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If We Believe in the Process, We Must Pay the Dues : U.N.: Always cash-strapped, the world agency is hampered by U.S. arrears, now totaling more than a quarter-billion dollars.

October 02, 1994|RICHARD A. VOELL | Richard A. Voell is chairman of the board of the Business Council for the United Nations, and president and CEO of the Rockefeller Group

The United Nations will not be able to realize any time soon its mission to "end the scourge of war," as its charter declares. It will not be able to function as the agency for peace everywhere, every time, but when its principal members agree on a policy, the world body is a proved, effective vehicle for peacemaking and policing. Experience in Cambodia, El Salvador and, as a result of the powerful U.S. commitment, the Persian Gulf testifies to this.

The opportunity to come together on a unified policy to resolve crises and end bloodshed is much greater today than ever before. The last consequential veto cast in the Security Council was more than four years ago. The General Assembly is no longer a forum for ideological diatribes.

But if it is to fill the crisis-management vacuum created in the Cold War's aftermath, the United Nations needs effective leadership and financial support. Habitually a beggar on the world scene, the United Nations got an important boost to its financial health with the $1.2-billion appropriation in August by Congress for U.N. peacekeeping operations. In a climate of severe budget constraints within the United States, the appropriation is a major victory for a U.N. policy advocated by the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, but repeatedly rejected by Congress.

Despite this victory, however, the United States remains more than $250 million behind schedule in dues for regular U.N. operations. Absent an additional appropriation, this figure will double in January. In contrast, our European allies and Japan are almost uniformly up to date with their obligations. And while the U.S. assessment is the world's highest in the aggregate, on a per capita basis it is no more than those of other developed countries.

Our assessment for the regular U.N. operating budget costs each American only $1.16 a year. Assessments for special peacekeeping operations run somewhat higher, but this is only a small part of the story. In any reasonable cost-benefit analysis, the benefits to the United States far exceed the expense. Whatever misgivings we may have about the United Nations' performance to date in Bosnia or Somalia, imagine the cost to the United States if we had been compelled to address these crises unilaterally, or to ignore them altogether.

Few would disagree that the United States cannot and should not be the world's policeman or fireman or rescue squad. The cost would bankrupt us, even assuming we could perform the task effectively.

Timely payment of our financial obligations will boost America's credibility in the world body. It would be an important step, too, toward providing the United Nations the kind of leadership that will enable it to act effectively in resolving the diverse crises of our fragile world--crises we can't afford to resolve on our own, but which we can't afford to turn away from.

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