U.S. must pay its United Nations debt

Kofi Annan, the new secretary-general of the United Nations, has been on the job for seven weeks and already the United States is on his case. Although President Clinton appealed for payment of America’s $1.6 billion debt to the U.N. in his State of the Union Address, congressional adversaries insist Annan must work faster in pursuing their prescriptions for reform before any money is disbursed. Congressional foes, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms, R-N.C., are demanding a fifty percent reduction in U.N. staff and a consolidation of many of its programs. Helms insists the U.N. must streamline its budget and is calling for a sizable cut in U.S. contributions to the organization.
Now that the Cold War has ended, the ideological conflict that discouraged the U.N. from dispatching peacemaking forces and development resources to countries within the communist bloc has been tempered. Annan agrees that the U.N. needs some restructuring to meet the world’s changing needs, but his concept of reform differs from the demands ordered by a slight majority in Congress. Rather than wiping out jobs and razing programs, Annan envisions redeploying resources to extend U.N. activities — such as disease and drug control — to nations that have long sought assistance. Annan also wants to enhance the organization’s role in helping to end regional conflicts, eliminate land mines and control biological weapons.
Despite congressional criticism over the slowness of tackling bureaucratic inefficiency at the U.N., the American public, by a two to one margin, supports the secretary-general’s request for repayment of the United States’ debt. Most Americans also support Clinton’s call for providing additional resources to expand the U.N.’s peacekeeping role. A vast majority of citizens oppose demands for across-the-board cuts of the organization’s staff and programs. Clinton must take advantage of the public sentiment to energize a more forceful campaign to convince Congress to pay the debt.
Helm’s insistence that payments on the loan be tied to congressional requirements for reform is embarrassing. The United States is just one of 185 members of the organization. Many of our partner nations resent the audacity of congressional demands essentially requiring the cessation of U.N. programs and activities. Most agree with Annan that the cost-effectiveness of the organization should not be its top priority or the principle measure of its success.
The president cannot let Helms and his congressional supporters win this important battle. Congressional conditions that target the destruction of many U.N. activities are unacceptable. Clinton must assure Annan that the United States will support efforts to recast the organization’s role for dealing with regional warfare, world poverty and hunger. Repayment of the debt is not optional. It is part of the responsibility the United States accepted when it signed the U.N. charter in 1945. The selfish priorities of American politicians cannot be permitted to obstruct international endeavors to cultivate peace and healthy living standards for people throughout the world.