Helms’ criticism of United Nations unfair

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (U-Wire) — It is an unfortunate fact of life that those who are quickest to criticize others are often most in need of criticism themselves. But the irony of this reality has apparently escaped Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., who has made a career out of noticing the speck in the eye of the United Nations while ignoring the plank of wood in his own.
The 78-year-old chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee has been a cantankerous and colorful critic of U.N. operations for decades, but on Jan. 20, he outdid even himself.
Helms earned a dubious place in history as the first U.S. legislator to chew out the U.N. Security Council in person. He was followed a day later by the second such honoree, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who also delivered a critical speech before the 15-country group.
But what was truly history-making was Helms’ hypocrisy.
Both he and Biden impertinently scolded the United Nations for its ballooning budget, entangling bureaucracy and ineffective missions. But both failed to consider the possibility that the United States is partially responsible for the crippling of the international body.
After all, thanks to the persistent efforts of Helms’ ilk, Uncle Sam still owes the United Nations nearly $1.5 billion in unpaid membership dues.
The looming fact of these unbelievable arrears would have made much of Helms’ invective laughable — if only offending the Security Council were a laughing matter. But Helms insisted on flirting with disaster.
“It is my intent to extend to you my hand of friendship,” Helms said. “If the U.N. were to reject this compromise, it would mark the beginning of the end of U.S. support for the United Nations.”
In truth, the end of U.S. support for the United Nations has already come and gone, in large part because of Helms’ considerable influence on foreign policy matters. Congress has attached a stringent set of conditions — authored by none other than Helms and Biden — to the full repayment of its U.N. dues. A Helms-driven Senate refuses to cough up the money until the United Nations overhauls its finances and reduces the U.S. role in operations.
Other proposals calling for the funds were killed in Congress because of controversial rider bills about family planning treaties designed by opponents to forestall a final reckoning of the account. Late last year, Congress did begrudgingly commit to paying $926 million, but only if the United Nations would accept the sum as payment in full and forever reduce America’s financial share in the organization.
There are two problems with these weak-kneed policies.
First, it is bad enough to kick a horse while it is down. It is even worse to hold it down while telling it to get up. Helms said the United Nations was “paralyzed” in Kosovo and that its mission in Bosnia was a “disaster.”
Both of these missions, which suffered from a woeful lack of resources, were undertaken with the nominal support of the United States, which remains in former Yugoslavia with more IOU slips to show than results.
But apparently Helms has not grasped the contradiction inherent in his demand. Even if he is trying to extend the members of the Security Council a hand of friendship, it will not do any good. He has already tied their hands.
The second problem with Helms’ style of bombast is its hypocrisy. Senate Republicans have ridiculed calls from leaders as varied as the president and the pope to completely forgive poor nations of the debts they owe the United States.
Most developing nations that have outstanding balances with Washington are incapable of ever paying them back. Because so much of their gross national wealth goes straight to United States’ coffers, they are never able to generate enough economic development to stop borrowing money.
But despite the fact that debt forgiveness would be a fiscally progressive aid to the developing world, Congress has not even taken the proposal seriously. Therefore, Congress’ demand that its debt be partially forgiven by the United Nations truly curls the lip. While wringing some Third World economies dry, legislators like Helms are acting as if the United States is being generous by asking for generosity.
It is no wonder that the comments of Helms and Biden were received icily by delegates from France, Canada and several other countries. “Under the U.N. charter, a member state cannot attach conditions to its willingness to pay,” said Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands in The New York Times.
Before Helms makes the U.S. government more of a laughingstock in the United Nations than it already is, Congress must forge a bipartisan commitment to fixing what continues to be a grievous wrong. It should not take a chairman of a Senate committee to see the United States has no right to be seeing red as long as it is still in the red.
Caleb McDaniel’s column originally appeared in the Friday’s Texas A&M University paper, The Battalion.