Finally, the relationship between the United States and the United Nations promises to get back on a fairly even keel. Thanks are owed numerous diplomats, including the US ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, who persisted until the dues dilemma was resolved.
That dilemma was concocted by Congress over the past decade. Some lawmakers were determined not only to ignore unpaid dues to the UN, but to cut future US support for the organization. In the mid '90s, with a Republican majority in Congress, such inclinations became law.
Statutes were created to unilaterally lower US payments to the UN. Meanwhile, Washington's debt, as calculated by the UN, topped $1 billion. Congress wanted US obligations reduced to 22 percent (down from 25 percent) of the $1.1 billion general operating budget for the world body and 25 percent of its special peacekeeping budget (instead of 30 percent).
In fact, the US had some valid complaints about the UN. First, administrative reform was needed. Many UN departments were overstaffed and inefficiently run. Second, the dues structure hadn't been adjusted for decades, and some countries' assessments were out of date.
But the UN had a more fundamental complaint about the US. Washington's intransigence on dues threatened it with bankruptcy. Disgust with the US among UN members ballooned.
Now, after more than a year of effort, a solution is at hand. The UN General Assembly last weekend approved new US dues levels that basically meet the congressional demands. Other countries, such as South Korea, Brazil, and Singapore, have agreed to increases in their dues.
One important detail - the first-year shortfall between the lower US dues level and the UN budget - will be taken care of by a $34 million donation from CNN founder Ted Turner. This unorthodox arrangement raised eyebrows, but Mr. Turner, a very big fan of the UN, was apparently happy to have a part in sealing the deal.
Meanwhile, administrative reform at the UN is moving along, under the guidance of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Even one of Congress's most outspoken critics of the organization, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, is sounding more benevolent. He has called the dues deal a "real leap forward."
All that remains is congressional approval next year, and the blessing of the incoming Bush administration. For the sake of better US relations with the rest of the world, both should be forthcoming.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society