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The United Nations has never been a darling of congressional conservatives, something for which Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali has demonstrated a profound lack of understanding.

Faced with a financial crisis that could threaten the international organization's existence, he ignored calls for layoffs and budget-cuts and instead urged all member nations this week to pay their dues. To appease the United States, which is about $1.5 billion behind in its payments, he proposed cutting its share of the overall budget from more than 25 percent to between 15 percent and 20 percent.The British and French have demonstrated an equally poor understanding of the crisis. They proposed a plan that would charge interest to delinquent nations, tie dues to a nation's relative wealth and strip chronically deadbeat countries of their voting rights.

Given the reticence of many in the GOP-controlled Congress, these kinds of solutions could do little more than hasten the U.N.'s demise.

Some members of Congress view the U.N. as pushing toward a one-world government, growing larger and more bureaucratic as it attempts to sap the sovereignty of nations. Little can be done to placate people with this shortsighted, alarmist view. They would ignore U.N. attempts to solve conflicts and end human suffering, as well as the practical fact that the United States is the most powerful member nation and generally gets its way in U.N. matters, especially now that the Cold War is over.

But the rest might be more likely to support at least a partial payment of dues if Boutros Ghali were to call for greater austerity and a smaller bureaucracy. Like many of the federal programs Congress is dealing with in its current budget debate, the United Nations could stand some paring. It carries 54,000 people on its payroll worldwide.

What Congress likely won't support, however, is a business-as-usual approach. Nor would it support a punitive plan that, in essence, tells nations to pay up or else. The funding formula is a welcome adjustment, but it would diminish U.S. influence over the organization.

The U.N.'s chief financial officer is a bit more realistic. He has recommended the immediate layoffs of 1,000 employees. Natural forces may bring this about despite the secretary-general.

Already, the Department of Peace-Keeping Operations, which is trying to administer 16 separate blue-helmeted missions at the moment, has been told to avoid long-distance telephone calls and to expect a 15 percent layoff. Yet far-flung missions are difficult to administer without a few long-distance calls.

To succeed as a force for solving international concerns, the United Nations must have the voluntary and committed support of its members. That will come only as the people in those member nations feel it is fair, well-managed and kept within reasonable limits.

Boutros Ghali has proposed a special session later this year to deal with the debt crisis. He ought to use that occasion to introduce a firm plan for making the U.N. more austere and efficient. Otherwise, his chances of getting the United States to pay its dues and of pulling the world organization out of insolvency are slim.