UN reform vote improves prospect of restored US funding. Year marked by financial woes closes with promise of change
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The UN is a peripheral issue on Capitol Hill, and so the administration may have a hard time convincing congressmen that the UN is a worthwhile organization after all, he says. He also points to concern among some member nations that, in its push for reform, the US is more interested in boosting its influence at the UN than helping make the UN more effective.Skip to next paragraph
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The US has come under heavy criticism at the UN for withholding funds, a practice that many say violates the UN Charter. But these critics concede that it was the US maneuver that led to serious reform efforts - reform that has been widely talked about at the UN since the 1970s with little results. Included in the reform package is a requirement to cut 25 percent of the UN Secretariat's upper management and 15 percent of lower management. Secretary General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar has already eliminated eight top positions and trimmed the budget by $60 million.
Ed Luck, president of the UN Association of the USA, agrees that the financial crisis was necessary to spur reform. But, he says, ``a crisis is not enough, because it's fundamentally a negative thing. You need an atmosphere that attracts the best people ... so there's a demand for quality.''
In one respect, that atmosphere appears already to be developing. In recent interviews at the UN, many diplomats spoke of a trend toward moderation among third-world nations in their speeches and resolutions. The rhetoric is less strident. There is less of a tendency to blame the West for the third world's ills.
``The reasons are fundamental,'' says Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's ambassador to the UN. ``One must look at the UN in its 41-year time frame.'' For the first 15 years, he says, the UN was pro-US. Then came decolonization, and the third world discovered its voice - and its strength in numbers - at the UN. With decolonization came great expectations of a ``North-South dialogue'' and a transfer of wealth from developed to underdeveloped countries. This did not materialize, resulting in the strident rhetoric of the past 25 years.
Another diplomat, from a Western country, calls the trend ``creeping realism.'' He saw its clearest manifestation yet at last spring's special General Assembly session on Africa where, for the first time, the African nations made it clear that they take primary responsibility for their own development - and that the days of blaming their former colonial rulers for their woes are over. This diplomat feels that talk of anti-US bias at the UN is exaggerated, and that more and more, voting on resolutions is going the Americans' way. The perennial challenge to Israel's right to sit in the UN points to this trend: Every year the Arabs get fewer and fewer votes.
Another sign of ``creeping realism,'' he says, was the lack this fall of a major resolution on South African sanctions, which was expected to be one of the key agenda items of the 41st General Assembly. The black African nations did not sponsor a resolution, because they realized that the US and Britain would veto it, making Pretoria feel good, the diplomat says. He also cites fear that South Africa would try to further its alleged destabilization of neighboring states.
The 41st General Assembly passed resolutions condemning apartheid (South Africa's system of strict racial separation) as well as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, alleged human rights abuses in a handful of countries, and last April's US air attack on Libya. But it was the specter of bankruptcy that dominated this session of the assembly.