PARIS - The next U.S. president is unlikely to have much leeway to improve the sour relations between the United States and the United Nations. Ferociously anti-UN congressional Republicans have dominated that issue for many years, and congressional Democrats have seen no tangible advantage in defending the world organization.
Into this affair comes a fresh and unorthodox proposal from a former deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, William vanden Heuvel, now an investment banker and lawyer in New York.
Mr. vanden Heuvel thinks that the European Union should - and could - take the United Nations' crisis out of U.S. hands.
Speaking to the American Academy in Berlin in September, he said that the time has come to put an end to the ''increasingly destructive'' influence the United States is having on the United Nations.
Even though it sponsored the creation of the United Nations at the end of World War II, Washington is now estranged from the organization and has lost much of its past influence over both the General Assembly and the Security Council.
The election of a Republican Senate majority in 1994 made Senator Jesse Helms chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He regards the United Nations as an irrelevant bureaucracy that not only wastes money but also poses a threat to U.S. sovereignty. Many of his Republican congressional colleagues agree.
His influence was responsible for Washington's demand that it be given a veto over the UN budget. The United Nations accepted this. Washington demanded major budget and administrative reforms, and the United Nations again agreed. But after each UN concession, Congress imposed new conditions on U.S. payment of its dues.
Mr. vanden Heuvel says that the effect of these demands, coupled to nonpayment of America's obligations, has caused the UN agenda to become ''dominated by the nonpayment, the partial payment, the conditional payment of America's assessed dues.''
With no authority to borrow from external sources, the United Nations has been ''strangled by the cash-flow crunch that the American indebtedness had deliberately created.''
Mr. vanden Heuvel says Congress's ''assault on the United Nations is not to save money; the objective is to undermine the United Nations that its founders envisaged, to diminish it as an obstacle to American hegemony in international affairs, to make it marginal and irrelevant to the exercise of American power.''
Mr. vanden Heuvel's radical proposal is that the European Union break off this destructive stalemate. The EU, he says, should accept that no U.S. president or congressional majority is willing to defend the United Nations.
The Europeans, he says, should simply accept the U.S. demand that its membership and peacekeeping assessments be reduced, so as to remove the issue from debate. They should assume UN leadership by convincing other members as well to accept it.
He notes that Sweden, under Prime Minister Olof Palme, argued that no country should pay more than 15 percent of the UN's budget so that no single government would have a disproportionate influence. Washington vigorously opposed this idea at the time, recognizing that it would reduce American leverage.
Mr. vanden Heuvel would next have the EU take the lead on structural reform of the United Nations, moving to make Germany, Japan and India permanent members of the Security Council and to give permanent representation to Africa and Latin America.
He proposes new UN emphasis on providing assistance to disintegrating states - ''failed'' or failing states - by reviving one of the fundamental charter organs of the United Nations, the Trusteeship Council, which lost its function when the last trust territory became independent in 1994.
The European Union, he argues, could fill the existing vacuum of UN leadership with positive action on this new form of trusteeship and in urgent reform of UN peacekeeping.
The Europeans could impose such reforms, he argues, by blocking the Security Council from ordering UN missions without providing the resources to carry them out - a pernicious past practice that has been the greatest obstacle to effective peacekeeping.
There is undoubted irony in a former U.S. official's proposing that Europe take domination of the United Nations away from the United States, but the situation invites unorthodoxy.
Copyright 2000 IHT