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GLOBOCOP : BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI, THE CRYPTIC EGYPTIAN WHO HEADS THE UNITED NATIONS, HAS AMBITIOUS PLANS FOR KEEPING THE PEACE IN A CHANGING WORLD. BUT IS HE DIPLOMATIC ENOUGH TO SELL THEM?

<i> Stanley Meisler, a foreign correspondent for more than 20 years, now covers the U.N. for The Times. His last article for this magazine was on Americans' ignorance of foreign affairs</i>

WHEN DIEGO ARRIA, VENEZUEla’s ambassador to the United Nations, sat down at his ornately carved wooden desk, he was stunned. In the fuzzy world of diplomatic-speak, the letter he found there amounted to a bristling reprimand of him and the rest of the members of the U.N. Security Council. And it was signed by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the mild-mannered, professorial Egyptian who has led the United Nations as secretary general only since Jan. 1.

Boutros-Ghali berated the ambassadors for failing to consult him before issuing a unanimous statement on the crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina that posed a U.N. action he regarded as unworkable. He was concerned and surprised that they would approve a British-mediated plan for United Nations soldiers to take charge of all heavy weapons from the belligerents. “I am, of course, at the service of the Security Council,” the July 20 letter concluded tartly. “At the same time, however, I would hope that my views would be ascertained in areas which are clearly in my competence.”

The words were mild, the effect insulting. “I have always admired Boutros-Ghali,” Arria says. “He is a very personable man of great wit and good humor. My wife says he is the most charming man she has ever met. I am even now reading the book he wrote in French in 1949 about international organizations. Even then, he knew more about the subject than anybody else.

“When I read the letter to the Security Council, I said this was not written by the secretary general. One of his assistants must have written it for him. The secretary general would not have sent us something so undiplomatic. But when Boutros-Ghali met with us a few days later to discuss the issue, he was even stronger in person than he had been in the letter. So I said to myself, my God, I am wrong. He did write it.”

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In doing so, Boutros-Ghali served notice on the Security Council, the United Nations and the world that he would be no obsequious civil servant. The office of secretary general, in his view, was independent, charged with protecting the United Nations from those who would entangle it in needless escapades. The ambassadors of the Security Council, whether they realized it or not, had challenged that role, and he intended to teach them a lesson.

Until recently, his attitude would have made little difference. For 30 years or so, the Security Council was paralyzed by the Cold War, with the United States and the Soviet Union primed to use their vetoes to prevent any action that displeased them. The U.N. played a minor international role, and a secretary general could accomplish little by speaking out.

But all that has changed. The United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France--the five permanent members of the 15-seat Security Council--have not a cast a single veto in the past two years. The Security Council has been deluged with demands for help from Yugoslavia and Cambodia and South Africa and Nagorno-Karabakh and El Salvador and many other troubled lands. And the United Nations, which mounted only 13 peacekeeping operations in its first 43 years, approved an equal number in just the past four years. These new responsibilities enhance the powers of both the Security Council, which sets U.N. policy, and the secretary general, who both proposes policy and heads the vast bureaucracy that carries it out.

At this pivotal time, when the U.N. enjoys new prestige, diplomats have realized that, contrary to all expectations, the reign of 69-year-old Boutros-Ghali, the U.N.'s sixth secretary general, does not portend tranquil years. Not since Dag Hammarskjold fought off the Soviet Union on one side and Great Britain and France on the other in the Congo crisis of 1960 has a secretary general clashed so openly with the Security Council.

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Because smooth U.N. operations depend on cooperation between the Security Council and the secretary general, U.N. diplomats raised their eyebrows at Boutros-Ghali’s tiff with the council over Bosnia. Yet the secretary general professes no worries about possible bruised feelings, explaining simply that the Security Council had irritated him in this flare-up because it had, without consulting him, accepted a plan that smacked to him of Europe trying to palm off a “mission impossible” on the U.N., a plan that, in any case, had to be abandoned because of the belligerents’ refusal to observe a cease-fire. He was confident of his assessment. A distinguished scholar who taught international law for 30 years and a former deputy prime minister of Egypt, Boutros-Ghali may be the most experienced analyst of foreign affairs ever to have become secretary general.

Boutros-Ghali is a soft-spoken man who averts his eyes, as if addressing a more general audience, as he carefully explores the nuances of an issue. English is his third language, and, though fluent, he speaks it with a light accent that is more Arabic than French. He betrays his French education from time to time by dropping the final “s” in a plural word. He will sometimes call the United Nations, for example, “the United Nation.” He depends more on logic than gesture for emphasis, though he will sometimes hunch his shoulders, tug a visitor’s sleeve or, rarely, widen his eyes and thus make eye contact to underscore a point.

Sitting in a leather chair in his spacious but not ostentatious 38th-floor office overlooking the East River a couple of weeks later, he tries to put the Bosnia incident in perspective. Popularity, he insists, is not one of his goals. “My role is to defend the institution,” he says. “I believed that what they did was harmful to this house (as he likes to call the United Nations). If I want to be popular, I can say yes to everybody.”

The conundrum of Yugoslavia has troubled the secretary general for months, and he has dealt with it cautiously. He fears that the U.N. could be drawn into a quagmire that will only make it look impotent and thus lose the credibility that it has gained since the end of the Cold War. His caution has led critics such as the newspaper Le Monde in Paris to call him indecisive. It is an accusation that he resents.

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“I’m not a country of 50 million people,” he says, still speaking softly, evenly, without a tone of anger. “I have no army. I have no institutions. I have no land, no police. The importance of the United Nations comes from its moral value, from its credibility. I cannot take the risk of having young soldiers killed in Sarajevo and then having the Security Council order the other soldiers out. You cannot jeopardize the many other operations. For it’s not only Sarajevo. I have the rest of Yugoslavia and Cambodia and El Salvador and Somalia. I have 10 other operations.” As a result, he has approved the use of U.N. peacekeepers on only the most limited relief role in Bosnia.

He is a personable man who so prizes intellect over emotion that he would rather win arguments than friends. The confrontation with the Security Council underscored the enigma of Boutros-Ghali. He exposed himself needlessly by trying to teach the ambassadors a lesson. Some ambassadors are still annoyed that while he berates them for ignoring him, he often fails to attend their meetings and does not, as Arria puts it, “touch elbows” with them. Some, complaining of the secretary general’s aloofness, call him “the Pharaoh.” “But that is wrong,” Arria says. “I think of him more like the Sphinx.”

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI IS A SLENDER, COURTLY MAN WHO looks at the world through owlish glasses and the barest trace of a smile. He is a Coptic Christian from a Muslim land; his wife was born a Jew. He is a holder of great family wealth in a country choked in poverty, an Egyptian educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, a former professor who still lectures others, a diplomat who spent years under personal and vicious attack. He seems, at least to his admirers, to offer the possibility of bridging the gap at the U.N. between a Third World ever fearful of manipulation by the United States and an industrial world ever impatient with Third World posturing and rhetoric. In fact, some outsiders have joked, the credentials of Boutros-Ghali make you think he had been bred for the job. Yet the Security Council chose him only after President Bush failed to come up with a candidate of his own.

Candidates do not campaign blatantly for the post of secretary general, but a subtle campaign goes on inside the Security Council nevertheless, and Boutros-Ghali entered it in 1991 with several advantages.

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The French government felt it was time for a French speaker to lead the U.N. and settled on the Sorbonne graduate as its choice. His wife, Leah, a tall, blond woman as imposing in a crowd as her husband is self-effacing, quotes French President Francois Mitterrand as telling them: “Not only will I support you, Boutros-Ghali, but I will fight for you.” Diplomats agree that Mitterrand kept his promise.

Boutros-Ghali also benefited from the African insistence that it was Africa’s turn for the job (the previous secretaries general were the Norwegian Trygve Lie, the Swede Dag Hammarskjold, the Burmese U Thant, the Austrian Kurt Waldheim and the Peruvian Javier Perez de Cuellar). Although African leaders would have preferred a black African, they could not turn their backs on an Egyptian. Moreover, Boutros-Ghali had made closer relations with Black Africa a priority for a decade.

But he still faced a formidable barrier. President Bush did not want him, and the United States has a veto in the Security Council. “We looked on him as a failed foreign minister,” says a senior American diplomat. “He had been relegated in Egypt to being ‘Mister Africa.’ The Egyptians would be glad to get him off their hands. He was too old. We worried about his health. We were afraid he was not a good manager.”

So President Bush proposed Brian Mulroney, the garrulous, Quebec-born, bilingual Canadian prime minister of Irish descent, whose popularity in Canada had plummeted beneath 20% even as his blarney and wit endeared him ever more to the Bushes. But the nomination infuriated African ambassadors and most of their Third World colleagues. It struck them as an obvious attempt to put a Bush ally in the job at their expense. Within a few days, an embarrassed Mulroney withdrew his name.

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Then Bush lost interest. While aides put out the word that the President would select another candidate, the Security Council continued its secret balloting. Wary of offending Egypt, U.S. officials instructed Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering to vote for Boutros-Ghali on every ballot but assumed that he would fall short when the Third World was unable to agree upon a candidate. French cajoling, however, prevailed, and the Security Council surprised the Americans by selecting Boutros-Ghali in late November. Bush was stuck with a stubbornly independent political player who insists that no powerful government can pressure him because he is not angling for a second five-year term.

To satisfy U.S. demands, Boutros-Ghali streamlined his bureaucracy, reducing the numbers of undersecretaries from 28 to 10. (No knee-jerk Third Worlder, he appointed citizens of the Big Five and Europe to all but one of the 10 top posts.) And he promised more trimming in a massive, worldwide secretariat of 12,000 civil servants operating on an annual budget of $1.037 billion. Moreover, he warned that unless members paid up their arrears, he could not fulfill the continual demands to expand a peacekeeping force that now has 42,176 soldiers and civilians working in 12 sites at a cost of $2.693 billion a year. Last month, in response to accusations of waste and corruption, he promised to create a new post of inspector-general to take a critical look at all U.N. agencies.

He moved cautiously but effectively on other fronts as well. He submitted reports on Yugoslavia heavy with admonitions and foreboding. With Security Council authority, he transferred more than 1,000 Blue Helmets from the U.N.'s regular force in Croatia to Bosnia-Herzegovina in hopes of keeping the Sarajevo airport open. The world ignored him, but he tried to nudge the Security Council into action on Somalia. He reportedly mocked the council for concentrating on the plight of white Muslims in a rich man’s war in Bosnia while ignoring the far worse plight of black Muslims in impoverished Somalia. And he took advantage of longstanding contacts, persuading both African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha to accept his proposal that the U.N. help them resume their talks.

On assignment from the heads of state, he also produced an impressive treatise (“An Agenda for Peace”) on transforming the military potential of the U.N. to do a better job of preventing war, ending war and keeping peace.

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His most important proposal: creating a standby peacekeeping army, with armies throughout the world setting aside specially trained peacekeeping units that could be dispatched swiftly under U.N. orders. No longer would the secretary general have to slowly assemble a force for every peacekeeping operation.

More, he would allow U.N. units to move into a zone before fighting began to try to prevent war, rather than only monitoring cease-fires after the killing. If this had been possible in 1990, for example, a country like Kuwait could have asked for U.N. troops to patrol its side of the border in hopes of discouraging aggression from Iraq.

Boutros-Ghali also proposes activating the Security Council’s dormant military staff committee, which is supposed to take charge of U.N. wars. In the Korean and Persian Gulf Wars, the Security Council did not engage in war but simply authorized the United States to organize military operations in its behalf. Under the Boutros-Ghali proposals, the U.N. itself would take command.

But the plans, hailed for a day or two, then set aside by newspaper editorialists and governments, may prove difficult to put into practice. China and Russia, wary of any U.N. operation that smacks of interference in the internal affairs of a country, do not want a force that might be rushed into action before the Security Council understood its full consequences. The U.S. government, on the other hand, does not want American servicemen rushed into action without the U.S. military in full control of their movements.

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Yet, many diplomats and analysts believe that the U.N. must reform soon. Some have suggested 1995--its 50th anniversary--as a fitting time to convene an official conference to rewrite the U.N. Charter. If so, the Agenda for Peace is sure to serve as the starting point for serious argument.

The Agenda for Peace might have had made more of an immediate impact but for Boutros-Ghali’s weakness in dealing with the press. It is hard to come up with an image cold enough to describe the relations between the secretary general and the news correspondents who cover the U.N. in New York. Most do not know him and have barely seen him. He has held only one formal news conference in New York in his first nine months in office. The lack of access to him and his ideas breeds frustration, resentment and even anger.

Correspondents used to joke about the mumbling of Boutros-Ghali’s predecessor, Perez de Cuellar. Reporters now look upon those days as the golden age of U.N. communication. Boutros-Ghali enters and leaves the building without saying a word.

“After working a 10-hour day,” he explains, “I am tired and do not want to make a mistake talking with reporters in the hallway. But I suppose I have made a mistake not doing so.”

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Boutros-Ghali refuses to acknowledge that he has great problems with the press. He resents all the talk about his being aloof. In his Old World manner, he prefers small sessions, with selected journalists, to large news conferences. Recalling the host of meetings he granted this correspondent on a recent trip to Dakar, in West Africa, and London, he insisted: “Saying I am aloof is hitting behind the belt. I am not aloof. Look, you spent eight days with me. Was I aloof?”

Few international leaders tour the world with so small an entourage. On his trip to Africa and London, he was accompanied only by his wife, a secretary, an aide and two security guards, and no press secretary. And while the secretary general, his wife and the guards flew first class, the secretary and aide sat in tourist class, two sections back. Other officials joined the entourage briefly en route, but there was no sense of a single unit working together in flight.

TO UNDERSTAND BOUTROS-GHALI’S APPROACH TO HANDLING conflict, friends suggest looking closely at his troubled and sometimes confused relations with the Arab world. In late June, for example, Boutros-Ghali conferred with Yasser Arafat at the annual summit conference of the Organization of African Unity in Dakar.

The Middle East Peace Conference, sponsored by the United States and Russia, was an obvious subject as they spoke in Arabic for a quarter of an hour amid the cheap, processed-wood furniture of the secretary general’s hotel suite. At the meeting’s end, Boutros-Ghali rose, took Arafat’s arm and led him into the long, dimly lit corridors of the hotel, dank and stuffy despite the whir of air-conditioning. Arafat, wearing his patented black-and-white kafayah atop a crisp, operetta-like military uniform, the blatant revolver bulging on his hip, reacted with a start, realizing that Boutros-Ghali intended to walk him down the corridor and up the stairs to his suite. Boutros-Ghali smiled and nudged him forward.

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That would be an almost unnoticed gesture between friends, but both knew the protocol ruling their comings and goings in the Hotel President, filled with almost 50 African leaders. It dictated that Boutros-Ghali call on the heads of state, but that prime ministers, foreign ministers and observers such as Arafat call on him. In line with that, Arafat had marched to Boutros-Ghali’s suite.

But now Boutros-Ghali walked him back to the PLO suite on the floor above. As the two men embraced in the vestibule of the Arafat rooms, photographers recorded this shunting aside of protocol, this grand tribute to Arafat, one of the men most despised by the American public.

The photo certainly would not play well in the United States, but that did not seem to bother Boutros-Ghali. A couple of days later, the secretary general, chatting in the first-class compartment of a Swissair flight to London, tried to put the meeting in perspective. “I’m not worried about any reaction,” he said. “I am an old man. In four years, I am going to retire and write two books. It is no use trying to pressure me. I have reached an age where I feel that if you don’t do what you want to do, then you are not ready to do your job.” Despite the talk of age, this slim man does not look almost 70, though, in tropical style, he does need a nap in the afternoons to keep up his pace.

“Look,” he went on, “I have known Arafat for 20 years. He has just recovered from an operation. There is no reason why I would not see him. And it is the job of the secretary general to see all the actors in a conflict.”

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But he quickly cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about the warmth of his feelings for Arafat. “Dakar was a photo opportunity for him. But don’t forget,” he admonished, “that in 1979 this is the man who insulted me publicly before 50 heads of state.” Boutros-Ghali had led the Egyptian delegation to the Non-Aligned Summit Conference in Havana at a time when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was scorned throughout the Arab world for signing a peace treaty with Israel. “Arafat said that Sadat had lacked the courage to come to Havana and had sent his puppet, the traitor Boutros-Ghali, instead,” the secretary general recalled. “He said that Sadat was compelled to find a Copt to come to Havana because no Muslim would.”

Such attacks on Boutros-Ghali were once common. After President Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt was ostracized in the Arab world for 10 years. Arabs looked on Boutros-Ghali as Sadat’s Rasputin and mocked him as a Christian traitor to the Arab cause, the tool of Zionism and American imperialism. “They called me the academic engineer of Arab surrender,” he says.

This history reveals a little more about Boutros-Ghali’s sense of independence. He had felt it important in Dakar to reinforce relations with Arafat at a time when there were possibilities for peace in the Middle East. If that meant he had to ignore old pains, flout a silly rule of protocol and face some American irritation, so be it.

THERE IS A LEGEND ABOUT BOUTROS-GHALI THAT BRITISH NOVelist Lawrence Durrell had him in mind when he created Nessim, a central character in “The Alexandria Quartet.” Nessim, a wealthy, eccentric Copt, is married to Justine, the strange, beautiful Jewish woman loved by the narrator. The notion gains some credence in that Boutros-Ghali is married to a woman from a Jewish family in Alexandria. But Durrell wrote the books when Boutros-Ghali was far too young to serve as a model for Nessim.

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Yet, it would be wise to pick up “The Alexandria Quartet” anyway. “If you want to understand the milieu in which he grew up,” says Youssef Ibrahim, an old family friend who is now a Middle East specialist for the New York Times, “go back to ‘The Alexandria Quartet’ and try to fit it into Cairo of the 1940s. The elite were a high-flying crowd without strong religious lines. French culture dominated. It did not matter whether you were Muslim or Christian or Jewish. Being rich and speaking French were more important. The suggestion that he was Nessim is nonsense. But the atmospherics of the novels tell you a lot.”

The Copts (the word means Egyptians in the Coptic language) are descendants of the Christianized Egyptians who resisted Islam during the Arab conquest more than a thousand years ago. Since their forefathers were the ancient Egyptians who helped spawn western civilization, some Copts like to believe that their family lines go directly back to the pharaohs. Many Copts feel shunned and blocked in Muslim Egypt, but Boutros-Ghali insists that he has been insulated from any discrimination. “When you grow up in a wealthy family,” he says, “you don’t feel any problems of discrimination.”

Boutros-Ghali was raised in a palace of more than 100 rooms in a once-fashionable neighborhood of Cairo that had decayed over the decades. It was the home of his grandfather, Boutros Ghali, the first and last Coptic prime minister of Egypt in modern times, killed by the bullets of an assassin in 1910. Nationalists had scorned Prime Minister Ghali as a tool of the British, and when he fell, the Cairo crowds hailed his Muslim assassin, a radical pharmacist named Ibrahim Nasif Wardani, as a national hero. “May God bless Wardani who killed Ghali the Nazarene,” they sang in Arabic.

The family did not intend that anyone forget the slain grandfather. It adopted his given name Boutros (which means Peter in Coptic) as part of the family name and anointed the new grandchild with the same given name when he was born in Cairo. The family built a church in Cairo to honor the martyred grandfather and called it Boutrosia. “His tomb was inside,” says Boutros-Ghali. “There was written on the tomb these words: ‘God is witness that I served my country to my best ability.’ The church even had a painting of my grandmother offering the church to the Virgin Mary. For a small boy to see such things creates an impact. I felt that I must have a political role, that I would betray the tradition of our family if I didn’t play a political role.”

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No horizons seemed limited to a young man growing up in privilege so abundant that it struck him as natural. “My uncle was a pasha, a title like a lord in England,” he says. “My grandmother was thus known as ‘Mother of Pasha.’ ”

But in 1952 military plotters toppled King Farouk, abolished titles of nobility, seized large tracts of land from families like the Ghalis, led the way for the militant nationalist reign of Gamal Abdel Nasser and quashed the hopes of young Boutros-Ghali for a political career. “The way was blocked not because I was a Copt but because I had belonged to the old regime,” he says. Instead, he embarked upon a distinguished career as a professor of international law at the University of Cairo.

In 1977, however, President Anwar Sadat, Nassar’s successor, opened channels to the Coptic community; Boutros-Ghali was named a minister of state for foreign affairs. Within a month, he found himself caught in controversy and celebrity. Sadat surprised the world by announcing that he would fly to Jerusalem, prompting both the Egyptian foreign minister and the deputy minister to resign in protest. Sadat swiftly promoted Boutros-Ghali to acting foreign minister and took him along to Jerusalem.

The dramatic trip was so much a Sadat show that Boutros-Ghali played no significant role there. The Israelis, however, clearly found the professor a congenial colleague and started to call him Pierre (French for Boutros or Peter). Hamdi Fouad, who has known Boutros-Ghali for 40 years, says most of his time was spent with Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan while Sadat conferred with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Instead of focusing only on peace, Boutros-Ghali and Dayan talked incessantly about the archeology of Egypt. Fouad recalls that the Egyptian kept chiding the Israeli, saying: “Moshe, your information is all wrong.” After the Camp David talks, Boutros-Ghali took a central role as the chief Egyptian negotiator for the peace treaty. He is generally credited--or blamed--for its success, and he played a prominent role in Egyptian foreign policy for the next dozen years.

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But, even as they increased Boutros-Ghali’s responsibilities, neither Sadat nor his successor, President Hosni Mubarak, ever appointed him foreign minister. He remained minister of state for foreign affairs until 1991 when, perhaps to enhance his prestige during the campaign for the top job at the U.N., he was promoted to deputy prime minister for foreign affairs.

Fouad believes that Boutros-Ghali was held back only because he was a Copt. “They can not have a foreign minister who is a Christian,” explains Fouad, who is also a Copt. “It would be very flagrant not to have an Islamic foreign minister, as Egypt is becoming more and more Islamic. So Boutros-Ghali was always made wider but never higher.”

BOUTROS-GHALI HAS FINALLY REACHED THE HEIGHTS OF office, but it is still too early to tell whether he will be a great secretary general in the mold of Dag Hammarskjold, ineffectual like most of the others or somewhere in between; too early to tell whether he is truly independent or just plain stubborn, whether his analyses, in the long run, will prove practical or professorial. But some things are clear.

Boutros-Ghali likes to describe himself as a “technician” mastering his “files.” Once on top of a file--committing it to memory--he feels confident about acting and speaking out, even if he bruises feelings while doing so. After meeting British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in London recently, he showed me a sheet of paper with a half-dozen geographic names like Yugoslavia and South Africa carefully written down. “That is all I needed to have when I met with Hurd,” he said, “and that is all that I will take with me when I meet with Prime Minister Major tonight.”

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In his first nine months, he clearly mastered the files on Yugoslavia, Somalia, South Africa, Iraq, Libya, Cyprus, Cambodia and other tangled, feverish trouble spots. He and the U.N. have not prevented starvation in Somalia or ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, but such failures cannot be laid at the door of Boutros-Ghali. The U.N. is no stronger than its most powerful member states. If the United States and Western Europe choose to turn their backs on Balkan ethnic cleansing and African starvation, there is not much that the U.N. can do. Within such limitations, Boutros-Ghali has taken the U.N. about as far as it can go in dealing with such terrible problems. And his Agenda for Peace is an ambitious prospectus for reform. Boutros-Ghali has clearly achieved a credible record during his first year on the job.

But his style of management worries many diplomats and bureaucrats. He shuns excesses to an extent that limits his effectiveness, his critics say.

“I travel with a very small staff because I want to make a point,” explains the secretary general. “They are overworked. But the point is important. When I was in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, I refused to have a new Mercedes. I’m not sure it made an impact, but it was a symbol.”

Some bureaucrats believe that the small entourage symbolizes remoteness far more than efficiency. There is constant criticism that Boutros-Ghali is a poor manager who likes to deal with too many problems on his own, failing to delegate authority. “He is not a good day-to-day manager,” says a senior American diplomat who has conferred often with Boutros-Ghali. “He does not meet with his subordinates. They do not know what he really wants them to do. He has only had two meetings with these department heads in the first eight months.”

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As his tiff with the Security Council implies, Boutros-Ghali may also be heedless of the danger in offending others. While in Washington in May, he invited about 40 African ambassadors there to a closed meeting and then proceeded to warn them that they must stop blaming colonialism for all their problems. With the demands from Eastern Europe, there now would be a good deal of competition for foreign assistance. Africa had to get its act together and explain its problems to the rest of the world.

“He lectured them like schoolchildren,” said an official who was there. “I was surprised how blunt he was. I almost felt embarrassed.”

One wonders why the secretary general--a thoughtful, measured man--refuses to court the press, please the diplomats and mollify the bureaucrats at the U.N. These matters might be eased with the appointment of an energetic and competent staff.

But a host of major issues lie ahead for the secretary general: The future of a Cambodia now in the hands of the largest peacekeeping operation in U.N. history; the clamor by Japan and Third World giants like India and Nigeria and Brazil for a place on the Security Council; festering Third World resentment against the lack of foreign aid, now that the Cold War is dead; the threat of more communal violence in Eastern Europe. It will take diplomacy on every level to find solutions.

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Boutros-Ghali himself pleads against over-expectation. He told a French TV news show in September that the two most important qualities of a secretary general were patience and tenacity. “For 45 years,” he said, “the U.N. had a crisis of credibility. Few people believed in the U.N. Now, in the last few years, there has been a crisis of too much credibility. We used to deal with an emergency a year. Now we deal with 15 or 16 a year.

“But international public opinion must not expect too much,” he went on. “If you break a leg, it may take months to heal. If you want to become a doctor, it will take years of study. Think how much more difficult and slow to negotiate peace between two states at war.”


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