Reprinted with permission from The Boston Globe, September 4, 2000
On Wednesday leaders from around the world will gather in New York at United Nations Headquarters for the millennium summit. It will be the largest summit ever and a unique opportunity for the United States to show international leadership and shape the international agenda for the 21st century. Peace and security problems are particularly pressing. This is an area where expectations have been high but policy results have often been proven catastrophic.
In March 2000, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan appointed an international panel of experts to conduct a thorough review of the United Nations peace and security activities.
This panel presented its report on Aug. 23. Most of its recommendations are sensible. If implemented, they would enable the UN to respond more effectively to the problems posed by internal and regional conflicts. Implementing this reform package, however, is going to cost money. The total costs have not been estimated, but a figure of $100 million is probably not far off the mark.
Without US support, it will not be possible to implement this reform package. And without US support, UN efforts may continue to fail, as they did in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sierra Leone.
Ultimately, these failures will lead to heavy cost-not just for the people in conflict-ridden countries, but for outside powers such as the United States. Indeed, when situations become catastrophic in terms of human suffering and refugee movements, the United States is often forced to intervene at high costs and for long periods of time.
Time and again, US officials have stated that they do not want America to become the policeman of the world. Yet the one institution that can help the United States from being placed in that role-the United Nations-has been treated shabbily and, to be blunt, stupidly by the United States. A lack of leadership and political paralysis in Washington have allowed Congress to impede budget bills covering payment to the United Nations.
This has caused serious damage to the UN and greatly tarnished the US image abroad. It is no exaggeration to say that America's reputation on international security issues has never been lower in the post-Cold War era.
The September summit is a unique opportunity for President Clinton not only to restore the US image abroad but also to speak to the American people and convince them that a strong United Nations is in the US national interest.
Only a strong United Nations can lower international pressure on the US military to intervene in far away countries.
This is what the President should do:
First, he should invite all UN member states to sign a declaration that endorses the recommendations of the recently concluded peacekeeping panel and codifies the lessons learned of the 1990s.
Most important in this regard is the principle that one should not send lightly armed peacekeepers into potentially volatile situations.
All UN peacekeeping operations should have the capacity to defend not just their units and their mandate but innocent civilians if they are attacked.
Everyone who could undermine a UN mission should understand that armed opposition to UN-sanctioned action will be crushed. Every peacekeeping operation should therefore be authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the chapter that allows for the use of military force other than for self-defense. This would make it clear to all concerned that the UN is serious and that once the UN is involved in implementing a peace deal, the rules have to be followed by all parties concerned.
Second, President Clinton should invite UN member states to continue the debate on humanitarian intervention with a view to developing a new political and legal framework that would permit states to intervene in cases of genocide or gross violations of human rights. The unauthorized US-NATO intervention in Kosovo has placed this issue high on the international agenda.
Third, President Clinton should invite Western European and other rich industrialized countries to pledge money to pay for the UN peacekeeping reform package. He should promise to introduce an emergency supplementary bill to the US Congress that would allow for immediate disbursement of money to the UN for the new reform package.
Currently, 27,000 UN troops are deployed in 14 different trouble spots, but there are only 32 military officers back at UN headquarters to provide guidance to these troops.
Similarly, the UN has only nine civilian police officers at UN Headquarters to provide guidance for up to 8,600 police from more than 69 different nationalities. Increasing the UN's staff is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
In addition, the UN equipment depot in Brindisi, Italy, is depleted and urgently needs to be restocked. Talk is cheap, and at this point only deeds-and money-will convince the world that the United States is serious about living up to its international commitments.
A Clinton initiative to send more funds to the UN will undoubtedly spark heavy Republican congressional opposition. But would the Republican leadership want to take no action on a relatively small, morally just, and political sensible expenditure in an election year?
Fourth, President Clinton should engage Congress, and more important, the American people, in a serious discussion about the importance of the United Nations to the United States and the world.
It is unworthy of an indispensable superpower to owe $1.8 billion, almost twice the organization's annual budget, to the UN when at the time it spends some $300 billion on defense, $6 billion of which is for budgetary gimmicks and pork, according to Republican senators Phil Gramm of Texas and John McCain of Arizona.
The congressional takeover of the UN dues question has seriously undermined America's position in the world. The president should invite the US public to weigh in on this debate. If Congress cannot be persuaded of the UN's value to US national security, then perhaps the US public can.
Finally, the president should persuade Congress to pay UN dues on time. Since January 1983, the United States has paid its annual contribution due on Jan. 31 an average of eight months late. The resulting shortfall has created serious problems for the cash-strapped UN.
Paying the US contribution on time would not address Washington's outstanding debt but it would send a strong political message to other UN member states and may well pay off for the United States when the time comes to renegotiate assessment scales.
Taking these steps would go a long way toward salvaging America's tarnished image and strengthening the UN. This would be good for the United States and good for the world.
Chantal de Jonge Oudraat is an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and a member of the executive board of Women in International Security.