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Unvanquished: A U.S.-U.N. Saga
By Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Random House, NY, 1999, 352 pp

Book review by Tom Gallagher

Z Magazine, March 2000

 

Some will remember that before serving as spokesperson for the victims of erectile dysfunction, Senator Robert Dole was the 1996 Republican nominee for the United States presidency. The election years for the four year term of the presidency and the five year UN Secretary General’s term coincide only every 20 years. Unfortunately for Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1996 was one of those years, and as the former Egyptian Foreign Secretary sees it, the coincidence led directly to his becoming the first Secretary General denied a second five year term.

Bob Dole, you see, didn’t care for Boutros-Ghali. In his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, he announced that under his presidency, “our armed forces will know that the president is their commander-in-chief—not Boutros Boutros-Ghali or any other U.N. Secretary General.�? And, oh yes, whenever Dole pronounced his name he did it mockingly—Boo-trus, Boo-trus.

As we well know, when the Republicans have strong feelings against something, President Clinton usually will find that he doesn’t care for it all that much either. As Boutros-Ghali sees it, eventually “the White House was competing with the Republicans to see who was more anti-UN.�? By that logic, Boutros-Ghali ultimately had to go; his bid for a second term failed in the Security Council on a vote of fourteen in favor to one against, the one being the American veto.

Unvanquished is Boutros- Ghali’s attempt to convey the gulf he sees between “The world outside the United States (that) saw a solid record of UN accomplishment,�? and inside, where “the United Nations was called an inefficient and bloated bureaucracy and—laughable though this was—a danger to American sovereignty.�?

As the first post-Cold War Secretary General he presided over a United Nations with greatly expanded responsibilities: when he left, the UN had 70,000 peacekeeping troops—5 times the number when he started—stationed in 17 nations around the world. However, only 67 out of 159 member nations were paying their full dues; the rest were a combined $848 million in arrears for the regular operating budget (the U.S. alone accounted for $517 million of this deficit), and owed another $1.2 billion for the cost of peacekeeping missions.

As a result, he was forced to sound the alarm that the UN might not be able to continue operations and to suggest independent funding sources, including a levy on arms transfers, interest charges on unpaid assessments, and “payment of UN peacekeeping assessments out of national defense budgets, which would illustrate how small were the costs of UN peacekeeping in comparison with the huge military outlays of the major powers.�? The program did not go over well in the U.S. His proposed tax on international air tickets “was denounced in the Senate as an attempt to impose taxes on American citizens in defiance of the U.S. Constitution.�?

Boutros-Ghali did sometimes make things more difficult for himself. He acknowledges that he has “never been known for downplaying my abilities,�? and is “not the easiest person to deal with,�? and he did give the appearance of monumental insensitivity when he told the residents of besieged Sarajevo that they had “a situation that is better than ten other places in the world ... I can give you a list.�? He insists that he meant only that Bosnian Muslims should be encouraged by the worldwide concern over their fate, in contrast to numerous other conflicts in which the outer world displayed little interest.

As the first UN Secretary-General from Africa, Boutros-Ghali was particularly disturbed with the world’s declining attention to that continent, home to many of the world’s “orphan conflicts.�? His problems in dealing with the U.S. were epitomized by events in Somalia, where the U.S. raid in South Mogadishu was famously unsuccessful. Eighteen U.S. soldiers, one Malaysian soldier, and “by later press investigations, as many as a thousand Africans�? were killed in “an operation planned, decided, and launched entirely without the knowledge of United Nations officials.�? But the U.S. failure would be blamed on the UN, with what The Economist called, “a chutzpah level high even by American standards.�?

Boutros-Ghali’s belief that “The UN can only do what the U.S. lets it do,�? seems to be supported by the experience of the Yugoslavian war crimes tribunal—the first “authorized not by a country victorious in war, but by the international community as a whole.�? The tribunal’s investigators have reported that although the U.S. has been a major supporter of the effort, it has failed to provide evidence requested of it regarding possible war crimes committed against Serb civilians during “Operation Storm.�? This non-cooperation presumably stems from the fact that this military campaign, conducted by the Croatian army shortly before the Dayton Peace Agreement, was carried on with Washington’s tacit support. The U.S. has also opposed the creation of a permanent war crimes court, out of fear of its potential for manipulation by countries hostile to it.

Of course, the Middle East was a major source of difficulties for Boutros-Ghali, as it has been for every Secretary General. He was accused of “treason against the Muslim world,.... But in American political circles I was assumed to be biased against Israel and against the United States in general.�? His report on the Israeli shelling of a UN observation post at Qana, in southern Lebanon, six months before the end of his term likely eliminated what slim reelection possibilities he might still have had. The action killed 100 civilians who had taken refuge there. The report concluded that it was “unlikely that the shelling was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors,�? outraging Israel, and the U.S.

As The Economist saw it, “Boutros-Ghali is the most effective head of the United Nations in history, and the Americans hate him for it.�? In her campaign to defeat his re-election bid, Madeline Albright asked Polish diplomats, “Who would you rather have as your friend—Bill Clinton or Boutros-Ghali?�?

Boutros-Ghali’s final conclusion is that “the United States sees little need for diplomacy; power is enough.�?

 

Tom Gallagher is a freelance writer living in California, and a long-time activist.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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