UN Reform, a la Carte

If he were a CEO, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali would have been fired long ago. Early in his tenure, the secretary-general set the stage for the failed Somalia operation with his Agenda for Peace, a naive blueprint for sending United Nations "peacekeepers" into intractable civil wars. Ballooning peacekeeping costs - Mr. Boutros-Ghali's legacy - have been a major cause of the UN's fiscal crisis. The secretary-general has not trimmed costs; instead he has made an outlandish proposal to grant the UN taxing power. And he is determined to keep his job.

The secretary-general has shown little interest in his primary responsibility of managing the UN. His strained relationship with his staff is no secret. The secretary-general is constantly away from the New York-based bureaucracy, traveling the world. Lately these trips have been not-so-thinly veiled campaign stops. The secretary-general long ago forgot his 1991 pledge to serve only one term.

The UN has become synonymous with waste, fraud, and abuse. President Clinton's spokesman recently said of the UN: "That building is stuffed with too many bureaucrats and stuffed with too much waste and inefficiency." We have no choice but to hold Boutros-Ghali accountable.

But for true reform, we need to move beyond the secretary-general battle. The fundamental problem with reforming the UN is that the UN member states don't share the American reform agenda. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright recently said, "I have often compared it [the UN] to a business with 185 members of the board; each from a different culture; each with a different philosophy of management; each with unshakable confidence in his or her opinions; and each with a brother-in-law who is unemployed."

Even America's traditional allies only pay lip service to reform. That is why years of American reform proposals - attempts merely to establish the basics in fiscal responsibility and employee accountability - have gone nowhere. The Clinton administration for the last several years has been crowing about its progress in reforming the UN. Congress has been justly skeptical, refusing to fully fund the UN (the US is now more than $1 billion in arrears on its UN dues). But if the US is to continue the financial squeeze, it should communicate clearly what type of UN it is willing to support.

That's why the US should adopt an a la carte approach to UN activities, distinguishing the few it is prepared to financially support and leaving the rest to those nations claiming that they are vital. This would generate some turmoil, and America's allies would be offended. But the alternative is either to pay our bills and endorse the status quo or do nothing and allow America's relationship with its important allies to deteriorate over the UN.

The administration has promised to veto Boutros-Ghali's reappointment to a five-year term and intends to investigate his reported use of UN resources and personnel for campaign purposes. I hope that they are not tempted to reverse course.

Throughout its first 50 years, the UN has been a bit player on the world stage, and this is unlikely to change. The UN's founders never imagined that they were planting the seeds for today's overgrown bureaucracy. Nevertheless, the UN provides some useful functions, including limited peacekeeping operations. It deserves selective support.

We do need a new secretary-general, and a "reformer" no less. He or she certainly should not possess the grandiose visions of Boutros-Ghali. But let's not lose sight of the fact that whoever assumes the secretary-general post can do little to bring truly meaningful reform to the United Nations. That burden is America's alone. It's time to assume it.

Ed Royce (R) represents California's 39th District.

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