Clinton Wants the U.N. Beefed Up — or Does He?

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It’s not that President Clinton doesn’t wantto be a team player; it’s just that Washington has a hard time playing well with others. The President Tuesday urged the United Nations to play a greater role in intervening to avoid humanitarian catastrophes on the order of Kosovo and East Timor. But exactly what role he envisages for the international body is far from clear. The U.S. has been criticized for bypassing the U.N. on interventions such as Kosovo, while Washington counters that the international body at times drags its feet as catastrophes unfold. "While everyone in the U.N. is debating how to restructure the organization to respond more rapidly and effectively to international crises, the U.S. hasn’t shown clearly whether it's committed to acting as part of a community or whether it prefers to cut its own deals," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "Acting in concert with others requires a willingness to listen to different ideas on how a problem might be solved, but there’s a perception in the U.N. that Washington will sidestep the international body when it can’t get its own way."

The President's pontifications came as a presidential commission into national security released gloomy findings Monday on the growing series of threats from abroad that may harm — and kill — Americans at home in the next century. "The U.S. needs a strong and effective United Nations to deal with problems such as terrorism," says Dowell. Even Kosovo couldn’t be resolved without bringing it back to the U.N. Paying its outstanding $1 billion dues backlog to the U.N. –- which President Clinton promised Tuesday to press for –- may help the U.S. reclaim its natural leadership role in the organization, but it won’t be enough. If the U.N. is to be effective in dealing with the multiple international dangers of the next century, Washington will have to invest some political capital, too.