President Clinton addressed the United Nations General Assembly this week about terrorism. But the subtext of his speech, unfortunately, was whether the presidents country would soon lose its vote in that body.
That could happen before the end of the year when a UN rule concerning the size of debts owed by member nations kicks in. The power of the United States within the world organization wont suddenly drop, but the erosion of American prestige and influence will accelerate.
That prospect doesnt bother those in Congress who have engineered this turn of events. In their view, the worlds richest country contributes too much to the UN, which some of them see as a threat to US sovereignty. Theyve seen to it that any move to pay even a part of the $1.4 billion owed the UN such as the bill passed last April is so hedged about with conditions that the money would barely trickle out, even if the president signed the measure.
Mr. Clinton says he wont sign it because the money is tied to a provision barring US funds for any organization that lobbies for liberalized abortion laws abroad. The argument can be made that some funding for the UN is better than none, and that the abortion measure has been watered down. But there are still more than 30 other conditions writing off back US dues, cutting UN staff, and so on.
Congress should stop trying to rewrite UN rules unilaterally. The US can restore its standing by regularly paying its dues and meeting past obligations related to peacekeeping missions, all of which had US approval.
Its a sorry spectacle, and one that most Americans, according to polls showing a generally favorable view of the UN, want to end.