Americans had better get ready to hear a lot more whining from the United Nations.
Already, a brief sample has been provided by Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who insisted a few days ago that the world organization is so deeply in debt it may have to close next November unless its members get more generous.By that, Perez de Cuellar means mostly the United States, which owes $467 million of the U.N.'s $691 million worth of unpaid bills.
Despite this situation, there's no need to panic over the future of the U.N. and even less justification for Americans to feel guilty about its plight.
Two years ago, Perez de Cuellar was singing the same song, insisting that the U.N. was about to run out of money. But somehow it managed to keep its doors open.
Though the United States owes the most money, it's far from the U.N.'s most persistent debtor. Among the major nations, the Soviet Union holds that distinction. Only after Congress ordered a reduction in U.S. payments in order to force reforms at the U.N. did the Russians start paying off their old obligations. But Moscow is still about $200 million in arrears.
While the U.N. has tightened some of its operations in response to American demands, it's still highly wasteful. It publishes too much useless material. It's overloaded with top management whose salaries exceed those of any American civil servant. And it still has too many lower-echelon employees, many of whom use their posts to spy on the United States.
Moreover, the U.S. tightened the purse-strings not just to prompt financial reforms but to express official indignation at the anti-Americanism that has long been rampant at the U.N. Can Washington seriously claim it sees much improvement on that score?
It would be a mistake to starve the U.N. to death. Even so, the world organization still should be kept on a diet. America's excessive generosity in the past, when it paid a fourth of the U.N.'s budget, earned little gratitude, let alone respect. Good relations, however, require a measure of reciprocity.