrated 1979
essay was called into question. Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of Glasnost was
bringing new freedoms to the people of the old Soviet Union -- in seeming
contradiction to the position spelled out in her "Dictatorships and Double
Standards." At around the same time, the Sandinista government in Nicaragua
-- which the Reagan administration attempted to overthrow through the
backing of the Contras -- was moving toward democracy and popular elections.
After Ms. Kirkpatrick's death in 2006, her last book was published by Harper Collins. Provocatively titled,
"Making War to Keep Peace," the book was a description of her foreign policy experiences from 1981 to 2006.
In it, she offered her vision of a future of democracy, freedom, stability, and principled leadership.
In one of her final revelations, the book disclosed one of the reasons for President Bush's decision to select
Ms. Kirkpatrick as a delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission in 2003. Primarily, Bush was concerned
that the Commission would oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He wanted Ambassador Kirkpatrick
to run interference to block any statement of condemnation by the Commission.
Ms. Kirkpatrick wrote that, "I had grave reservations when George W. Bush made the decision to invade Iraq,
and I was privately critical of the Bush administration's argument for the use of military force for pre-emptive
"That is why, when I agreed to represent the United States at the Geneva Human Rights summit, I did so --
on the condition that I could abandon the Bush doctrine of preemptive self-defense."
Instead, she used her position to persuade the Human Rights Commission that Bush's invasion was legitimated
by Saddam Hussein's failure to comply with UN Security Council Resolution 687 -- dating back to 1991.
By relying on the authority of the UN Security Council, she was able to convince herself that Bush's invasion
of Iraq was justifiable.
In the final chapter of her final book, Ambassador Kirkpatrick re-iterated her message about the need for
continuing positive American engagement with the United Nations:
"There has been much debate over the relevance of the United Nations and its future place in our
global community. By its very nature, the UN -- in a way unlike any other institution -- will doubtless
continue to challenge member states, the press, and others to remain reform minded. Despite the
UN's inconsistent record of effectiveness, the American commitment to the UN should, and I hope
will, remain unwavering. We should look beyond the UN's deficiencies and focus instead on both the
sound principles of law and the hope, however qualified, for the greater world stability that is expressed
in the UN Charter."
|United Nations Association of the USA
Greater Oklahoma City Chapter
P.O. Box 60856
Oklahoma City, OK 73146-0856
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick
"I understand that the previous speaker
has just called for U.S. withdrawal
from the United Nations. I disagree."
-- United States Ambassador to the United Nations, 1981 - 1985
-- First American woman to serve as Ambassador to the UN
-- Appointed by President Ronald Reagan
Trivia . . .
Duncan is also known as the
hometown of several other notable
Jari Askins - Former Lt. Governor
Hoyt Axton - County Music
Erle P. Halliburton - Founder,
Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Co.
Jean Speegle Howard - Actress
Ron Howard - Actor, Director,
On the Proper Role
of the United Nations
“I think the United Nations is
a place in which member
states can develop important
conversations and important
policies. The UN is important
as an arena, but I do not think
it’s a major actor in world
affairs, nor was it ever
intended to be. If you read the
UN charter, for example, you
will see immediately that it
says that the Secretary
General is the ‘principle
administrator:’ it doesn’t say
executive, it doesn’t say leader,
it says ‘administrator.’
Member states make the policies and the UN depends
principally on decisions of member states.”
On International Action to Combat AIDS / HIV
"The fact is, none of us has been as sensitive to these
fantastically complex interconnections as we need to be
and as exist. It's something we all need to work on in my
opinion. Collective action is very complex too. You know, it's
not just collective, it's complicated. I think we need to face
those interconnections and those problems in a lot of
On Foreign Policy
"Foreign policy requires a permanent bureaucracy staffed by
persons with expert knowledge concerning the countries with
whom we deal. It requires patience and perspective —- not
just knowing one’s own country and its culture, but also
knowing about all the countries with whom we interact and
their cultures and purposes, of course."
A Champion of the United
Nations and the Rule of Law
(1) Support positive American
engagement with the United Nations by
becoming a member of the United
Nations Association of the USA.
Join here: www.unausa.org/join
(2) Become an advocate for the good
work of the United Nations. Learn how
you can take action on timely issues.
Visit our "Advocacy" page here ...
(3) Support the "Girl Up"
program of the United
Nations Foundation. With
Girl Up's support, girls
have the opportunity to
healthy, safe, counted, and positioned
to be the next generation of leaders.
What You Can Do
To Honor the Legacy
of Jeane Kirkpatrick:
Jeane Kirkpatrick on the Issues