THE WORLD FROM.The United Nations Concerns about Effectiveness and Funding Grow as UN Assumes More Prominent Role around the World

Article excerpt

THE blue-shirted security guards here at the United Nations are jumpier than usual these days. They go into high alert whenever reporters in search of quotes from diplomats forget to stay behind the portable guard rails.

The recent bombing of New York's World Trade Center is one obvious reason. Yet the extra caution also stems from the increasingly prominent role the UN now holds on the world stage.

Demands on the world body grow by the day. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali wants the UN to move into preventative diplomacy and peace enforcement.

Yet even as the size and complexity of UN tasks expand, shortcomings make it more difficult to reach the new goals.

The UN is owed $2.3 billion in current and past assessments. The US, with an IOU of $846 million, is the leading debtor. A new Ford Foundation financial report notes that only 18 of the UN's 180 members were paid up by the Jan. 31 deadline. The study suggests a system of quarterly payments and a startup $400 million revolving fund for peacekeeping operations. A recent, blunt in-house report from outgoing Under Secretary-General Dick Thornburgh cites numerous management inefficiencies and suggests that the UN bureaucracy deserves a permanent watchdog to guard against abuse.

Peacekeeping has long been one of the UN's strongest assets. Yet persuading nations to contribute troops, particularly when reimbursement is not always forthcoming, continues to be difficult. And the definition of the job is changing, with internal ethnic conflicts now more common than wars between nations. UN Security Council members, ever sensitive to the issue of sovereignty, agreed to intervene in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Somalia only to provide humanitarian aid. Now Mr. Boutros-Ghali says well-armed UN troops may need to enforce compliance once an agreement on Bosnia is reached. …