Giving Boutros the boot U.S. veto: United Nations needs a new tradition of one-term executives.

November 25, 1996

NOW THAT the U.S. has used up precious political capital vetoing a second term for United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, it should stick to its guns. That means resisting blandishments and arm-twisting to back down.

Instead, the United States should expand its rationale for this unpopular deed by crusading to change the tradition that secretaries-general serve two five-year terms. Where was it written in stone that Mr. Boutros-Ghali, 74, had to serve 10 years beginning in 1992? (After all, Americans have just rejected 73-year-old Bob Dole, partly on grounds of age.)The tradition induces a secretary-general to spend his first five years ingratiating himself with the powers-that-be for a second term. It militates against paring the bureaucracy of waste, corruption, patronage and dead wood.

The determination to veto Mr. Boutros-Ghali may have been, as charged, a Clinton election campaign ploy to pre-empt Republican complaints. It was also U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's recommendation.

The U.S. twice engaged in drag-out fights over a secretary-general's second term. The first was to stretch U.N. institutions to the breaking point to keep Trygve Lie after a Soviet veto in 1950. The second was to win a second term for Kurt Waldheim in 1977 over Chinese objections. The U.S. eventually came to believe, too late, that the Chinese had been right on that one.

This veto is acutely unpopular because the U.S. has not paid its dues. It pays the current ones, but remains $1.4 billion in arrears, the major deadbeat. Had the U.S. paid up, fewer nations would object to its exercise of clout. Ms. Albright says there is no hope of prying the money from Congress while Mr. Boutros-Ghali remains. This implies that the money will be forthcoming afterward, which is not assured, but that struggle is for another day.

After the veto sticks, Mr. Boutros-Ghali will be replaced by the African bloc's second choice. Both China and the U.S. have virtually assured the African nations of that. The U.S. should campaign for reforms which can best be made by a chief who knows he or she has just five years to get the job done.

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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