Holbrooke: We Don't Need U.N. Authority

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This partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, September 19, 2001, was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.

HUME: The administration appears to have engaged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, in its war against terrorism. But the support of certain other major countries appears to hinge on major role in this for the United Nations. Chinese President Jiang Zemin, for example, is reported to have told British Prime Minister Blair that the U.N. Security Council must, as he put it, play its due role. The U.S., though, seems hesitant to give the U.N. much of any role in this effort.

And few people know better what it is like to deal with that institution than former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who joins me now from our headquarters in New York.

Welcome, sir.


HUME: What would be your thought about the U.N. and whether we should fly as a nation, as, for example, the Bush administration did in Desert Storm under U.N. colors?

HOLBROOKE: Well, the United States was attacked in this case.

And under the U.N. charter itself, which the United States ratified, we have the right of self-defense. So we don't need to go to war because -- with U.N. authority.

Now, why is the U.N. of value? There are many countries in the world, not our NATO allies. They've already given us the guarantees you mentioned a moment ago. But there are many countries in the world like Pakistan and Egypt and others that are saying: Get U.N. cover for what you do and it will make it easier for us.

In fact, the day after the attack, both the Security Council and the General Assembly did pass very strong resolutions, stronger in fact than one would expect. But let's not either count on the U.N. nor let's ignore it. It's a flawed organization, but it does have a role in this process. And I would note that my successor, John Negroponte -- also a close friend and superb choice, and Colin Powell's former deputy -- was sworn in today as the United States ambassador to the U.N. and took up his duties.

So we have a full-time ambassador in place at the U.N. as we speak for the first time in seven months.

HUME: That's right. It's been a while, hasn't it?

Well, your thought would be, then, that whatever U.N. support authorization we can get, fine, not depend on it, but it might open the door to cooperation from some of these other countries, Pakistan being one of them.

HOLBROOKE: You got it.

In other words, the U.N., as part of the noose-tightening coalition-building process, but in no shape or form whatsoever constraining our ability to act unilaterally if necessary or with our NATO allies, with or without U.N. authorization. But it helps to go through the U.N. It doesn't cost us anything. Let's not get too worked up over the U.N. at this point.

HUME: All right, let me ask you a question about a matter that I know you have given some thought to. And that is our nation's border and particularly our northern border. I know you are concerned about our Canadian border and what might happen or be done there.

HOLBROOKE: Well, thank you for raising this, Brit.

There are so many ramifications of this emergency. This is more than a crisis. This is the most serious challenge we've faced in your lifetime or mine. And one of the things that I'm not an expert in, but I'm learning a great deal more about, is this U.S.-Canadian border.

When we passed the North Atlantic Free Trade Area, the NAFTA agreement, we in effect made the United States, Mexico and Canada into one gigantic economic unit. I talked to one of the key architects of that today, who confirmed what I had heard from some experts, that while we have a single economic unit with a complete open border, the most open, unprotected border in the world, with the largest two-way trade in the world, the U.S.-Canadian, largest trade in history...


HUME: A lot of people don't realize that Canada is our biggest trading partner.

HOLBROOKE: Absolutely. It is not Japan. It's not Europe. It's Canada. And it is essentially -- as all your viewers in Detroit know -- stuff comes up the Saint Lawrence Seaway, comes across into Detroit. Our automobiles, a lot of the parts come up through Canada.

Well, here's the point. The Canadians and the United States have completely different security and surveillance systems. They are not integrated. They weren't part of NAFTA. And I think that it is time for us to start talking to our Canadian friends -- and they are our closest friends in the world, geographically and otherwise. It is time for us to starting talking to our Canadian friends and neighbors about a common security perimeter, because, otherwise, the vast number of people who cross -- you know, there are people who shop on one side of the border and live on the other.

There are people live on one side of the border and commute to work on the other. It is all going to come to a halt. It will clobber our economy. On the other hand, we cannot go on with a system in which the cargoes that come into the United States are loosely checked in Canada and could be carrying something even more serious than the horrible thing that struck the World Trade towers and the Pentagon last week.

HUME: Is it the case that cargo can reach Canada's shores uninspected or at least...

HOLBROOKE: Underinspected.

HUME: All right, underinspected -- and then come into the United States without further inspection?

HOLBROOKE: That is -- I am sure I'm going to get phone calls on this -- but that is what I was told as recently as yesterday by a Coast Guard commander, a brilliant young man who works here in New York who is studying borders.

And I know that this already under discussion in Ottawa. And I think we ought to start raising the profile of this, because we can't close that border down and we can't -- without ruining our economy -- and we can't leave it open without threatening our security still further.

And let's be clear: The people that did this thing on September 11, had they been able to carry more destructive weapons than the fuel itself, which was unbelievably destructive, would have done so. And the Canadian border is porous. And I don't want to be alarmist about this, but we have got to address it in cooperation with our friends in Ottawa.

HUME: Is the Canadian border thought, for example, to be more porous than the Mexican border?

HOLBROOKE: The issue here is that the kind things we're talking about are more likely to come in through Canada.

HUME: Why is that?

HOLBROOKE: Because of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, because of the huge amount of the trade, the cargo containers that come across and so on.


HUME: Technically, it is a more advanced point of shipment?

HOLBROOKE: Yes. And there's much more movement across it. And there are only about 330 border customs officials on our side of the border, as I understand it.

Mexico is also a problem and we ought to examine that. And I know that Vice President Cheney is in charge that issue. It has not gotten enough attention. I know that people in Washington are on circuit overload. And the American public has got to give them time to pick the military targets, to build the coalition and do all these other things.

But I think we should start talking seriously and publicly to Canada about this issue as well.

HUME: And is it your understanding that our level of inspection of goods that are being transshipped across the border to Canada is tighter than theirs that is coming here?

HOLBROOKE: Here I'm getting out beyond my ability to be precise. And I feel uncomfortable doing it. But it is my understanding -- and perhaps you can get an expert on this on the show -- it's my understanding that we don't inspect it if it comes in from Canada because of NAFTA.

We accept the Canadian bills of landing. And I'm told that, in many, many cases, no one checks in detail into the cargo holds. That's the problem. And we're talking here about key supplies for the automobile industry and other key parts of the economies of both nations.

HUME: Richard Holbrooke, an issue we should obviously be paying attention to. Thank you very much for your insights.

HOLBROOKE: Thank you, Brit.

HUME: Nice to have you.

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