Global Policy Forum

The No-Win Gamble


By A. M. Rosenthal

New York Times
November 12, 1996

For a country as for a business, to take a major gamble with no sign of gain and plain warning of loss is gross mismanagement. For a country or businss to plunge ahead with the gamble when it has a chance to get out is worse -- squandering assets for no reason other than to save management ego.

The Clinton Administration took the gamble with its decision not only to dump Secretary General Boutros-Ghali but also to subject him and the United Nations majority that supports him to two things that linger a long time -- insult and humiliation.

The bill for the first installment of the price for the U.S. was presented last week.

On November 9, for the only time in the half-century of the U.N., the U.S. was itself dumped -- from the important panel of financial experts of the U.N.'s budgetary committee. One reason was that the U.S. is the U.N.'s champion debtor -- $1.4 billion in arrears, a year's budget for the whole organization.

U.S. deadbeating has been going on for years. But Washington had been allowed to keep that seat. This time the vote reflected the anger of most U.N. members at the decision to mug the Secretary General.

The only way to rescue American policy is for the President to listen to important allies and major American organizations pleading with him to recognize a mistake while there is time -- days or weeks.

The Administration turned against Mr. Boutros-Ghali because it worried that Bob Dole might win votes with his campaign against the U.N. Mr. Dole singled out Mr. Boutros-Ghali, mocked him and pictured him as a world commander ordering American troops into combat.

No secretary general can send any troops into action. That is the decision of the members and no country has to obey. For decades, troops of U.N. members supported actions the U.S. considered in its vital interests -- from Korea to the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Haiti.

Instead of focusing on that truth, Washington sacrificed Mr. Boutros-Ghali. In June, six months before a U.N. vote could take place and without international consultation, Washington announced it would veto Mr. Boutros-Ghali's re-election to block the majority for him. Only the Soviet Union had ever used the veto to block a re-election of a secretary general -- in 1950 against Trygve Lie of Norway, and to American contempt.

More than any other Secretary General, Mr. Boutros-Ghali moves easily among the U.N.'s cultures. As an Egyptian, he considers himself a Middle Easterner and an African. He draws from Islam, his own Christianity, his wife's Jewish origin and his attachment to Western culture.

As a top diplomat, he took part in historic Arab-Israeli events, including President Anwar el-Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and the Camp David talks. At the U.N. he did more than any of his predecessors to reform the U.N. administration.

A secretary general heads the U.N. staff, serves all nations, but has the right to persent mamor issues to the U.N. on his own. His duties are political as well as administrative.

Mr. Boutros-Ghali has critics. Friends of Tibetan freedom, like myself, object deeply to his refusal to allow Tibetan representatives to enter the U.N. headquarters because of China's hostility. Others resent his refusal to become a docile camp-follower of Bosnia, of the West or the combatants. But only Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden earned as much respect as this Secretary General.

In America, letters of embracing support for Mr. Boutros-Ghali have gone to Mr. Clinton from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the office representing Anglican churches in 164 nations, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A and the Coptic Orthodox Churches.

Abroad, leaders of Western, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries have written to Mr. Cointon urging compromise -- Germany, France, Canada, Egypt, Honduras and others. As I wrote this column, a letter about the Secretary General arrived unepectedly from TEddy Kollek, former Mayor of Jerusalem, saying he knew nobody better for the job.

The acceptable solution would be to extend him for two more years instead of the usual five. That would give him time to finish the reform work he has started and to ease the anger of the U.N. majority.

Most important, agreement by Mr. Clinton would show that the U.S. had not taken leave of his common sense, self-interest or a decent respect of the right and opinions of friends.

More Information on UN Reform
More Information on Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's Reform Agenda


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