Paying for the United Nations

Senate vote: It is time, and in the national interest, for United States to end deadbeat status.

June 25, 1999

THE SENATE vote Tuesday to pay $819 million of what the United States owes the United Nations is welcome and overdue but imperfect.

It comes in a deal to confirm the nomination of Richard C. Holbrooke to be ambassador to the United Nations, also overdue. But a string attached would reduce U.S. contributions from one-fourth to one-fifth of the U.N. budget. That is a worthy goal of negotiations but not something Congress should try to legislate as if the United States unilaterally decides.

The worst aspect of the bill is that this is only the Senate. The House of Representatives may not go along. Or it may shroud the appropriation with unacceptable conditions about extraneous issues, which brought a deserved presidential veto last yar.

The U.N. Security Council enacted sanctions against Iraq that form the basis of U.S. policy and created the arms inspection unit called UNSCOM. The United Nations is creating the civil administration for Kosovo, and a Security Council resolution governs the peacekeeping force. The U.N. created the special tribunals trying crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

In other words, the United Nations often serves as a vehicle and tool of U.S. policy, because of U.S. political influence and financial support. That's why congressional refusal to pay what the United States owes is so harmful to the national interest. In terms of U.S. budgeting and surpluses, the $1 billion the administration thinks it owes or the larger amount U.N. officials cite, up to $1.6 billion, are not much.

The share that Washington pays was negotiated before other nations grew as rich as they are, and should be renegotiated. But other countries, even traditional U.S. allies, are unsympathetic when Washington unilaterally refuses to pay what it undeniably owes. If this is not resolved, the United States would lose its voting right in the U.N. General Assembly.

Congress ought to quit the gamesmanship and grandstanding and just pay this overdue bill.

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