After years of paying out, the party is over
For decades America has treated the United Nations like a difficult adolescent. The UN filled its debating chambers with anti-American rhetoric and fired off a stream of angry resolutions supporting gun-toting liberation movements.
Then it would appear in Washington, red-eyed after the party, and ask for a few million extra dollars to keep everything ticking over. Almost always, America paid up.
Not any more. The arrival of John Bolton, the hard-nosed new American ambassador to the United Nations, has brought the party to a halt.
Yesterday, with just 24 hours to go before world leaders convene for the UN's 60th birthday summit, Mr Bolton was still refusing to agree a shopping list of ambitious policies designed to change the world.
Many are in stark opposition to the policies of President George W Bush's administration. Why, the Americans are asking, should we go along with this?
Kristen Silverberg, a US assistant secretary of state, said in a briefing that the world could not have been surprised by Washington's opposition.
"Other member states are well aware of (American policies), so I don't think it was particularly surprising to member states when we reiterated them." That logic has caused a crisis at the UN in the days leading up to the summit.
Diplomats have been locked into sessions lasting well into the night as it became plain that this time America was serious. The result was that the 12 months of negotiations to agree a deal among all 191 UN members were close to failure.
Mr Bolton, like many US conservatives, notes that Washington is paying 23 per cent of the UN's bills. Its $3 billion (£1.7 billion) a year contribution funds 48 per cent of the UN's World Food Programme and 41 per cent of the UN High Commission for Refugees.
America feels that its dollars buy it the right to make the case for reform. Only last week the UN was described as incompetent, corrupt and in urgent need of change by the Volcker commission, the organisation's own report into the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal.
Elsewhere in the organisation, Washington looks on enraged as countries such as China and Cuba are voted on to the UN's human rights commission. America is appalled too by the UN bureaucracy, where staff are appointed according to nationality and where pay aims to match that of the most generous member state.
Yet few UN civil servants are ever held to account, as the oil-for-food report underlined. Even before it was published, Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, said: "I don't anticipate anyone resigning." No one did, despite blistering attacks on named staff including Mr Annan himself.
America has had enough. It wants the system reformed and quickly. Congressmen are getting cross. The House of Representatives has already passed a Bill imposing cuts in American funding unless change is implemented.
The Senate is awaiting the results of this week's summit to decide on its next step. Nile Gardiner, of the Right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington, said that many were now coming to the conclusion that the UN was beyond repair.
"There are irreconcilable differences between the American definition of reform and the UN's. That is fuelling a growing sense in America that the UN is an organisation in long-term terminal decline," he said.
The idea is dismissed at the UN, where Shashi Tharoor, under-secretary general, said the organisation had embraced the need for change. "Kofi Annan has said 'we can go on like this or do something about rethinking this organisation and its place in the world'." But asked whether those reforms would be agreed at this week's summit, he sounded less confident.
"Much of (Annan's) reform programme will have to be implemented at some point," he said.