People from around the world will gather in San Francisco this month to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter. Over the decades, the United Nations has played a central role in a host of indispensable functions, including alleviating hunger and disease, peacekeeping, and searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Yet all those who understand the importance of the United Nations to the world ought to temper their appreciation with increasing concern about the many serious problems that threaten the organization's ability to carry out its mission.

Corruption is rampant, as evidenced by the billions diverted from the oil-for-food program involving Saddam Hussein's Iraq. U.N. peacekeepers have sexually abused children in Bosnia, Congo, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. A culture of concealment makes rudimentary financial oversight virtually impossible. A casual attitude toward conflict-of-interest rules undermines trust in the organization's basic governance.

Today the House will vote on a comprehensive U.N. reform package developed over the past year to address these and other serious failings. Unfortunately, it will vote largely along party lines.

This reflexive opposition from Democrats is especially regrettable in that virtually all the reforms specified in the legislation are applauded by critics as sensible and necessary. These include a code of conduct for peacekeepers, an independent auditing agent, a rationalization of the budget that eliminates duplicative and obsolete priorities, a strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and tougher criteria for serving on U.N. human rights bodies to prevent regimes such as Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe from perverting the panels' function and purpose.

All observers, including the United Nations itself, acknowledge the need for these and other wide-ranging reforms, and many proposals have been put forward. The key difference is that our bill contains an enforcement mechanism, namely making the U.S. contribution to the U.N. budget contingent upon reforms being put in place. The competing proposals have no such provision, relying on passive devices such as admonition and exhortation to persuade a creaking and entrenched bureaucracy to institute profound reforms.

History shows us that when Congress uses the power of the purse, the United Nations acts. If the United Nations fails to make these reforms by 2007, the United States will withhold 50 percent of its assessed dues.

None of the reforms we propose are unreasonable. Those of us who believe that the United Nations can yet reclaim its mission and assume the role hoped for by its visionary founders have no choice but to take up this task of reform.


U.S. Representative (R-Ill.)


The writer chairs the House International Relations Committee.