Christopher Calls for Major Reform of U.N. : Diplomacy: Secretary of state urges the world body to streamline its myriad agencies. He seeks to quiet GOP critics intent on cutting U.S. funds.


Secretary of State Warren Christopher called for sweeping reform of the United Nations on Monday to quiet U.S. critics intent on weakening or even quitting the 50-year-old organization.

In what amounted to a demand for radical restructuring, Christopher proposed the consolidation, elimination and streamlining of the myriad U.N. agencies around the world and that an international network of inspectors weed out waste and corruption in those agencies.

There was no immediate response from the United Nations. But Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, toasting various foreign ministers, including Christopher, at a luncheon, said, “Now is the time to give support to those who must take the most difficult decisions for reform.”


The secretary of state was the most prominent speaker during the first day of the “general debate” that opens the annual session of the General Assembly.

Heads of state and government usually make the annual speeches while foreign ministers meet each other in what has been called “a diplomatic bazaar.”

But most world leaders decided to forgo their yearly chance to set down their policies on the opening of the General Assembly because they intend to address the special summit meeting of the assembly in late October, when the United Nations commemorates its 50th anniversary. The world body expects to have 150 kings, presidents and prime ministers in New York then to make speeches.

Later this week, Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei V. Kozyrev, French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette and British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind will address the General Assembly.

Although U.S. presidents and secretaries of state have often called for reform of the United Nations, Christopher appeared more detailed and serious about the issue than most.

Alluding to the low prestige of the United Nations and to the cuts in its funding by a Republican-controlled Congress, Christopher told the General Assembly: “The Clinton Administration believes it would be reckless to turn away from an organization that helps mobilize the support of other nations for goals that are consistent with American and global interests.


“But to sustain support for the U.N. among the American people and the people of other nations,” the secretary of state went on, “it is not enough that we defend the institution. The best argument against retreat is further reform.”

In taking on the agencies, Christopher was focusing on one of the most intractable problems of the United Nations. Many of these organizations, such as UNESCO and the World Health Organization, have their own funding and governing boards and are thus independent of the main U.N. operation. Other agencies are subject only to the most cursory supervision by the U.N. secretariat.

Many of the instances of U.N. mismanagement and corruption publicized in the last few years have come out of the agencies rather than from the United Nations itself.

Detailing some of the problems inherent in this system, Christopher said, “The U.N. has more than a dozen organizations responsible for development, emergency response and statistical reporting. We should consider establishing a single agency for each of these functions.”

The secretary of state also called for “a moratorium on big U.N. conferences.”

Although the United States owed the world body $1.6 billion at the end of August, Christopher pledged that “we are determined to keep our commitment [to the United Nations), including our financial obligations.” When the final appropriations are approved by Congress this year, however, they are sure to fall far short of the total owed by Washington.