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Boutros-Ghali Has Had His Day

Boutros Boutros-Ghali has changed his mind about serving only a single term as U.N. secretary-general and now says he will seek another five years in office. Washington’s almost immediate response was that it will oppose his candidacy. If the Clinton administration sticks to its decision--never something to bet the house on--the 73-year-old Egyptian diplomat’s tenure will end next year. The United States, as one of five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, can veto any candidate other council members recommend to the 185-member General Assembly. A veto might arouse resentment among Third World states that are happy with Boutros-Ghali, but it could also help to reduce the animosity against the United Nations that has built up in Congress.

The U.S. decision on Boutros-Ghali is the right one. He inspires little confidence as an administrator able to push through long-overdue reforms, among them reducing a 16,000-employee U.N. secretariat while improving its organization and efficiency. The U.N. bureaucracy is far too large and its expenses, including what some see as scandalously generous personnel benefits, are far too high.

On policy matters, the United States and the secretary-general have clashed over military activities in Bosnia and Somalia. Bob Dole, on his way to being formally nominated as the Republican candidate for president, frequently singles out Boutros-Ghali as personifying U.N. shortcomings and the organization’s inability to reform itself.

The Clinton administration says it has no candidate in mind to succeed the Egyptian. Given the controversy that could bubble up over the U.S. position, Washington’s best course is to let an acceptable consensus emerge on an alternative candidate rather than promote a favorite of its own. Certainly there are talented people in many parts of the world capable of effectively filling the $286,000-a-year job.

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The U.S. debt to the United Nations--more than $1 billion, most of it for peacekeeping operations--has built up in no small measure because of congressional unhappiness with how the United Nations has been run. A change at the top should become the occasion for Congress to begin rapidly paying down that debt. With the Cold War’s end, the United Nations--the Security Council especially--has become a far more useful forum. Keeping it strong is very much a U.S. foreign policy interest.


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