Moderate reforms at the U.N. Annan plan: Consolidations but no promise of downsizing budget and bureaucracy.


THE RESTRUCTURING plan for the United Nations secretariat that Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented to its 185 members is considerable but falls short of what critics in the U.S. Senate have demanded. Fair enough.

The authorization that passed the Senate to pay arrears in U.S. dues called for a phased payment of $819 million over three years, if benchmarks are met, as payment in full. But the U.N. calculates U.S. debt as $1.3 billion overdue now. So each side is going halfway to meet the other.

The U.S. has no apologists elsewhere in its refusal to pay obligations. This isolation impedes attempts to extend U.S. influence. One of the crucial challenges facing the Clinton administration is brokering an end to the impasse between Congress, as personified by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the outside world.

Appointment of Madeleine Albright as secretary of State and Rep. Bill Richardson as chief U.S. delegate to the U.N. sought to accomplish this. A deal was hatched, with far-reaching implications. But what emerged in the Senate won't assuage bitter criticism of the U.S. from its closest allies. Now the plan by Mr. Annan, whose ascent was engineered by Mrs. Albright and Mr. Richardson to appease Senator Helms, falls short of what the senator demanded.

There is good in it, creating a deputy secretary-general who would be a manager, lumping duplicate agencies and programs together, creating a small cabinet reporting to the secretary-general instead of an unmanageable array of free-standing agencies. But it does not assure reductions in staff or budget.

It was watered down to meet resistance from the U.N. bureaucracy. Some of it can be done by Mr. Annan but more requires General Assembly approval, which is not assured. Left untouched is similar streamlining for free-standing agencies that do not answer to Mr. Annan.

Achieving an accommodation is vital to U.S. interests in the world, and more important than the details of that accommodation. Congress should look for the good in this plan and not lose the chance to achieve it.

Pub Date: 7/21/97

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