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UN: a Fresh Start

Ted Turner won the America's Cup in the 1970s. In the 1990s he's passing a collection cup to America.

By stuffing a billion-dollar pledge in the UN collection plate, Turner has tried to shame Bill Clinton in the next pew into paying the $1.5 billion American arrears on dues to the world organization.

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Should Clinton pay up? Yes.

Will Congress let him? Maybe. It ought to.

Mr. Clinton told other world leaders this week that the UN "is needed more than ever before." That's a big statement. The UN was much needed during its first half century in Korea, the Mideast, the Congo, Kashmir, Cambodia, and Kuwait - to name a few of its many peace preserving or restoring operations. Its unsung agencies monitor global air traffic; collect weather, health, and population data; rescue children; and aid refugees.

But the US president is mostly correct about need for the UN - especially since the US doesn't want to be the only world policeman.

It's true there is a lot of blather at world meetings. True also that job staffing is sometimes wasteful. But those are faults of UN members. They talk heatedly for home consumption. They insist on jobs for their nationals. They start wars, or threaten to - and then use the UN to provide both an olive branch of peacekeepers and a fig leaf to cover their exit from hostilities.

Such peace building costs money. And the US ought to pay a sizable share. It has gotten part of what it wants: reform of the UN structure and a no-increase budget. It probably deserves a lowering of its share of future budgets. The world economy is much changed since dues apportionment was set in a world where the US was the biggest economic survivor in the aftermath of World War II. But Washington shouldn't insist on replacing Moscow as the unyielding bully, veto wielder, and sometime dues withholder of the first 40 years of the world organization. Much of what the UN has done and is likely to do in the peacekeeping and humanitarian area tends to help the US (as superpower and trade power) more than any other nation.

UN budget cutting may also benefit from an idea pressed at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Hong Kong this week. That is to help the poorest nations grow faster and trade more by wiping out their quicksand-like World Bank debt. Success could permit the scaling back of several UN agencies devoted to helping poor nations develop. Private investment and trade would take over even more of this task once those poorest nations climb out of debt.

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