Help the UN Live Up to Its Charter
THERE is perhaps no stronger example of the importance of a post-cold-war United Nations than its presence in Somalia. In that country, once so symbolic of the cold-war rivalry, the UN is fulfilling the promise of its 1945 charter. The Security Council has not been paralyzed by a veto, security forces have been approved to protect relief supplies, the UN flag is flying, and relief is arriving on a scale that only an international institution could provide.Skip to next paragraph
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I had the opportunity this past July in Somalia to see first hand how UN relief workers, among others on the front lines, were the only vestige of hope for a devastated people. Women and children too weak to stand and too weak to cry waited patiently for relief workers.
Yet, the problems the UN has faced in Somalia are also representative of the UN's new challenges in the wake of the cold war. The UN relief effort has been late and the scale of suffering has been magnified because of the delayed attention by the UN member states and the lack of coordination and inefficiency of a bloated UN bureaucracy. While relief is arriving, the scope of the tragedy could well have been avoided had the UN acted sooner and more effectively.
The UN is being called upon to prevent war, to end conflict, to stop the spread of armaments, to alleviate human suffering, and to improve the environment, among other mandates. In the past four years, 13 peacekeeping operations have been initiated, as many as during the entire period from 1945-1987.
An institution long distorted by the United States/Soviet Union rivalry is now being called upon to be a forum for constructive action. This transformation is not an easy task. But the international community must not squander the UN's second, and perhaps best, chance to fulfill its charter.
Whether the UN can meet the challenges of the next century depends on two critical elements: a commitment by member states to fully support collective diplomacy and security, and a restructuring of the bureaucracy.
First and foremost, the Security Council needs to be restructured to reflect the realities of the post-cold-war era. Along with this change should come a more equitable distribution of the funding of UN operations. Currently, the US pays 25 percent of UN-assessed budgets, 21 percent of voluntary budgets, and 30 percent of peacekeeping costs.
UN members also face the critical task of defining the organization's role in peacemaking and peacekeeping. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has provided an ambitious plan that includes arrangements for standby forces and suggestions for funding them.
For the UN to meet its new demands, such arrangements need full consideration by the membership. I welcome President Bush's recent call for a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the secretary general's proposals. The president also committed the US to increased participation in peacekeeping activities and training efforts.
Whether it is peacekeeping or humanitarian efforts, however, more needs to be done by the UN itself in order to instill confidence among members that it can perform effectively. Most important, it needs to streamline a bloated, competitive bureaucracy and provide more accountability for how money is spent. Mr. Boutros-Ghali has begun to tackle this problem.
But his efforts are only the beginning of a difficult job. Even with his reforms, the Secretariat, for example, would retain 36 undersecretaries general and assistant secretaries general.
As the author of the 1985 UN budgeting amendment which gave the UN's largest contributors more input into the budget process, I continue to believe that strengthening accountability will strengthen the UN. I also continue to believe that increased demands on the UN need not automatically translate into a need for significantly larger resources from member states.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that increased demand for peacekeeping forces resulted in a rise in peacekeeping costs over the past five years from $233 million to $2.7 billion. But UN priorities need to change; then substantial savings can be found. For example, I have felt for some time that conference center projects, such as the one planned for Addis Adaba, Ethiopia, which is projected to cost over $100 million, are a waste of money. Furthermore, a more streamlined UN bureaucracy would also
be able to provide savings, as well as work more efficiently.
If the promises of 1945 are to be fulfilled, the UN must boldly address the challenges of the 21st century. Boutros-Ghali has set that course. It is up to member states to commit themselves fully to collective security and to providing the impetus for reform of this very important organization.