By including in his State of the Union address an appeal for
payment of America's delinquent dues to the United Nations,
President Clinton has signaled his determination to rescue the
organization from congressional adversaries who would enfeeble or
abandon it. He faces a tough but winnable fight.
The warm atmospherics surrounding Kofi Annan's first visit to
Washington as United Nations secretary-general have already begun
to dissipate. Hard-line House Republicans have denounced Speaker
Newt Gingrich's call for payment of UN dues. Sen. Jesse Helms (R)
of North Carolina is vowing to condition the president's proposed
payment toward our $1.3 billion UN debt on "reform" that he
promises to spell out in legislation.
Who are all these others?
Annan had to remind his Washington hosts that the United Nations
has 184 stakeholders besides the United States. A critical mass of
countries must agree on the direction of reform, and they will not
simply accept an American diktat.
Unfortunately, the language of "UN-speak" seems to have two
dialects - one in New York and the other in Washington - that are
To nearly all other member states in New York, "reform" means
redeploying resources to strengthen UN performance and enhancing
the UN's capacity to act. In Washington, "reform" - even for an
assertedly Democratic administration - now translates as reduction
in staff resources and budgets.
Reform specifically of the Security Council is assumed in
Washington to mean adding financial heavyweights like Japan and
Germany as permanent members. For most other member states, it
means limitations on the permanent members' use of the veto, not
expansion of their number.
In New York, reform of the formula for apportioning UN dues
means a fairer measure of ability to pay. In Washington, it means a
substantial reduction in the US share - which for regular expenses
is already below America's share of world income - by shifting
costs to Europeans and others who already pay at a higher rate of
The UN's crisis will be resolved when America's politicians are
prepared to do with our international partners what they do with
each other all the time: Find common ground on principles and
divide the difference on interests. In short, compromise.
On the UN's special assessment scale for peacekeeping, for
instance, the Congress has declared that the United States will not
pay the 31 percent share assigned to it by the United Nations
General Assembly, decreeing unilaterally that it won't pay a dime
more than 25 percent. (Its actual payments fall far short of even
that.) By pressing a case based on shared principles of equity, not
on just cutting its own bill, America can win agreement on
assessment-scale reform that puts its share at 26.6 percent. Will
Washington take a fair compromise, or insist on a confrontation
over one or two percentage points? …