Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

At 50, UN Feels a US Vacuum in Leadership

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

At 50, UN Feels a US Vacuum in Leadership

Article excerpt

FIFTY years ago today at the San Francisco Opera House, the US led a war-wracked world into signing the United Nations Charter.

The past, however, is hardly like the present.

United States leadership in the UN is being challenged both within the US and by other countries.

US clout at the 185-member body is being eroded by a new uncertainty in Washington about US vital interests abroad and criticism of the UN from conservatives in the GOP-run Congress. Its role is also in jeopardy because of a long-standing reluctance to pay dues to the UN.

The most recent example of a declining US interest came with the June 16 decision by the UN Security Council to delay the question of how to pay for a new "rapid reaction force" in Bosnia. The Council's delay was largely due to a reluctance by Congress to fund the peacekeeping operation.

"I think the US is adopting a more realistic view of what the UN can and cannot accomplish," says Ted Galin Carpenter, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, who says the US is turning away from its previous UN leadership role.

"Unfortunately the UN has become almost the wastebasket for dealing with problems the great powers don't want to handle on their own. The UN has been asked to do a number of things which it is not well designed to do, such as nation-rebuilding in Somalia and management of a civil war in Bosnia," Mr. Carpenter says.

The US retreat from UN leadership comes at a moment when the 15-member European Union is showing new unity on foreign policy issues in line with the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. Other nations, too, want a stronger UN role.

"If you won't risk your troops and you won't risk your money, in today's world you're not going to be a leader," says John Washburn, a one-time US diplomat and former senior UN official, in describing the current US position. "There are plenty of nations anxious to pick up the torch."

Yet some analysts say the shift away from US leadership is likely to lead to a weaker UN and a more dangerous world in which more conflicts go unchecked.

"My concern is that there will be no leadership at the UN if the US does not exercise it," says James Sutterlin, a global security expert at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. "The UN cannot be very effective without the leadership of its strongest member."

The US, which owes almost half of the UN's outstanding $2.75 billion budget and peacekeeping bill, is the UN's top debtor. Disregarding the assessment formula set by the UN General Assembly, the House has voted to whittle the US share of UN peacekeeping dues from 32 percent to a maximum of 25 percent in the next fiscal year and to deduct the costs of US-run military actions tied to UN business, such as the US intervention in Haiti.

IN a recent speech in New York, House International Relations Committee chairman Benjamin Gilman (R) of New York defended Congress' moves as efforts at prudence and fairness that could spur needed bureaucratic and fiscal UN reform. …

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