Congress should support an agreement that would fairly
resolve the damaging dispute over the United States'
overdue debt to the United Nations.
A late-year diplomatic breakthrough could mark the beginning of a promising new relationship between the United States and the United Nations. The deal lowers U.S. dues to the world organization and puts the United Nations on the path toward serious internal reform. The steps should placate critics on Capitol Hill, put the United Nations on firmer financial footing and clear the way for Congress and the incoming Bush administration to pay $1-billion in outstanding U.S. debts.
Resolving this dispute is of mutual benefit. By using money as a weapon, Republican congressional critics only fueled anti-American sentiment abroad and undercut the Clinton administration's ability to conduct foreign policy from a position of strength. The vote by the General Assembly essentially calls Congress' bet. It reduces Washington's share of the U.N. budget from 25 to 22 percent. The assembly also adopted a new budget methodology that makes the United Nations more accountable for the money it spends.
Of course, as with any compromise, the deal did not go as far as many in Congress want. While the U.S. share of peacekeeping costs would decrease, the cuts fall just short of Congress' target. Bush and Congress should embrace the deal nonetheless. Our allies, along with old foes and emerging states, are taking up the slack, a shift in responsibility Bush called for during the presidential campaign. By accepting the deal, Bush would project himself as a pragmatist who can negotiate in good faith. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, could ditch the deadbeat image they earned and turn the tables on U.N. bureaucrats, pressing them to deliver on their promises of reform.
U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke deserves credit for crafting a deal that reflects the best intentions of Congress while keeping America's global influence intact. Persuading Brazil, South Korea and the Persian Gulf states to play a larger role is the very sort of engagement necessary for the United Nations to deal more capably with modern threats to peace and security, from economic crises to regional military tensions. Much of the credit also goes to Kofi Annan, who has transformed the office of secretary-general through his creativity and evenhandedness. Annan praised the deal as a "fair and acceptable compromise" that could restore a good working relationship with the United States.
With a world community that is more complex, crowded and interdependent, the world's pre-eminent superpower can't afford to perpetuate a symbolic dispute over money that is rather paltry in the large scheme. U.S. interests are served by building a United Nations forceful and functional enough to respond effectively in times of global crisis and credible enough to promote common goals among its member states. Holbrooke's deal is good for American taxpayers, good for American leadership and a step toward making the United Nations more truly united.