Bush and the UN: Dreams vs. Actions

By , Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review, is on the faculty of the School of Medicine at UCLA.

PRESIDENT George Bush, inspired by the action of the UN Security Council in the Gulf crisis, made a highly dramatic and significant statement about the possibilities of an enduring peace through the United Nations. He envisioned a genuine world order based on world law. The statement is worth quoting at some length:

``We have a vision of a new partnership of nations that transcends the cold war; a partnership based on consultation, cooperation, and cooperative action, especially through international and regional organizations; a partnership united by principle and the rule of law and supported by an equitable sharing of both cost and commitment. We should strike for greater effectiveness and efficiency of the United Nations. The United States is committed to playing its part in helping to maintain global security, promoting democracy and prosperity. And my administration is fully committed to supporting the United Nations and to paying what we're obligated to pay by our commitment to the Charter. International peace and security require no less.''

This call for a fully functional UN has to be viewed against the recurring defaults by the United States of its financial obligations to the UN. The shocking reality is that the United States owes the UN more then $500 million in back dues and assessments. The validity of these obligations is a matter not of interpretation but of treaty. The delegates who listened to President Bush, even as they applauded his vision, probably felt that his advocacy of a functional world order was not as compelling as it might have been if the United States had honored its treaty commitments to the UN.

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Perhaps the most serious departure of all from the concept of a fully functional UN is the arbitrary action of the United States in withdrawing from UNESCO. The United States may or may not be correct in opposing some of the actions at UNESCO; but the fact remains the UNESCO has served an important purpose in advancing world cultural and social activities. Picking up our marbles and saying we won't play is churlish, childish, and a mistaken assertion of national sovereignty.

Two other inconsistencies inevitably arise in connection with the president's statement. The United States refused to accept the jurisdiction of the World Court on the issue of Nicaragua. The US was charged with having violated international law by mining the Nicaraguan harbor. The refusal of the United States to accept the jurisdiction of the World Court represents a defiance of the basic principles of world order and authority emphasized in the president's talk to the UN General Assembly.

Similarly, the United States invasion of Panama was arbitrary and unilateral. If the United States had a grievance against the Panama government, or if the United States felt that Gen. Manuel Noriega represented a clear and present danger to hemispheric peace, the recognized procedures for corrective action were the same as those described by the president in his talk. He wanted the UN to be front and center in meeting threats to peace, but the UN was not merely bypassed by the US in Panama, it wasn't even informed.

We must allow, of course, for the fact that the UN does not now possess the means or the constituted authority to deal with basic threats to the peace or to protect citizens against oppression from their leaders, chosen or otherwise. Even so, we are not helping to bring a new world order through the UN into being by ignoring our treaty obligations to the world body or by seeking its support only when our own vital interests are involved. The making of a durable peace calls for objective standards, objectively applied. The vision described so dramatically and effectively by the president need not be a theoretical possibility. We can help create it by day-to-day actions that can become the building blocks of an enforceable peace.

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