Clinton grabs the U.N. reform issue Opposes Boutros-Ghali: U.S. can block incumbent, cannot dictate choice of successor.

June 23, 1996

PRESIDENT CLINTON, in another move to co-opt a Republican issue, has vowed to block United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali from another five-year term. His White House spokesman, Mike McCurry, describes the U.N. headquarters in New York as a building "stuffed with too many bureaucrats and stuffed with too much waste and inefficiency." Bob Dole, a constant critic of the 73-year-old Egyptian statesman, will have a tough time topping such undiplomatic language.

Politics aside, the president is fully justified in taking this action. It is his job, as it could be Mr. Dole's job, to rally support for the United Nations. Other countries may resent the U.S. penchant for dominance and unilateralism. They may make a spirited fight to give Mr. Boutros-Ghali another term. But the reality is that the U.S. provides a quarter of the U.N. budget, a $1.1 billion arrearage notwithstanding, and in the end the U.S. veto will prevail.

What is a lot less certain is whether U.S. diktat will hold in the selection of a successor to what has been described as the world's most impossible job -- one requiring management, political and diplomatic skills in dealing with 185 member nations, 15,000 employees, 15 semi-autonomous special agencies and a handful of troubled peace-keeping operations. Third World nations succeeded five years ago in imposing Mr. Boutros-Ghali over the Bush administration's choice -- Canadian Brian Mulroney.

Though the selection of a resourceful new leader is essential, it is equally important to begin reform at the top. Management is the U.N.'s big weakness. It needs a chief operating officer who would free the secretary general to concentrate on peace, security, mediation and, yes, the enunciation of a world vision. Mr. Boutros-Ghali's replacement should be given a single seven-year term to avoid the unseemly ritual of non-stop campaigning for reappointment.

Though elimination of waste and corruption stands at the head of the U.S. complaint list, Washington has had serious policy differences with Mr. Boutros-Ghali. While the secretary-general may have been unfairly scapegoated for blunders by the U.S. in Somalia and by Britain and France in Bosnia, his inability to work harmoniously with big powers whose forces were on the line was a failure of the first dimension.

At 73, Mr. Boutros-Ghali is too stubbornly set in his ways to deal with the messy, chaotic world that has emerged after the Cold War. This is now a bipartisan U.S. view.

Pub Date: 06/23/96

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