Brandishing the financial stick, the United States has moved the United Nations to get its chaotic financial house in order. Now a top Reagan administration official, once a stern critic of the UN, says it is time for the US to offer a carrot in return. US Ambassador to the UN Vernon Walters says the world body has taken major steps to overhaul its operations. These include cutting staff and travel, imposing a hiring freeze, and revising management and budget plans. Ambassador Walters says that if the US does not respond by restoring its full contribution to the UN and paying its back dues, the reforms could be jeopardized.
``If the US does not demonstrate support for those reforms by moving to restore those reductions, the full implementation of the budgetary and administrative reforms may be compromised,'' Walters says. The envoy says his instructions from President Reagan at the time of Walters's appointment two years ago were to ``restore [the UN], not to kill it.''
In an interview on Capitol Hill, where his conservative credentials have made him an effective advocate for the UN, the former three-star Army general said budget reforms, combined with broader political support for US initiatives in the UN, have raised his estimate of the world body.
``When I came here, they asked me how I would rate the United Nations and I said 5 out of 10,'' Walters says. ``Now, with the reforms, I'd rate it 7.5.''
Walters notes that a majority of UN members has now backed US positions condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia.
A majority has also supported measures endorsing the value of free-market reforms and the right to own private property. The General Assembly came within one vote last year of passing a resolution, long-sought by the US, to condemn Cuba for human rights violations.
Asked to explain why the UN now appears more hospitable to US views, Walters responds, ``Things have changed; many of the nations have a clearer view of things.''
Last year Congress cut the United States' annual UN contribution by $106 million - roughly half the annual US assessment - pending the implementation of budget and management reforms.
This year Congress will have to decide whether the reforms have gone far enough to warrant repaying $147 million in back dues, plus this year's assessed contribution of $209 million, which was due last January.
A recent report by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a principal critic of the UN, dismisses the UN reforms as ``long on promise and very short on enforcing teeth.''
But Walters says he disagrees, adding that the body has taken a ``major step'' toward fiscal responsibility.
Under the recent reforms, the UN has established a budgetary ceiling for the current year. In addition, the initial step of the budget process in future years will now require consensus among most of the major donors, giving the US a greater say in budget and management decisions.
Walters says unless Congress backs up the reforms by paying its overdue bills, the US will have little right to complain about the UN in the future.
``When you're not paying your dues, it's hard to pound on the table and say you've got to do this, you've got to do that,'' Walters says. ``If we met our assessed contributions, we could speak with an even louder voice.''
Trading on his aptitude for foreign languages (he reportedly speaks eight, plus several dialects), Walters has built a career as a behind-the-scenes fixer and trouble-shooter for five US presidents.
On another issue, Walters says he is guardedly optimistic about prospects for a UN resolution to force an end to the seven-year Iran-Iraq war.
Says Walters: ``There's more unity [on the issue] than I've personally seen the five members of the Security Council show on any previous occasion.''
The US has proposed a Security Council measure that would ban arms sales to any combatant in the Gulf war that refuses to enter peace negotiations.
To pass, the resolution must win the support of the five permanent members of the Security Council plus nine of its 15 total members.
Since only Iran refuses to negotiate, the resolution is seen to be pro-Iraq. That could make it difficult to win the support of China, one of the five permanent members and reportedly Iran's principal arms supplier.
But Walters denied a recent report by former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick that US efforts to win the support of the permanent members of the Security Council had failed, saying consultations among the five - including the Chinese - had evoked ``a much wider degree of agreement than I had thought possible.''
Walters also appeared to wade in on the side of those Reagan officials who, in an internal administration debate, have argued that the US and Soviet Union have parallel interests in the Gulf, including the preservation of free navigation and the avoidance of an Iranian victory.
``I would think in a general way the Soviet Union would have an interest in stability in the area,'' Walters comments. ``The impact of a victorious Iranian regime would have repercussions within the Soviet Union that would not be in their interests.''