THIS is a big week for the United Nations. The first post-cold-war convening of the UN General Assembly has exhibited a growing spirit of consensus. The Security Council is considering tightened sanctions against Iraq. This weekend will see the opening of a UN-sponsored world summit on children. The UN's work has never been more important or more loudly applauded. But the body's future effectiveness is hardly assured. Divergent interests among countries may still derail UN efforts. One obstacle the UN can start dismantling immediately, however, is its shaky leadership structure.
Sloppy recruitment of leaders and lax coordination among agencies are problems targeted in a new report by former UN officials Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, ``A World in Need of Leadership: Tomorrow's United Nations.'' The authors argue for a single term of seven years for the UN secretary general, instead of the present renewable five-year term. They convincingly set forth the need for deputy secretary generals to handle peace and security affairs, economic and social issues, and administration and management. They point out that the process of filling top UN jobs often degenerates into politicking that ignores competence and ability. Women have been almost totally excluded.
Issues that span countries and continents - economic development and environmental degradation, besides peacekeeping - demand the best leadership the world can muster. UN members should back the recommendations of Urguhart and Childers.
Influential countries like the United States should throw their weight behind reform. And the US can also lead the way toward full payment of dues to a newly vigorous UN. The Senate should heed President Bush's request and stop stalling on $450 million in past and present dues owed by the UN's richest member.