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U.S. foreign policy has favored short-term considerations over long-term interests, bilateral diplomacy over multilateral institution-building, and political and military responses over economic and functional cooperation. To mention but one example of distorted priorities, we spent thousands of lives and billions of dollars in defense of “national security” in Viet Nam, while neglecting the much greater threat to national security from our growing dependence on Middle East oil.
Let us now look at the central question of today's hearings: "Is the United Nations Working ?” To begin with, we need to distinguish between what is said at the United Nations and what is done by the United Nations. The United Nations is really two systems—a rhetorical system, in which delegates come to the General Assembly and other forums to debate and make policy recommendations which have no binding force, and an action system, in which peacekeeping and economic cooperation programs of practical importance provide essential services to member countries. I do not suggest that the rhetorical system is of no importance, but I do suggest that it is of much less importance than the action system and that the American people would have a more balanced appreciation of the Un ed Nations if they focused more on the latter and less on the former.
Let us take peacekeeping in the Middle East as a specific example. Although recent debates in the United Nations have made many Americans wonder whether support for Israel and support for the United Nations are mutually compatible, the fact remains that the peacekeeping operations of the United Nations in the Middle East are very important to Israel as well as to the United States. When Secretary of State Kissinger undertook his extraordinary bilateral diplomacy in the wake of the October 1973 war, he found out that there was literally no way of getting a disengagement of the opposing armies without the interposition of United Nations forces. When the negotiations took place on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in Syria, it was Israel that wanted a more numerous force with a stronger mandate, and the final arrangements for the force ended up reflecting Israel's point of view much more than Syria's. The United Nations forces in Syria, I should add, have suffered a 10% casualty rate in the first year of operations. The members of the United Nations who are supply. ing these forces, countries with no direct interest in the Middle East, are thus making a very direct contribution to the maintenance of peace in the area for which we should all be grateful.
It should also be noted with respect to the United Nations forces in the Middle East that, for the first time, they include a contingent from Eastern Europe and that, also for the first time, the Soviet Union is paying its share of the cost. This also represents progress.
Looking toward the future, it seems overwhelmingly likely that a final Middle East settlement will have to involve demilitarized zones and United Nations forces to provide security for all the parties involved.
To generalize the peacekeeping point: in the foreseeable future, the world will need to make increasing use of United Nations peacekeeping forces to monitor ceasefire agreements, patrol borders, supervise elections, and generally to assure adherence to the non-use of force, self determination and non-intervention in internal affairs.
Now let me turn to the other major activity of the United Nations, which is in the field of economic and social cooperation.
In the world of 1975, with the rich nations facing double-digit inflation and rising unemployment, with the poorest nations facing economic stagnation and misery for increasing numbers of their population, and with the sharp confrontation between developed and developing countries over oil, over other vital raw materials, and over almost every economic issue, the cynic reviewing the past thirty years of UN economic experience might be tempted to ask whether ever in human history so many have negotiated over so much with such meager results.
Yet such a conclusion would not be entirely fair to the United Nations and its members. Preoccupation with present difficulties should not blind us to a number of solid achievements. It is too often forgotten that the principal preoccupation of economists at the end of the Second World War was that there would be massive depression and unemployment on the scale of 1929. Not only did this not occur, but the global product (in very round figures) grew from $400 billion a year to over $4 trillion between 1945 and 1975. Even allowing for inflation and population growth, this still represents on the average at least a doubling of real income per capita. To be sure, this increase has been very unevenly dis
tributed—the citizens of Europe, North America and Japan (and of some more fortunate developing countries such as the major oil producers, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia and South Korea) have seen their per capita real incomes grow by two to three times or more, while the peoples of the Indian sub-continent and of most of Africa have seen little, if any, improvement in their average condition. Moreover, the benefits of progress, as we all know, were very unevenly shared within as well as between countries.
Allowing for all the qualifications, however, the overall record of economic betterment is without precedent in the history of the world. While it would be an over-simplification to give all the credit to the United Nations system of economic institutions, it is clear that the “founding fathers” of the system must have done something right.
The International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, to take only the most obvious examples, have provided vitally needed negotiating forums, rules of the game and (in the case of the first two) significant financial resources to cope with monetary, development and trade problems. The World Bank group alone is now providing close to $4 billion a year in resources to developing countries.
Similarly, the United Nations Development Program, together wtih related UN funds for population, environment, children, etc., have made an enormous difference in helping to develop the human and material resources of developing countries. The specialized and affiliated agencies of the United Nations system such as WHO, ILO, FAO and UNESCO have unquestionably been an aid to counties not only in their traditional research and standard-setting activities but in their roles as executing agencies for technical and pre-investment aid. Although the United Nations was originally established primarily as a peace and security agency, some 90% of the $1.5 billion annual budget of the UN system (exclusive of lending by the Fund and Bank) is now devoted to economic cooperation.
But the role of the United Nations as a catalyst for constructive change cannot be judged entirely in terms of technical negotiations and lending operations. One of the most important but least appreciated functions of the UN system is in influencing the political process within member states. The great global conferences held by the United Nations on environment, population, and food, for example, unquestionably helped to marshal scientific evidence, mobilize public opinion, focus the attention of political leaders on hitherto neglected problems and thus significantly influence national policies.
In general, the agencies of the United Nations system have helped articulate the common interest of nations and helped conciliate the adversary interests. They have encouraged governments to take a more international approach and have strengthened the hands of outward-looking leaders in dealing with domestic political opposition. They have taken responsibility for compromises in situations where national leaders could not have taken responsibility alone. Thanks to them, nations have followed better economic policies than they otherwise would have done. In short, these institutions, if not the agencies of world government, have certainly been instruments of a better world economic order.
It is a useful exercise to ask where we would be today had we had no United Nations economic system-no institutions for trade and monetary cooperation, for economic development aid, for agriculture, population and envirnment, for the establishment of safety standards in air and ocean transport, for exchanging weather information, for allocating radio frequencies. Bad as our situation now is, it would have been immeasurably worse--quite possibly beyond repair.
Let me turn now to the problems that the United States and Israel faced at the last General Assembly. The first thing that has to be said about the last General Assembly is that the basic cause of our problem at the UN is not the UN itself. It is the increasing divergence between the United States and the majority of mankind on fundamental issues. I would not agree with those who say that the UN majority is always right-indeed its "double standard” on Middle East, economic and human rights questions is often deplorable—but it is an unhappy fact that United States leadership has been badly damaged by Viet Nam, Watergate, economic mismanagement and neglect of Third World interests. So if that UN reflection is ugly, it's not the mirror that's to blame.
1 GATT is technically not a UN agency, but it was created as a result of a UN conference and functions in close cooperation with the other agencies of the United Nations system.
The PLO vote is an example. People have said to me, “Isn't it absurd what the United Nations did on the PLO; these two-bit countries, this one-nation, onevote thing has to be stopped.” Yet how many of these people realize that the invitation to Yasir Arafat was voted by 105 to 4 with 20 abstentions? In other words, on that vote the United States and Israel were only able to get two countries—Bolivia and the Dominican Republic—to support them. Bolivia and the Dominican Republic!
Some people propose a weighted voting system at the United Nations, based on population, economics, education or what have you. Yet a prorating of power by these criteria would not have altered the PLO vote in our and Israel's favor-if anything, it would have made it worse. The only conclusion that can be drawn from the United Nations mirror is that an overwhelming majority of governments representing an overwhelming majority of mankind is not sympathetic to Israel's diplomatic position and believes that the Palestine Liberation Organization should be associated in the United Nations with the search for a Middle East solution.
What was really damaging to Israel was not anything that happened at the United Nations in recent months—I daresay the publicity given those events and the UNESCO votes stirred worldwide opinion in her favor—but rather the support that the PLO had garnered before it got to the UN. Even the UN resolution recognizing the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people did not fundamentally change Israel's political situation-acceptance of the PLO had already been accomplished at the Arab summit in Rabat, partly as result of Israel's refusal to make a deal with Hussein.
The political isolation of the United States and Israel is one part of the problem at the United Nations; another is the fact that for the past six years—and some would argue it's been longer than that—the US Government has assigned precious little priority to strengthening the United Nations.
Of course, there have been notable exceptions—United States initiatives in the area of environment, population or narcotics have been impressive. But during the Nixon Administration the attitude at the highest levels was one of malign neglect, of weakening the UN rather than strengthening it as an institution. The tone was set early by President Nixon himself when he scrawled on one memo concerning a UN agency : “The hell with this outfit, let's gut it.”
Now I don't mean to imply that the United Nations is above criticism. One need only look at the recent report on the deterioration of the Secretariat by former Ambassador Seymour M. Finger, at the lack of coordination between UN agencies and programs, and at the need for reforms in decision-making procedures (not by weighted voting, by the way, but by conciliation and use of small committees with weighted representation). But these and other cracks in the mirror are also due to faulty policies of member governments, including our own, and can be remedied by them. Let's not be like the father I know who neglected his son for years and then complained when the boy was booked on a narcotics charge : “I always knew that kid would never amount to anything.”
Some people are now calling for U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Former Senator Peter Dominick wants us to leave the General Assembly and columnist William Buckley says we should sit there but not vote. I submit that such proposals are unsatisfactory because they have not been thought through.
For the United States to withdraw from the United Nations would be, in the words of a friend from Israel, "desertion of the battlefield under fire.” United States withdrawal certainly would not serve Israel's interests; it would leave Israel without the protection of a United States veto in the Security Council. Remember that those United Nations peacekeeping forces under the Council's direction are very important to Israel's interests.
It would be equally foolish to withdraw from the General Assembly or not to exercise our right to vote on items like the U.N. budget, U.N. personnel policy, Israel's right to exist, a Mideast settlement, the role of the Palestinians, the future of the U.N. presence in Korea, disarmament issues and human rights. The "Fortress Security Council” strategy simply won't work, for the simple reason that the ten elected seats are held mainly by developing countries. If we try to write off the Assembly, they have the votes to block action in the Council.
The remedy for our present U.N. difficulties is not to downgrade our U.N. participation but to upgrade it. We need a whole new approach to the U.N. system which would include the following elements :
A new commitment to international institution-building at the top levels of the U.S. Government;
The strengthening of our U.N. Mission and Assembly delegations;
Much greater use of our diplomatic strength in support of U.N. positions we believe in;
Involvement of our European allies and the Soviet Union in the search for a Middle East settlement which will guarantee Israel's security essentially within its 1967 borders ;
A more imaginative approach to the “world economic bargain” that needs to be struck with the developing countries; and
And a serious search for U.N. decision-making reforms of the kind referred to earlier.
I suggested earlier that the need for multilateral agreement and multilateral management would be increasingly with us during the last quarter of the twentieth century. But of course, need along is not enough. Most national leaders around the world do not have to be persuaded that it would be much better to approach key problems on a multilateral basis, usually a global one; the question that troubles them is whether international rules and organizations can be made to work. Unless some major structural weaknesses can be dealt with more effectively, even the existing responsibilities of existing international agencies will slowly wither away, and new responsbility, however badly needed, will simply not be given either to old or new agencies.
Since the structural problems are political in origin, to remedy them will require not just technical ingenuity but an act of political will on the part of key member-states. The deficiencies of international institutions that governments cite as reasons for bypassing them are of the government's own making. Some acts of creative statesmanship are needed to break out of the vicious circle. To paraphrase a slogan of the peace movement: “All we are saying is, give the international organizations a chance."
The most obvious structural problem is in the decision-making process. How to equiliberate voting power, not just with national sovereignty but with responsibility for implementing decisions, is a riddle that continues to plague the international agencies. It is understandable that large and middle-sized powers will not grant significant authority to a General Assembly where countries representing less than ten percent of the population of the total membership and less than four percent of the budget can take decisions by a two-thirds majority. It is equally obvious that the "principle of unanimity" under which any one country can veto action is not a recipe for progress.
Fortunately, there are a number of methods that have been developed to assure that influence in decision-making bears a reasonable relationship to power in the real world and to the responsibility for implementing decisions. Weighted voting is the most obvious, but the assigning of differential voting rights is often non-negotiable. Other approaches deserve greater attention : “double majorities” (requiring a majority of all the members plus a majority of specially defined categories of members) ; "weighted representation" (delegating decision-making to a small committee in which the countries that are most important in the particular subject matter have more than their normal proportion of seats); "bicameralism" (in which decisions must first be adopted by a small committee with weighted representation and then by the membership as a whole); and “conciliation" (deferring a vote for a "cooling-off period” of further negotiations at the request of a specified minority of countries).
Obviously no one decision-making formula will be applicable across the board. Different structures are required for different functions—what is appropriate in a new oceans agency may not be appropriate in multilateral development assistance. Moreover, the decision-making reforms that are needed will not always adjust power in the same direction. The United States will justifiably seek "a GATT within the GATT” where decisions can be taken by the key trading nations on some special voting basis rather than on one-nation onevote formula among 86 contracting parties. At the same time, it can reasonably be asked to concede a greater voice in the IMF and World Bank to Japan and the Arab countries, whose voting power does not adequately reflect their financial power. To be sure, changes in outmoded or unreasonable decision-making arrangements may be opposed initially by the countries that presently have more than their fair share of influence. The challenge to multilateral diplomacyand one that has not been seriously faced so far-is to persuade the countries that are overendowed with power in a particular institution that a fairer sharing is needed to save the institution from creeping irrelevance and make it more effective on matters of interest to them.
A related but separate structural problem is how to improve present arrangements for creating, adapting, interpreting and enforcing international law-what some would call the “normative process.” The development of new rules of law has become both more cumbersome and more politicized—we need only contrast the highly political 90-member preparatory committee that was used for the current Law of the Sea negotiations with the small and expert International Law Commission that prepared the texts for the Law of the Sea conventions of 1938. While the membership explosion of the U.N. system makes it politically impossible to return completely to the old ways of doing things, the common interest of all countries in the orderly development of new rules of international law suggests that greater use of small and expert bodies should be made in the preparatory stage of law-making conferences.
Once the rules have been created, we need better arrangements for adapting them in the light of rapid and possibly unforeseen changes in political, economic or scientific circumstances. The traditional amendment process is as unsatisfactory a means for modernizing treaties on oil pollution from tankers as it is for modernizing the GATT provisions on nontariff barriers. A possible formula here is the delegation of power to small and expert groups to promulgate changes in the rules, subject to an "opting out” privilege for countries that do not wish to accept the changes. With respect to interpretation and application of the rules, we will need to have greater resort, in such diverse contexts as trade and environmental protection, to fact-finding, conciliation and arbitration by disinterested third parties. Finally, we will need to find better ways of enforcing the rules, as by multilateral action that denies benefits and applies punishments. As has been noted, where essential community interests are threatened, as for example in hijacking, marine pollution or the withholding of vital raw materals, action may need to be taken not only against those who ratify the rules and then break them but against those who refuse to accept the rules at all.
A third structural problem that must be mentioned is the crisis in morale and effectiveness that now afflicts the international civil service. Though a few international agencies may be exempt from this generalization, in most of them the concepts of independence and efficiency have been badly eroded by political pressures, particularly the excessive emphasis given to the concept of "equitable geographical distribution.” If the vitality of the international agencies is to be assured, more must be done to apply standards of excellence in recruitment, promotion and selection out. Greater efforts should be made to fill senior positions with outstanding persons from the professional, scientific and business worlds, rather than predominantly, as is now the case, with persons on loan from membergovernments. As with the other structural problems, what is required here is a change in national behavior resulting from a new perception by key governments of their enlightened self-interest.
A final structural problem is how to coordinate and rationalize the fragmented system of international agencies. Governments are encountering increasing difficulties in coping with the proliferating conference schedule and the bewildering variety of secretariats that deal with separate pieces of a total problem. The need here is not just to cut overlapping and wasteful activities, but to clarify responsibility for taking and implementing decisions. It involves both functional coordination (e.g., the respective responsibilities for balance of payments adjustment between IMF, GATT and OECD), and regional coordination (e.g., the division of functions on air pollution between the U.N. institutions and agencies like NATO, OECD, and the Council of Europe). Once again, the problem is fundamentally political, since the proliferation is partly the result of “forum shopping” by governments which wish to promote a favorable outcome, and partly the result of the launching of special purpose programs (e.g., on population, environment, and narcotics) financed by voluntary contributions from governments which feel they cannot achieve their objectives within the U.N.'s central policy and budget process.
A. generation ago the central problem was to create new institutions where none existed; today it is to get several hundred functional and regional commissions, boards, committees and secretariats to work together effectively. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle in the way of the objective is the projection into the international organizations of the fragmented system of "portfolio government” that still characterizes most of the major countries. Governments will have to do a