Boutros-Ghali Needs a Lesson in Limits to His Power

JEANE KIRKPATRICK

December 08, 1992|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

George Bush's decision to offer -- through the United Nations -- a division of U.S. combat troops and support elements to relieve famine in Somalia made a good many people uncomfortable for very different reasons.

Some Africans worried aloud that a U.N. intervention would turn out to be a facade for a new kind of colonialism. Some Somalis, always suspicious of Egypt, believe the proposed aid is a ruse on the part of the U.N.'s Egyptian secretary general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Some Europeans worry that it is one more case of the U.S. manipulating the U.N. to serve American foreign-policy objectives. Americans who have isolationist and Realpolitik inclinations worry that the United States will dissipate its human and financial resources in a remote area that has little strategic or geopolitical importance to the U.S.

Internationalists who favor an active U.S. role in the world worry that President Bush may be leading the U.S. down a slippery slope toward world government. They are concerned that, in seeking U.N. authorization for action in Kuwait, Somalia and Bosnia, the Bush administration is creating and reinforcing the idea that the use of force is legitimate only if it is authorized by the U.N.

They fear that the U.S. government is delegating sovereignty to the U.N. without having actually decided to do so, undermining the American capacity to act on the basis of its own values in pursuit of its own interests, and submitting U.S. foreign policy to the uncertainties of consensus building in the United Nations.

These are reasonable but not compelling concerns that can be laid to rest by a careful reading of the founding document and constitution of the U.N., its charter. The U.N. Charter embodies the agreements of member states concerning the nature of the organization, and the functions, powers and obligations of members. Reading the charter reminds us that it was not the work of starry-eyed one-worlders, but of realists like Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin and Harry Truman.

The charter does not establish a world government -- federal or otherwise. It does not promise, like the Treaty of Rome, to work for ever-closer union. It establishes an international organization of sovereign states designed to facilitate and enhance global cooperation on specified matters and gives priority to international peace and security.

The charter confers on the Security Council ''primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.'' It vests in the Council power to initiate action, investigate disputes, decide on appropriate action, determine a threat to peace or act of aggression, oversee implementation of its decisions and terminate action.

To assist the council in the conduct of military operations, the charter provides for establishing a Military Staff Committee consisting of ''Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members'' or others invited by the Military Staff Committee, which will be ''responsible under the Security Council for the strategic direction of any armed forces placed at the disposal of the Security Council.''

Decisions of the Security Council ''shall be carried out by the members of the United Nations directly and through their action in the appropriate international agencies of which they are members.'' Should a country not represented on the Security Council be asked to provide armed forces, that country should be invited ''to participate in the decisions of the Security Council concerning the employment of contingents of that Member's armed forces.''

The U.N. Charter could not be clearer. The Security Council is the supreme organ of the U.N. in matters of international peace and security. The five permanent members not only have a veto, but are specifically endowed with responsibility for providing the military direction of U.N. operations. Member states do not lose control of their armed forces by participating in an international military operation under U.N. auspices.

Why then is there so much concern today about whether acting in a U.N. framework erodes sovereignty?

Many people do not understand that the United Nations is its member states and has no powers or functions independent of those members. The current secretary general persistently exaggerates the power of his office.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali's most recent letter to the Security Council depicts the council as responding to his initiatives and choosing among options laid out by him. In that letter, he once again expresses his preference that command and control of military forces and action be vested in the secretary general.

But the charter is as clear about the role of the secretary general as about that of the Security Council. It states that the secretary general ''shall be the Chief Administrative officer of the organization'' and may perform such other functions as are entrusted to him by the Security Council, General Assembly, the Trusteeship Council and the Economic and Social Council.

It also authorizes him to ''bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.''

And that's that. Nothing in the charter states or implies that it is somehow desirable to put military forces under the command and control of a secretary general.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali is an intellectual and writer who takes words seriously. He obviously knows that he is engaged in an effort to recast the office and powers of the secretary general. Is it possible that he does not understand that his words enhance the anxieties of those who cherish their own nation's sovereignty? It looks as if, in addition to forging multinational action on terrible crises in Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, the Security Council must find a way to set the secretary general straight.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, writes a syndicated column.

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