Just by deciding this week to seek a second term as secretary general of the United Nations despite his promise not to and despite Washington's threat to veto the move, Boutros Boutros-Ghali has demonstrated he lacks the judgment needed for the job.
But then that should have been apparent long ago. Among other problems, he sees the world organization as the answer to far too many international woes, pushes the U.N. toward involvement until it stumbles into holes it cannot easily get out of and has no evident talent for tough-minded, effective management.From the very outset of his current five-year term, Boutros-Ghali promised to make the U.N. less bureaucratic and more efficient. Though some progress has been made, there's still a long way to go. U.N. employees routinely get raises and promotions regardless of how good or poor a job they do. The U.N. maintains two separate agencies to help women even though the programs duplicate each other. Despite the failure of communism, the U.N. Industrial Development Organization keeps promoting growth in planned economies.
Early on, Boutros-Ghali warned that the end of the Cold War could result in overloading the U.N. with too many peacekeeping assignments for which it was poorly prepared. Yet he let and even helped precisely that happen, as did various member-nations of the world organization.
Faced with a continuing financial crisis that could bankrupt the U.N., Boutros-Ghali has ignored calls for personnel cuts and budget reductions. Knowing that the United States and other governments repeatedly refuse to pay their full U.N. dues, he persistently prods the world organization to start imposing taxes on international shipments of oil and natural gas plus various other global transactions. Never mind that such a course could eventually turn the U.N. into a world government that could impose its decisions in violation of the sovereignty of its member-nations and maybe non-members, too.
The U.N. can serve a useful role by arbitrating disputes among nations and monitoring whether agreements are kept. But when the organization wastes large piles of money through bureaucratic featherbedding and engages in matters beyond its competence and power, it loses the public and governmental confidence it needs to be effective.
Instead of resorting to taxation and coercion, the U.N. should seek the voluntary commitment and support that can come only when people around the global feel the world organization is fair, well-managed and kept within reasonable limits. Boutros-Ghali has not produced on this score.
There is no shortage of potential candidates to succeed him. Among them are Sadako Ogata, a Japanese professor who is U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; Kofio Annan, a Ghanaian undersecretary general in charge of peacekeeping; Bro Harlem Brundtland, prime minister of Norway; Mary Robinson, president of Ireland; and Jayantha Dhanapala, the Sri Lankan ambassador to Washington.
The handwriting on the wall should be plain enough for Boutros-Ghali to read: The 73-year-old Egyptian diplomat should leave when his term expires at the end of this year and let someone else try.