THE United Nations is experiencing the best of times and the worst of times. The UN is now within reach of attaining the ideals of its charter. Yet never has the organization been more overburdened and underfunded. Member states are giving the UN new responsibilities, but not the resources to address them. If the UN is to carry out new tasks, it must resolve persistent management and funding problems. Both internal reform and external support will be necessary.
The end of the cold war has vastly expanded UN responsibilities. The Security Council has mandated ambitious operations in Iraq, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, and Somalia. The UN has launched 13 peacekeeping operations in the last five years - as many as in the 40 preceding years. It also has new environmental responsibilities after last June's Earth Summit.
UN resources have not kept pace. At the end of September, only 66 countries had fully paid their 1992 dues and unpaid dues totaled $1.47 billion. One major donor, the Soviet Union, no longer exists. This funding crisis could force the suspension of some UN operations.
What does the UN need to do? It needs to reform itself from top to bottom. It has squandered resources through mismanagement, duplication of effort, and abuse of privilege. Questionable programs in some UN agencies have undermined member nations' support. Redundant and obsolete programs need to be eliminated and jobs need to be awarded on the basis of merit, not nationality. An independent inspector-general is needed to monitor program results.
Since taking office in January, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has streamlined management at UN headquarters. But he is reportedly encountering resistance elsewhere in the organization from officials worried about losing jobs and perks. Developing nations worry about cuts in UN economic and social programs, which account for 90 percent of UN expenditures.
How can the United States help?
First, we should try to build a consensus in support of reform in the General Assembly, which approves major organizational changes. We need to work with the secretary-general to persuade developing countries that reform will strengthen, not weaken, economic and social programs. To gain broad support for tough management reforms, the US and other influential UN members will need to accommodate developing-country concerns.
Second, we should support an expansion of the Security Council. Expansion is necessary both to enhance the Council's legitimacy and to persuade wealthy countries to assume greater UN burdens. Permanent seats for major third-world countries from each continent should be considered. The US should also support seats for Japan and either Germany or the European Community.
Third, we need to help the UN respond better to crises. In a June report, the secretary-general recommended reviving provisions of the UN Charter that call upon member states to provide military units to the UN on short notice. We should back this proposal, which would allow us to retain a Security Council veto over proposed operations involving US forces.
In September, President Bush offered logistical and training support for UN peacekeeping forces. He pledged to train US military personnel for participation in UN operations. These are good initiatives but fall far short of meeting the secretary-general's challenge. If the UN is to extend its reach from peacekeeping to peacemaking, more US leadership is required.
Fourth, we must pay our UN dues on time and in full. We should resume paying our UN dues at the beginning of the calendar year, as we did prior to 1981. The current practice of paying dues nine months late strains UN finances. We are now paying current dues and working off arrearages, which still stand at $295 million. If we are to encourage others to pay up, we must do the same.
Fifth, we should push for a revision of UN dues assessments. The current payment scale - under which the US pays 25 percent of the UN budget and 30 percent of peacekeeping costs - no longer corresponds to economic reality. Japan, Germany, Persian Gulf states, and other prosperous members should pay a larger share.
Finally, we must explore new sources of funding for UN peacekeeping and other operations. The secretary-general has identified several funding options, including (1) a $50 million peacekeeping start-up fund; (2) a $1 billion "peace endowment" created through private and public donations; (3) charging interest on unpaid UN dues; and (4) raising funds through taxes on airline travel or arms sales.
To meet its new challenges, the UN must reform. To strengthen the UN, the US and other countries have an obligation to provide both constructive criticism and strong financial support.