5 APRIL 1963, Page 6

International Debt



S0 much has been said about the financial bankruptcy of the United Nations, and so much is being achieved despite the overdraft, that the world organisation seems to be living out that saying of Alexander Hamilton's: 'A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing.'

The difficulty is that this debt is international and it has become excessive; so much so that a vecial session of the United Nations General .Assembly has been called for May 14 to decide what shall be done about the crippling costs of the Congo operation, and the future possibilities for any other peace-keeping machinery. Days and nights of debate and accountancy have so far failed to produce any realistic solution, [wither has the twenty-one-nation working group started several weeks of closed-session conferences on January 29 in preparation for this General Assembly.

The working group's brief was to try and come up with a generally acceptable formula which will somehow pay the $10-million-a-month Congo bill, and reduce the international peace-keeping debt of more than $100,000,000 which has been mounting ever since the UN sent its first peace force to the Middle East at the time of Suez. The main proposal to come out of the group's meet- ings was from seven of the less wealthy nations (Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Arab Republic) who worked out a highly complicated system of assessments which could eventually put a greater financial burden on the five permanent members of the Security Council. Of these five the Soviet Union and France have refused to pay anything towards the Congo force, and Nationalist China is hopelessly in arrears, so this idea seems un- likely to get very far.

Up to now the United States has been paying the lion's share of the Congo bill-48 per cent. of it in cash, and up to an estimated 60 per cent. if free transport, medical and other services are also included. This year the US Government has stated that it will no longer contribute any more towards the total peace-keeping costs than the 32.02 per cent. which is its due, unless other nations make some effort to pay up their arrears. Peace-keeping dues are in addition to, but on the same scale as, the annual sum which every member State is assessed towards the regular UN budget. There have been few quarrels with these regular budget assessments—based upon population and national income—and there would be no trouble today if the separate accounts which were formed for UN forces in the Middle East and the Congo could have been assured of their funds in the same way. But some countries, such as France, have consistently re- fused to pay towards either of these peace-keep- ing operations. Most of the Soviet bloc countries contributed towards the Middle East Emergency Force, which still., has 5,100 men policing the Gaza strip, but have been firmly opposed to help- ing maintain the Congo force which currently stands at 19,500. Although this will be reduced during the next few months, it will be years, if Suez is any example, before the UN will be able to pull out completely. In the meantime there is virtually no hope of the UN being able to finance, another peace army if a new Congo or a new Suez happens anywhere else in the world.

There is a simple, legal solution to this prob- lem of the international debt. It is to apply the judgment of the World Court, which has already. been accepted by the UN General Assembly. The court has advised that member nations should be obliged to pay their share towards the peace-keeping operations, just as they are to- wards the UN's regular budget, and that if they become two full years in arrears they should lose their votes in the UN General Assembly.

In practice this would wreck the whole con- ception and structure of the United Nations. At the present rate of payments the first countries to lose their votes (because they are behind in their regular budget assessments as well as their Congo costs) would be several nations which are friendly to the West: Argentina, Bolivia, Nationalist China and Paraguay. Some time in 1964 the Soviet bloc countries would be added to the list, followed by the rest of the forty-eight nations which owe Congo payments—by which time the title 'United Nations' would have ceased to lose its meaning.

Some might say that this would be no great loss to the world. They could point to the fact that the UN has still failed to end the cold war, to guide the great powers into a disarmament agreement, or even to quiet what might be re- garded as a localised African conflict without in- curring a massive debt. But the achievements of the United Nations cannot be measured in this manner—for perhaps the greatest of them all is the very fact that there has continued to exist, on the grimy, windswept bank of New York's East River, a/ few blocks of international territory where the leading diplomats of opposing nations cart discuss their differences informally, on equal terms. An organisation which new nations hurry to join; where they can give of their enthusiasm in exchange for a growing understanding that there are other points of view than their own. The world has grown used to having a United Nations, and in this nuclear age its presence is akin to that of a police force in a large city: most of the time the populace do not even realise it is there but they would feel very vulnerable with- out it.

No doubt all this will be taken into con- sideration when delegates meet for the special session on Congo costs. It is hoped that some compromise solution may be reached but, if nothing else, the session should produce a fuller, final realisation that an international debt may be more of a blessing than the law ful alternative.