- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

Last week, when Sen. Jesse Helms addressed the United Nations Security Council, the interests of Congress and the White House converged in fine fashion. Mr. Helms was able to chastise the United Nations' most influential body, as he has long wanted, accentuating his points with some dramatic body language. In doing so, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave voice to congressional concerns and frustrations. Despite the controversy Mr. Helms provoked, the senator's speech could facilitate the White House's task of convincing U.N. member countries to back reforms at the international body.

The American people want to see "a reformed U.N. that works more efficiently and which respects the sovereignty of the United States of America," Mr. Helms said, slapping his hand against the table at various points during his speech. The United States reserves the right to pursue its national security interests independent of U.N. operations, especially in view of the way the organization has botched some crucial missions around the world, such as peacekeeping in Bosnia and its campaign to disarm Iraq, he said. The United Nations demonstrated gross ingratitude by criticizing the United States for making payment of its dues conditional on reform, since it spent almost $9 billion on U.N. peacekeeping and military initiatives last year, he added. If the United Nations doesn't demonstrate greater competence and respect, the United States always has the option of withdrawing from the institution. Take that.

Although Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made clear Tuesday that she and the White House "believe that most Americans see our role in the world and our relationship to this organization quite differently than does Senator Helms," Congress gives final approval of U.N. funding. It should benefit the White House that U.N. delegates have heard firsthand from this key legislative player. Especially Ambassador Richard Holbrooke stands to gain; it's his job to sell reform to U.N. member countries. Mr. Holbrooke must convince delegates of two things: first, that the logic and validity behind Congress' insistence on more efficiency and transparency is sound; second, that the threat to withhold nearly $1 billion in dues is a serious one. Mr. Helms' full and frank address as they say in diplomatic circles should help Mr. Holbrooke prove both points, especially the latter.

During his speech, Mr. Helms aptly identified U.N. trouble spots and aired grievances that have long needed to be expressed, especially regarding the U.S. right to protect its national security without the Security Council's approval. Mr. Helms failed to take the opportunity, however, to recommend what the United Nations could have done better in Iraq and Bosnia. These are suggestions the senator should specify in the future.

What is clear from Mr. Helms' speech, however, is that he believes the United Nations should be fixed and not scrapped. Although the United States ultimately has the choice of withdrawing, the more desirable outcome would be a reformed organization, he said. As Mr. Helms has poignantly put it in the past, the United Nations is a dysfunctional organization. The United Nations, however, was a U.S. brainchild for good reason. The organization can provide a venue for building international consensus supporting U.S. international missions and priorities, a rationale that may not often be stated explicitly, but which is valid nonetheless. All the same, as Mr. Helms reminded the Security Council, American action is not conditional to that consensus.

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