November 10, 1999



November 10, 1999

As we prepare to enter a new century, we are faced with this grim reality: The 20th century has been the bloodiest in history. And as we enter the 21st, sinister forces still operate to tear us apart.

Rather than celebrating our common humanity, some leaders, greedy for power, exploit ethnic, racial and religious conflicts for their own aggrandizement. Women, enjoying newfound freedom in many countries, watch as their sisters in Afghanistan are held virtual prisoners in their own homes. And terrorist fanatics, lacking restraint and armed with deadly weapons of mass destruction, threaten the safety of each and every one of us.

For all the progress we've witnessed in our own lifetimes, especially in medicine and technology, 1.3 billion of the world's citizens still live on less than a dollar a day. Millions have no access to safe water. A schoolchild in South Asia is 700 times less likely to use the Internet than an American child. And 40 million still die of hunger every year.

In this country, we have the luxury of preparing for the challenges of the new century at a time of unparalleled economic strength, a time when our economy is the engine of global growth. Our power in the world community is unrivaled, and as we strive to eradicate disease and poverty, prevent the killing and dislocation of innocents, and control the spread of weapons of mass destruction, other nations look to us for leadership.

Just as we cannot and should not act as the world's policemen, inserting ourselves into every conflict around the world, paying the costs and assuming the risks, so must we not shrink from our responsibilities. It is time to face one of those responsibilities right now. It is time to pay what we owe to the United Nations.

The United Nations, which we were instrumental in creating after World War II, is a place where nations seek to resolve differences with words instead of weapons. What too many in Congress apparently fail to comprehend is that paying our U.N. debt is not only a legal and moral obligation, it is an opportunity. For the United Nations offers one of the chief venues for mobilizing the support of other nations behind key goals important to our own national security interests -- from keeping the world on a stable path to democracy, to peacekeeping, immunizing children, caring for refugees, and combating the spread of deadly weapons.

Since its creation in 1945, the United Nations has negotiated 172 peaceful settlements and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. In addition, it has helped to bring about an end to the Iran-Iraq war and the civil war in El Salvador. U.N. peacekeepers have helped to uphold cease-fires, conduct free and fair elections, monitor troop withdrawals, deter violence, create free countries, and contribute to political stability.

In two areas of particular interest to our own national security -- controlling terrorism and minimizing the spread of weapons of mass destruction -- the United Nations has assumed a leadership role. In October, the United Nations passed a resolution sanctioning the Taliban in Afghanistan until they turn over terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, whose operatives bombed our embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, killing hundreds of innocent American and African citizens. The United Nations has delivered for trial the suspects in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing. And nine years ago, the United Nations ordered the sanctions on Iraq, denying Saddam Hussein the resources to rebuild his military and make and maintain vast quantities of weapons.

On other fronts, a 13-year effort by the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, has succeeded in eradicating smallpox, helped to wipe out polio from the Western Hemisphere, boosted immunizations from 5 percent to 80 percent in developing countries, and provided famine relief to millions. In 1997, 22 million refugees received food, shelter, medical aid, education and repatriation assistance from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The United Nations leads efforts to protect the ozone layer, curb global warming, limit deforestation, and provide safe drinking water to 1.3 billion people in rural areas. And U.N. programs have helped to promote education and the advancement of women, raising literacy rates in developing countries.

Failure to pay what we owe not only threatens and impedes these vital programs, it erodes our authority and may also lead, at the end of this year, to the ignominious and embarrassing loss of our voting privileges in the General Assembly. In addition, it impedes our ability to press other countries on much-needed organizational reforms, or gain their support on other critical issues.

Although the United States is the largest contributor to the United Nations, it is also the largest debtor, owing more than $1 billion in arrears. It is time for Congress to pay the bill. Our security and status in the world, as well as the security and status of our children and grandchildren, depend on it.

To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at


Talking It Over: 1999

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