Global Policy Forum

Arnaud de Borchgrave


"The Change in the Administration's Position
is a Mystery"

The Washington Times
November 11, 1996

The following is from an interview with U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali by Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor-at-large of The Washington Times:

Question: Less than a year ago, President Clinton thanked you warmly for "your leadership, your energy, your resolve and your vision of the world for the next 50 years." Six months later, his administration abruptly demanded you step down at the end of your first term at year's end and threatened to veto your candidacy if you didn't. What happened?

Answer: To be absolutely honest, I don't know what happened.

Q: No idea?

A: Not a clue. Nothing had changed. I was continuing to implement major reforms of the world body - restructuring departments and offices to reflect areas of work; departments and offices cut from 20 to 12; high-level posts cut in the Secretariat from 48 to 37, and these posts are now 40 percent less than 10 years ago; some 1,000 positions phased out, or a staff reduction of 20 percent since 1986; a new budget that is $117 million lower and will include additional cuts of $154 million mandated by the General Assembly. That's a zero-growth budget.

So the change in the administration's position is a mystery.

We have also succeeded in providing electoral assistance and help in building free institutions to some 65 countries seeking to make a democratic transition. I clearly share the long-standing American objective to make the world safe for democracy. Our objective is to make the world safe through democracy, even though the U.N. Charter does not mention democracy.

Q: Didn't you ask for an explanation?

A: Yes, but my request was ignored. [Secretary of State] Warren Christopher came to my New York residence last May to inform me the U.S. wished me to step down at the end of the year. When I asked him the reason why, he declined to give one. And when I pressed him, he said he didn't wish to jeopardize our personal friendship.

Q: What's your gut feeling?

A: My real problem is that I don't have any idea what might have happened in the policy-making circles of the U.S. government. If I knew what provoked the 180-degree turn in the U.S. position, I would be able to defend myself, or I would be able to convince the administration that a mistake has been made.

Q: Did you ask U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright?

A: Yes, I did, and I never received a reply.

Q: Isn't a personal vendetta by Mrs. Albright the root cause of the dispute?

A: Not a personal vendetta, but a kind of incomprehension about the role of the U.N. and its importance, not only for the community of nations, but mainly for the U.S. itself. The U.N., after all, was created by the U.S., by President Roosevelt, and has always served the interests of the U.S. - the Korean War, Gulf war, decolonization, contacts with the Third World - in short, world leadership.

Q: You once said you were shocked by the "vulgarity" of a statement by Ambassador Albright. Isn't that what triggered U.S. opposition to a second term?

A: It was a U.S. delegation statement.

Q: Which means it was approved by Mrs. Albright.

The U.S. said your position on Eastern Slavonia - where Serbs and Croats still contend for the same territory, and where a U.N. role was desired by the U.S., and which you opposed - was "a grave mistake," "misguided and counterproductive," and accused you of trying "to shy away from legitimate operations."

A: Bosnia was to become a NATO responsibility, except for the one truly risky region of Eastern Slavonia, which the U.S. wanted U.N. peacekeepers to take over.

Our experts familiar with the area recommended 12,000 troops for such a dangerous operation, which I said would best be entrusted to a coalition of member states.

There is, sadly, a history of tasking the U.N. to undertake peacekeeping missions without providing it with the requisite mandates, troops and equipment.

Q: So that was the trigger?

A: It couldn't have been, as the U.S. decision, we were told, was taken at the end of 1995, in other words before the matter you mention. If there was a trigger, it was probably that I was too independent as secretary-general. Clearly, I was not successful in my relationship with the principal actor.

Q: Incidentally, why do you feel you're entitled to a second term at the age of 74 after making it unmistakably clear five years ago that you would serve one term?

A: I said it was my intention to serve no more than one term during the first 12 months of my mandate in order to lend more weight to the reforms we had undertaken and to give them a sense of urgency. Only stupid people don't change their minds.

I need a second term to make sure there will be no slackening of the reform plan. I never promised I wouldn't seek a second term. Moreover, my predecessor, Xavier Perez de Cuellar, said the same thing about his intention to serve only five years, and everybody asked him to serve a second term. All the secretary-generals since the creation of the U.N. in 1945 have served two terms.

Q: What do you consider your biggest successes?

A: Getting the international community to focus on how to cope with the awesome problems of globalization, which impact in different ways the almost 6 billion inhabitants of the planet.

That was the thrust of four major international conferences - Rio de Janeiro on the environment, Vienna on human rights, Cairo on population, Copenhagen on social development and Beijing on women and development. Together they represent a continuum and offer guidelines for the 21st century.

Q: And your biggest failures?

A: My biggest failure was that I was unable to convince the U.S. administration about the importance of the United Nations, to which the U.S. now owes $1.7 billion. Sad to say, but the U.N. is still viewed by some American circles as either villain or scapegoat.

Q: What about Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda? Weren't those failures?

A: I'm on record as stating unequivocally that U.N. peacekeeping missions should not be given peace-enforcement duties, and that U.N. personnel could not be expected to be both impartial and take sides in one and the same operation.

That said, and without rehashing the history of these operations, I don't believe they were total failures.

In Bosnia, we offered assistance to 2 million refugees, we established a lifesaving airlift into Sarajevo for essential supplies, we maintained peace in Macedonia and stopped the conflict from spreading with the successful application of preventive diplomacy. We are still in Bosnia with police training teams, in Eastern Slavonia with blue helmets. We have created an international tribunal for war crimes in former Yugoslavia - all those are important elements that are contributing to a lasting peace in the region.

Q: And the genocide in Rwanda?

A: That is what I called it at a time when other member states were anxious to keep out. I presented options to the Security Council as the killing mounted in April 1994. The council then decided to reduce the U.N. presence in the killing fields. Finally an angry France launched its own unilateral mission to stop the slaughter.

Q: And now you're calling events in Central Africa "a new genocide."

A: It's genocide by starvation.

Q: Which you say requires Western military intervention, which the U.S. opposes.

A: France, Spain, Mali and South Africa have pledged troops to an international force. The Western powers acted through NATO in Bosnia to put an end to appalling, intolerable human suffering and to deter a civil war from spreading into a regional war.

In these twin respects, there is no difference between black Africa and Europe. The resolution sponsored by Germany and France was designed to dispatch some 5,000 troops to open airports, protect relief workers and provide a buffer between warring factions on Zaire's borders with Rwanda and Burundi.

Q: The U.S. has reservations about sending troops into a volatile region without a clear mission. Washington doesn't want to worsen the crisis by re-establishing refugee camps. Instead, the administration wants to see a plan for the return of almost 2 million refugees to Rwanda and Burundi, and feels the Europeans should take the lead, confining its own role to transport and other logistical support.

A: There isn't a moment to lose. Thousands are dying right now. I am confident action will be taken soon.

Q: Your detractors say you knew about the atrocities in Bosnia but chose to remain silent.

A: Not at all true. We did our best - and the proof is that we created the war crimes tribunal to condemn the perpetrators of atrocities.

Q: Washington was upset by your report to the Security Council that the April 18, 1996, Israeli shelling of a U.N. post at Qana in southern Lebanon and the deaths of the refugees who had taken shelter there did not seem to be accidental, as the Israelis claimed.

A: I had been tasked by the Security Council to investigate the incident and report back. I appointed a professional military man of considerable experience who conducted a fair and honest study. His report was conveyed to the council May 7, along with the Israeli reply.

I delayed the report three times to accommodate Israel's changes in its version of what happened.

Q: If you take your candidacy to the General Assembly in order to override a U.S. veto, you would doubtless get an overwhelming majority in your favor, but wouldn't you also kiss goodbye to $1.7 billion in U.S. arrears?

A: The U.N. charter says it is up to the Security Council to decide. So it is in the hands of the five permanent members who have the power of veto and of the 10 rotating members.

We all know that the overwhelming majority of the General Assembly's 185 members would like to give me a second term, but it is not up to them, unless, of course, the Security Council decides to put it up to a vote of all the member states.

Q: When Norway's Trygvie Lie's second term was vetoed by the Soviet Union in 1950, the General Assembly ignored the veto and gave him a second term.

A: The U.S. then persuaded the GA to override the Soviet veto.

Q: The U.S. has agreed to a one-year extension to your five-year mandate. You are willing to compromise with half a term, or 2 1/2 years. What's wrong with two more years, which would enable you to retire with dignity at the age of 75?

A: This has to be decided by the member states of the Security Council.

Q: But you wouldn't be averse to such a compromise?

A: I would not be averse to any compromise as long as it has the support of the member states.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with two more years?

A: Or three more years.

Q: Whatever.

A: Complete the reforms I have begun, and leave as my legacy a new U.N. able to cope with the problems of the post-Cold War world and with the multifaceted problems of globalization that now confront the international community.

Q: Why would you want to continue without U.S. support, which means without the U.S. paying its $1.7 billion debt, which, in turn, means a bankrupt organization?

A: I wouldn't be able to continue unless I have U.S. support.

Q: Can the U.N. get along without U.S. funding?

A: Certainly not. The U.N. cannot survive without the support, the assistance and the attention of the U.S.

Q: So a U.N. without the U.S. is a finished organization?

A: For sure. The relationship between the U.N. and the U.S. is one of the most important jobs of the secretary general.

Q: Why have U.N. peacekeeping operations skyrocketed from $230 million at the end of the Cold War to $3.6 billion in 1994?

A: You should ask the Security Council. All the relevant resolutions on peacekeeping have been council decisions. We are presently involved in 32 peace operations all over the world - from a special representative somewhere, to observers, to UNICEF activities, to peacekeeping troops.

Q: Which would seem to indicate that the world has become a more dangerous place since the end of the Cold War.

A: Without a doubt.

Q: Why?

A: Because during the Cold War, the two superpowers reached a certain modus vivendi that created institutions - such as the Atlantic Pact and the Warsaw Pact - that maintained a rough balance of forces.

Q: The "balance of terror?"

A: Call it what you will, but the fact is this system has ceased to exist. And we still don't know what the role of the U.N. should be in this post-Cold War situation.

Q: In an attempt to place the U.N. on an independent financial footing, you proposed an assortment of global fees and taxes for international services, such as $10 per international airline passenger, or a 0.001 percent levy on the more than $1.3 trillion in daily worldwide currency transactions, either one of which would produce $3 billion a year.

This was seen by many as an attempt to set up an embryonic world government, proof that you were attempting to transform the U.N. from a multinational world body to a supranational one, like the EU in Europe.

A: These ideas are neither new nor my own. They have been put forward by many reformers for the past 20 years. They would not in any way diminish the control of the permanent members of the council or the 185 member states.

These ideas are solely inspired by the desire to sustain the role of the U.N. free of the vicissitudes of unpredictable financial crises in any given country.

To suggest that this would be the beginning of a world government is preposterous. Nothing could be done without the agreement of the member states - first and foremost the U.S.

Q: Globalization, you said a year ago, is diminishing the role of the member states, pointing out that multinational corporations are 10 times wealthier than the majority of the U.N.'s 185 members.

What do you see replacing the eroding nation-state in the 21st century?

A: I believe that the nation-state will continue to be the major actor, but I also think that it will be in the interest of the international community that the new actors on the world stage play a role in the resolution of world problems.

Q: New actors?

A: I'm talking about nongovernmental organizations, parliamentary organizations, regional organizations, such as [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Asia Pacific Economic Conference and the European Union], even local authorities and big cities.

We have to find a system where these important new players have a voice in the elaboration of solutions to global problems in the next century.

Q: As members of the U.N.?

A: No, but as observers or in another capacity that has to be worked out by the member states who will continue to be the main actors.

Q: The information revolution is only 15 years old, and we have already created a global village. But it doesn't have a police department, and transnational crime syndicates are running circles around national law enforcement agencies. Nation-states are being overtaken by non state and substate actors. The world of 1996 is more tense and unstable than after the Soviet Union imploded. What has gone wrong - and what could put us back on the right track?

A: Terrorists have been able to cooperate by transcending national borders, but member states have been handicapped in their fight against international terrorism because they still prefer bilateral solutions.

Terrorism has become a global danger with a wide variety of breeding grounds, and only a global approach, with real-time sharing and even pooling of intelligence, will be able to cope with the phenomenon. The same approach is dictated by the spreading plague of transnational crime syndicates. As long as intelligence is regarded as the most important attribute of national sovereignty, the plague will not be brought under control.

If a terrorist seeks asylum in, say, a Scandinavian country, they will say he's a political refugee. Certain countries, to cite another example, don't allow the death penalty so they cannot accept to extradite a terrorist to a country whose laws provide for capital punishment.

The different legislations dealing with transnational crime and terrorism is one of the principal stumbling blocks to better cooperation. So we need common law, which means a new international convention to bring us all into sync.

Q: Much has been made of the democratic tidal wave that is washing over humanity. Yet democracy, increasingly, seems to start with focus groups that tell politicians what the people want, and the politicians then pre-empt and promise voters what they want, knowing that it's so much pie in the sky.

With all the major problems clearly visible, how do you explain the lack of bold, overarching ideas like the post-World War II grand designs - Bretton Woods, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the European Economic Community and so forth?

A: We still have not come to grips with the drastic changes triggered by the end of the Cold War - the information revolution, telecommunications, the globalization of everything from capital markets to international crime. We're still in a period of transition where we don't know what ought to be done to cope with this global revolution.

After the Napoleonic wars, we had the 1815 Congress of Vienna. After World War I, the Versailles Treaty. After World War II, the creation of the U.N. and the great geopolitical architecture that followed. But after the end of the Cold War, there is still no global awareness of the beginning of a new era, and that this new era requires concertation among the principal actors to search for common ground on the multidimensional phenomenon of globalization.

Yes, as I explained, we had major international conferences on specific facets of globalization. We also saw hundreds of papers and symposiums during the U.N.'s 50th anniversary last year, but nothing at the level of the world's major powers.

Q: After World War II, we saw great ideas emanating from big men from small or medium-size countries - to wit, France's Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann, Belgium's Paul-Henri Spaak, Italy's Alcide de Gasperi, Germany's Ludwig Erhard and Konrad Adenauer. Where are such men and women today?

A: Maybe that's the explanation for the fix we find ourselves in today. We have not been able to find those great global thinkers who could lead us into the next phase of human history.

Q: Is that a reflection of democracy as we've allowed it to deteriorate with

A: More of a reflection, I think, of the drastic nature of changes that globalization has wrought, so awesome in scope that new leaders have not yet had time to emerge.

This is not a transformation, but a mutation, and we're still in a phase of not knowing how to behave, not knowing what to do.

Q: How much longer can we afford to remain immobile in such a period?

A: The worse the situation will get, the more it will compel us to find solutions.

I remain an optimist for the future of international organizations because the international community will have no alternative but to act. There is no national alternative, as globalization is irreversible.

One, two or three states cannot possibly cope without the others. In a few short years, the world has wired itself with computers to global networks. One can't pull the plug.

Q: A recent report by Harvard's Center for Science and International Affairs, the Rand Corp., and the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom, identifies five cardinal challenges for the next U.S. president in foreign policy: coping with China; preventing the loss of control of weapons of mass destruction; maintaining sound partnerships with Japan and the European allies; avoiding the collapse of Russia; maintaining the U.S. world leadership position. What would your own list look like?

A: More macropolitical.

The growing gap of inequities between the haves and the have-nots, both between nations and within nations, which is now driven home constantly by global TV networks, accessible in the poorest villages of Africa, the [Indian] subcontinent and China and Latin America.

Market economics is creating the marginalization of entire regions, even an entire continent like Africa. They will not be able to compete. So here you will have whole segments of the population - even within wealthy nations - who will see themselves as the sacrificial lambs of globalization.

Millions of people are trying to migrate by any means possible from the Southern Hemisphere to the North and from East to West, where they won't be able to integrate, which adds fuel to the fires of racial tension and ethnic conflict.

Add to this volatile mix the fact that weapons of mass destruction have never been as accessible.

Q: In other words, global anarchy unless we wake up.

A: Precisely.

Q: Jesse Helms, in his "Saving the U.N." piece in Foreign Affairs, says U.N. bureaucracy has proliferated during your tenure, and costs are spiraling and its mission is expanding beyond its mandate. Also, that the U.N. is being transformed from an institution of sovereign nations into a quasi-sovereign entity in itself, for which he says the U.S. contributes more than $3.5 billion a year to the U.N. system as a whole.

A: I respect and personally know Senator Helms and saw him often when I was dealing with the foreign affairs of my country, and I simply do not share his analysis.

The facts I have given you speak for themselves. Let me remind you, it was the U.S. Congress that mandated that Secretary Christopher must certify that I am in compliance with a zero-growth two-year budget of $2.6 billion before any U.S. payment of arrears and dues will be authorized.

Well, Joseph Connor, the U.N.'s chief financial officer, a former CEO of Price Waterhouse, who is an American selected by Mr. Christopher, has done just that - certified that we are in compliance. And Mr. Connor has also said the U.S. is now responsible for 57 percent of arrears on regular dues and 74 percent of the peacekeeping debt.

As any corporation can testify, one cannot downsize without buyouts, and buyouts are costly. The next tranche of reforms and cuts is bound to require U.S. payment of its arrears.

Q: Mr. Helms further charges you have ignored multiple warnings and stubbornly resisted fundamental reform and, instead, pursued a well-publicized campaign for what you call U.N. empowerment.

A: I cannot change the U.N. Charter, which says that the power is in the hands of the member states and the five permanent members of the Security Council, which have the power of veto.

Q: Senator Helms also says there must be at least a 50 percent cut in the entire U.N. bureaucracy or the U.S. should pick up its marbles and opt out of the U.N. How would things look with a 50 percent cut?

A: It depends entirely on what you want from the U.N. If you reduce demands on the U.N. by 50 percent, then you can reduce the workload by the same amount.

Those demands have been made by the member states, not by the Secretariat. When the U.N. decides to send 100 human rights observers to somewhere in Africa, it is a decision taken by the member states.

When it was decided to offer assistance to 2 million Rwandan refugees in Bukavu and Goma, again it was a decision made by member states. Obtaining the food, recruiting the personnel to distribute it, obtaining the field hospitals and the medical people to operate them, is costly and people-intensive.

Q: When you first took over as secretary-general, you told me you believed the U.N. could be a force multiplier as it was for President Truman in 1950 to repel aggression in Korea under the U.N. flag, and again for President Bush when the U.N. approved a 29-nation coalition to repel Iraqi aggression in 1991.

What went wrong?

A: I think "donor fatigue" is the problem: Less readiness to pay the required dues and contributions to play the role demanded by post-Cold War problems.

Q: During Bob Dole's election campaign, the Republican candidate repeatedly accused President Clinton of risking U.S. global interests by surrendering U.S. sovereignty to the U.N. and kowtowing to Boutros-Ghali. And at the San Diego convention, Mr. Dole said that as commander-in-chief, he would never allow U.S. troops under U.N. command.

Do you understand what the brouhaha is all about?

A: It's a non-problem.

American military personnel assigned to Security Council-mandated missions have always been under the command of the president of the United States.

Any member state can withdraw any time it sees fit. When [the U.N. Protection Force] had the Bosnian assignment, British and French commanders made decisions based on what their national authority instructed.


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