Two Views, Two Worlds : The U.N. hasn't lessened the chasm between the needs and wants of the developed and undeveloped nations.

Catherine O'Neill of Los Angeles is co-founder of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

If Yandja Yentchabre, the foreign minister of Togo, had any hope that his fellow members of the family of nations were interested in the thoughts of a leader from a poor African nation, they were quickly dashed when he followed Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the podium at the opening session of the United Nations' 50th General Assembly Monday. Most of the delegates fled the second Christopher had concluded his remarks.

If they had stayed, they would have heard the differing perceptions in world view hampering effective work from the United Nations. Christopher talked about making the U.N. bureaucracy more efficient, about giving Japan and Germany permanent seats on the Security Council, about stopping nuclear proliferation, about land mines, terrorists, drug traffickers and the successful military interventions in Korea, the Persian Gulf and Haiti.

Reality, however, is a little more complicated. Christopher, like me, has been to Cambodia and seen the maimed, young and poor who are the permanent victims of their war. But in recent months, the Clinton Administration has decided it does not hate land mines as much as it seemed to when the President spoke to the United Nations last year. Christopher proposed a ban on exporting land mines, which would allow countries like ours to keep them in our arsenal. Others couldn't use them unless they make them.

Nuclear proliferation? Who could be against it, especially if like the United States, you already have all the nukes you could ever want. And of course our export earnings and trade balance are helped immensely by the fact that we are the world's largest seller of military weapons. This summer, I asked Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto if she could use some of the money spent buying weapons from the United States and France to increase her country's literacy rate above 25%. Her answer: "We have our security to think of."

Slimming down a bloated bureaucracy? The United Nations needs to, badly. So does the United States. But the Clinton Administration is opposing the best suggestion in years to streamline foreign policy staffing: blending the most relevant functions of the Agency for International Development and the U.S. Information Agency into the State Department. Christopher suggested this, but lost to the job protectors. Now he is lecturing the United Nations.

Yentchabre sees a very different world. He spoke of the half a billion people--180 million of them children--who live in abject poverty. Richer countries that could be markets for Africa's agricultural products raise barriers so that their own farmers are protected. Yentchabre sees a world where entire nations are left out of the technology explosion. While Christopher emphasized in American-dominated military operations, Yentchabre spoke of Liberia, Angola and Rwanda--places that the world had given little attention to as they fell into the horrors of war. He called for complete disarmament.

This summer, our family traveled around the world. As my 10-year-old daughter looked at the poverty in Nepal, where the average income is $180 a year, she asked, "If there is a king in this country, why doesn't he take better care of his people?" In India, my 26-year-old son looked at rickshaw drivers his age who make their homes on the tiny back seats of their pedicabs. "Don't the leaders in these countries understand that if they keep wanting to fight each other, no one is going to come in and help?" he commented. "People will only be interested in them if they get developed economically." Meanwhile, in France, Japan, Germany, which have conquered illiteracy and disease and offer the highest standards of living, the newspapers wailed: "Unemployment." "Banks may fail." "Costs of reunification are too high." Woe is me. The sky is falling.

Family values in the United Nations, the world's family of nations, are crumbling. People and governments are looking inward. There is no disinterested leader with the confidence of all the members to pull it together. The United States has not led in developing an effective post-Cold War modus operandi. So much for the long awaited 50th anniversary and reshaping of international priorities.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World