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Analysis From Washington: Lining Up At The United Nations

  • Paul Goble

Washington, June 21 (RFE/RL) - The Clinton Administration's announcement that it is prepared to use the U.S. veto in the UN Security Council to block the re-election of Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sets the stage for a serious conflict over just who will succeed Boutros-Ghali and what direction the U.N. will take.

Reflecting a consensus among Republicans and Democrats that the U.N. needs to be more closely monitored and controlled, the Clinton Administration has now signalled that it wants a new man at the helm.

Washington has been unhappy both by what it and many others see and have documented as waste, fraud and abuse in the various United Nations bureaucracies and by Boutros-Ghali's policies and behaviour in a variety of conflict situations.

While the threatened American veto virtually guarantees that Boutros-Ghali will be replaced, this latest American step sets the stage for some serious conflicts among the U.N. member countries. The reasons for this flow both from Boutros-Ghali's own efforts to retain his job and from the difficulties inherent in the process of choosing an alternative.

First of all, Boutros-Ghali has actively campaigned for the job, and many of his supporters will seek to press his cause either to force the U.S. to back down or, at a minimum, to embarrass Washington.

Last month, for example, the Secretary General visited Moscow and participated in the summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, an implicit recognition of Russian demands that the international community recognize the CIS as a regional security organization which can carry out peacekeeping activities.

As a result, Russian President Boris Yeltsin seems more likely than not to support Boutros-Ghali both to show his appreciation and also as a negotiating ploy to force a Western concession on the question of the status of the CIS as the price for Moscow's support of an alternative candidate.

And identifying an alternative is unlikely to prove easy this time around. Traditionally, U.N. secretaries general have come from non-aligned countries. But some are likely to argue that this concept has lost its meaning now that the Cold War is over. Indeed, there have even been suggestions that perhaps a senior statesman from one of the major powers could be given the job.

That is unlikely. But this latest American move is likely to trigger several developments.

First, many countries, whether they like Boutros-Ghali or not, may be offended by what they may see as an American diktat. And supporters of Boutros-Ghali will certainly play on this by pointing out that the United States currently is far behind in the payment of its U.N. dues.

Second, some countries, likely including Russia, will seek to use this U.N. vote to advance their own agendas. In so doing, they may intentionally or not seek to isolate the United States and to use the vote as a test of who is lining up with one group of powers or another. That is likely to be the case even though, given American objections, there won't be an up or down vote on Boutros-Ghali.

And third, the almost certain clash between Washington and some other countries over the question of who will lead the U.N. will have important consequences for the direction the U.N. takes next.

One of the reasons that the U.N. and especially its Security Council have been as effective as they have in recent years is the absence of the sharp east-west splits that characterized earlier periods.

The debate on a successor to Boutros-Ghali certainly will not reignite those divisions, but it may create others that will make the United Nations less effective than it has been and that will otherwise weaken international cooperation.