Thought for the Month

In my humble opinion, the situation between the United States and the United Nations (UN) is dismaying. I recognize that we pull more weight than many of the other countries in the UN (e.g., our position on the UN Security Council, which has very few members), and given world history and the current global circumstances, I can accept that.

But I have seen no good reason for our treatment of (former or soon to be former) UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Yes, his name has an interesting sound to it; yes, he is Egyptian. But the first fact does not justify how often or how boorishly he has been made fun of in the American press, and the second fact does not mean that he is an unacceptable threat to American interests -- or what should be our interests. Frankly, on inspection some of our "interests" boil down to greed, bull-headed stubbornness, and xenophobia.

An excellent example of some of the above American qualities is the long-standing unpaid US financial debt to the UN. Unfortunately, I do not have the exact figures before me, but I believe it is in the millions of dollars, and this debt has been around for years. Why haven't we paid the United Nations what we owe them? From all signs, partly out of a desire to dangle repayment like a carrot before the UN when we wish for it to do something (or to use it as a stick for the same purpose), partly because of paranoid US political factions who fear that the UN is the main instrument of a semi-mythical anti-US New World Order, and partly out of sheer fiscal irresponsibility, the kind we rail against in governments that owe us money.

At least, we rail against these governments when it suits American purposes. We can be awfully quiet about how much debt there is between our government and others (say for example that of Mexico or Japan) when we deem it politically expedient. We ignore the verdicts of the World Court when it is politically expedient. We bury the alarming reports from the UN World Health Organization (WHO) on some back page when it is politically expedient.

When it comes to the UN, the WHO, and other world bodies, we passed the bounds of honorable conduct a ways back. We should pay the UN the money, and take other countries' concerns about Western behavior a little more seriously. That way, when we hold groups such as Bosnian Serbs accountable for their actions in international tribunals, we shall look less like the hypocrites many quite rightly accuse us of being.