The UN: a Bargain at the Price

NOW that the United Nations has been pulled up by its bootstraps, it shouldn't have to run on a shoestring.

Not so very long ago, the UN was regarded by many people as that white elephant on the East River. The Security Council was rendered impotent by the superpower rivalry, and the General Assembly seemed at best a debating society. Even the UN's most ardent supporters tended to emphasize its potential more than its accomplishments.

Today, however, no one is treating the UN with condescension. The end of the cold war unfroze the Security Council, and the demise of communism has altered the terms of the debates in the General Assembly ("nonaligned" no longer is a virtual synonym for anti-American). UN observer teams and blue-helmeted peacekeeping forces are helping to reduce conflict in a dozen hot spots around the globe. The UN's firm stand against Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait contributed to the successful prosecution of the Gulf war.

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The representatives of the 15 Security Council members who are meeting today in New York - including Presidents Bush and Yeltsin and the leaders of the other three permanent members, Britain, France, and China - properly will reaffirm their commitment to the United Nations and will project for it still greater contributions in the areas of peacekeeping, nonproliferation, and human rights. In their luncheon with the new secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the national leaders can offer useful guidan ce on new directions for the UN.

But talk is cheap. Nothing would more clearly signal the big powers' support of a rejuvenated United Nations than to pay their bills for its operations. The US, besides being the UN's biggest contributor, is also its biggest deadbeat. America's unpaid dues for UN administration and, separately, peacekeeping missions exceed $739 million.

Before, the US couldn't be sure that the UN could deliver bang for the bucks. With that concern eased, it's time to deliver the bucks.

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