THERE is perhaps no stronger example of the importance of a
post-cold-war United Nations than its presence in Somalia. In that
country, once so symbolic of the cold-war rivalry, the UN is
fulfilling the promise of its 1945 charter. The Security Council
has not been paralyzed by a veto, security forces have been
approved to protect relief supplies, the UN flag is flying, and
relief is arriving on a scale that only an international
institution could provide.
I had the opportunity this past July in Somalia to see first
hand how UN relief workers, among others on the front lines, were
the only vestige of hope for a devastated people. Women and
children too weak to stand and too weak to cry waited patiently for
Yet, the problems the UN has faced in Somalia are also
representative of the UN's new challenges in the wake of the cold
war. The UN relief effort has been late and the scale of suffering
has been magnified because of the delayed attention by the UN
member states and the lack of coordination and inefficiency of a
bloated UN bureaucracy. While relief is arriving, the scope of the
tragedy could well have been avoided had the UN acted sooner and
The UN is being called upon to prevent war, to end conflict, to
stop the spread of armaments, to alleviate human suffering, and to
improve the environment, among other mandates. In the past four
years, 13 peacekeeping operations have been initiated, as many as
during the entire period from 1945-1987.
An institution long distorted by the United States/Soviet Union
rivalry is now being called upon to be a forum for constructive
action. This transformation is not an easy task. But the
international community must not squander the UN's second, and
perhaps best, chance to fulfill its charter.
Whether the UN can meet the challenges of the next century
depends on two critical elements: a commitment by member states to
fully support collective diplomacy and security, and a
restructuring of the bureaucracy.
First and foremost, the Security Council needs to be
restructured to reflect the realities of the post-cold-war era.
Along with this change should come a more equitable distribution of
the funding of UN operations. Currently, the US pays 25 percent of
UN-assessed budgets, 21 percent of voluntary budgets, and 30
percent of peacekeeping costs.
UN members also face the critical task of defining the
organization's role in peacemaking and peacekeeping. …