With Bush's man installed, is this the end of diplomacy?

The UN was born out of the ashes of the Second World War, inaugurating a new era of international optimism and co-operation as the economic underpinnings of the Bretton Woods system, responsible for the birth of institutions such as the World Bank, were put in place.

US support was key to the process: prime real estate land on Manhattan's East River became international territory to house the UN headquarters, thanks to a unanimous invitation from the representatives of the US Congress. The chief architect was an American, and the money to build the 39-storey tower was an interest-free US loan of $65m.

How things have changed. With the arrival of the hawkish Mr Bolton to do the bidding of George Bush at the UN, relations between the US and the UN have never looked so bad. UN insiders say the US hostility against Kofi Annan, the secretary general, is much worse than during the time of his Egyptian predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who failed to win a second term after being dumped by the Clinton administration.

US support for the UN has ebbed and flowed over the years as the organisation has come into conflict with the strategic goals of the world's sole superpower.

During the Cold War, the UN was stalemated, because the Soviet Union and the US systematically used their Security Council vetoes against each other to paralyse UN action. The institution's glory years came in the early 1990s, after the Americans managed to win UN approval in 1991 to roll back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Although there was an embarrassing silence over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, UN interventions were on the rise.

But the euphoria at the UN coincided with the first consistent downturn in US support, amid fears in America that the world body was bent on world government, and the organisation's competence and integrity was increasingly called into question.

As Ronald Reagan's radical Republicans took power in the White House and in Congress, the first major budget headaches began for the UN, as Washington began withholding the dues that keep it afloat.

Despite the lip service paid by the Clinton administration, the country that foots a quarter of the UN's budget has consistently dragged its heels in paying its dues. Congess, Republican-dominated, is now talking about withholding half of the US contribution unless US-backed changes are implemented.

Enter John Bolton. His nomination was so controversial the President failed to win cross-party backing and he was appointed in a so-called "recess appointment" valid only until the new Congress in January 2007.

But judging from his few weeks in New York, Mr Bolton is not at the UN to negotiate. Since Madeleine Albright, President Clinton's UN representative, the US delegate has arrived with a rocket in his or her pocket. In the council, if the other delegates do not like what the Americans want, the US no longer hesitates to act without UN blessing.

Now Mr Bolton is at the UN with a mission. At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously decreed the end of history. We could be witnessing the end of diplomacy.

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