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Global Tightwad

November 29, 1987

The United States has now agreed to pay half of its United Nations assessments for the current year, just what it did last year. That is, if Congress appropriates the money.

If the money becomes available in December, the world organization will be able to meet its current payroll, according to Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar. If not, well, there are disagreements among the bookkeepers as to just when the cash would be exhausted.

This tardy promise to make a partial payment is embarrassing. It is bad business, bad politics and bad policy, risking long-term interests of the United States and weakening programs that have been and are effective in addressing urgent global problems.

The first lesson that the Reagan Administration and Congress are teaching is that the rule of law is to be observed only when convenient. Assessments of the United Nations and its specialized agencies are treaty obligations and American defiance of them is a breach of law. To make matters worse, the United Nations yielded to the fiscal pressure of withdrawn American funds and agreed to extensive reforms that make it leaner and cleaner than at any time in recent history, but, still, the United States is refusing to pay its share.

This penalizes the United Nations, and it also penalizes the specialized agencies of the organization, including the World Health Organization, engaged in coordinating the global campaign against AIDS, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, caught up in the new problems of famine and hunger in Africa. This weakens the structures of security. It retards the development of impoverished people. And it tarnishes the tradition and reputation of the United States as a responsible, compassionate respondent to the plight of despairing peoples.

The arguments heard on Capitol Hill, that the United States cannot afford to maintain its commitment to the U.N. and its specialized agencies, are mocked around the world, for the total U.S. share in all of these operations would not buy a modern bomber and probably not a fighter plane either. For others, the response of the United States is read as a turning away from international commitments to security in an organization, imperfect as it is, that is the best yet constructed.

Shortsighted it is indeed, for no nation is so rich and so powerful that it can contrive prosperity and security in isolation from the world. The interdependence of resources is not diminishing, but growing. The single most effective instrument for influencing the pace of development and the construction of laws that will control relations within that interdependent world is the United Nations and its specialized agencies.

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