Clinton tarnishes golden day for UN

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The Independent Online
As the United Nations celebrated the golden anniversary of its founding in San Francisco, US President Bill Clinton yesterday proposed that it undertake major structural reforms.

The President said: "Today, we have more common opportunities and more common enemies than ever before. It is therefore in our interests to face them together. Let us renew our vows to live together as good neighbours." But he challenged the General Assembly to come forward with a blueprint for reform of the UN in time for its next session in October.

In a powerful assault on critics of the UN in Washington, the President spoke out against the "siren song of the new isolationists". He added: "Turning our back on the UN and going it alone will lead to far more economic, political and military burdens on our people in the future and would ignore the lessons of our own history. Let us say no to isolation, yes to reform".

He insisted that the passing of superpower rivalry does not render the UN obsolete: "Today we face no Hitler nor Stalin but we do have enemies. Today the threat to our security is not in our enemy's silos, but in the briefcases or the car bombs of terrorists."

Mr Clinton was speaking on the stage of the San Francisco Opera House where 50 years ago 50 nations signed the founding charter of the United Nations and its birth as the guardian of human rights and democracy worldwide was proclaimed by Harry Truman. Its membership has risen to 185.

In a ceremony attended by UN ambassadors from around the world, the Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, vowed that the UN would continue to defend the ideals assigned to it. "We are the custodians of the dream of global co-operation. It will succeed."

On the need for reform, Mr Clinton said the UN had become "too bloated" and needed to become more like a private corporation. "As its board of directors, we, the member states, must create a UN that is more flexible, that operates more rapidly and wastes less and produces more."

The President proposed a reinforcing of UN peace-keeping and a reappraisal of what it can achieve. Noting that blue-helmeted troops are sometimes expected to achieve "miracles", the President added: "The UN can never be an absolute guarantor of peace, but it can reduce human suffering and advance the odds of peace."

Recent months have seen a decided ebbing of support for the UN on Capitol Hill, where the Republican majority has proposed drastically scaling back US financial contributions to the body and imposing new limits on American participation in international peace-keeping.

The antipathy in Washington has been fed by the UN's well-publicised recent difficulties on the ground, notably the fiasco of the Somalia peace- keeping mission and the continuing frustrations being met by peacekeepers in Bosnia. Two weeks ago, Republicans blocked President Clinton from paying the normal US contribution to the new Anglo-French rapid reaction force in Bosnia.

Any moral authority President Clinton may have is dented, however, by the continuing failure of the US to keep up dues already owed to the UN. Mr Boutros Ghali reported at the weekend that because of late payments by member states, the organisation is closer than ever to insolvency with debts set to reach $1.1bn by the year's end.