Wisdom from U.N.'s biggest deadbeat Cogent U.S. view: Bloated world body needs reforms urgently to do job better

September 30, 1995

IF YOU OWE the bank a little money and can't pay, the bank owns you. If you owe a vast amount and can't pay, you own the bank. On that basis, the United States owns the United Nations. It is the world body's biggest deadbeat. Therefore, U.S. ideas for U.N. reform should be listened to with respect and accepted as guidance.

Since the end of the Cold War, U.N. peace-keeping has proliferated to 16 operations employing 70,000 personnel. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is eloquent on the U.N.'s precarious financial position. More than $3 billion is owed it by members. The U.S. owes roughly one-third, something like $1.2 billion, exceeding even Russia's debt.

Some would say the Clinton administration should just pay up. It could not if it wanted. Chairman Jesse Helms of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Speaker Newt Gingrich would not allow it. President Reagan initiated nonpayment as a policy to curtail spending excesses and counter hostility at the U.N. This partially succeeded; the worst abuse is over. But meanwhile the administration went into colossal deficit and became addicted to nonpayment.

So when Secretary of State Warren Christopher told the 50th the General Assembly in New York, Monday, that the U.N. must clean up its act within one year, that it must do.

Mr. Christopher sought a crackdown on waste, corruption, patronage and pork barrel. He called for consolidating duplicate agencies in development, statistics and trade, and a moratorium on splashy world conferences. He urged greater "selectivity" on peace-keeping (presumably preaching to himself; the U.S. proposes most of it).

Mr. Christopher was not dictating to the U.N. but brokering between it and Congress (which has unilaterally reduced the U.S. share of the peace-keeping costs it does not pay from 31 to 25 percent). He called for reform in order to "sustain support for the U.N. among the American people and the people of other nations."

The U.N.'s 185 member nations agree on the need for reform, disagree on specifics. A committee working on the problem is no closer to solution than it was a year ago. The U.S. should secure the rationalization of agencies and personnel it seeks. That is the only way to preserve the good work that some of them do.

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