Don't Cut Peacekeeping

EFFORTS to draw back United States participation in United Nations peacekeeping didn't begin with the House Republicans' National Security Revitalization Act.

Before such steps became part of the ``Contract With America,'' the Clinton administration already had put restrictions on American soldiers serving under UN command and advocated a cutback in the US share of the peacekeeping bill.

Republican legislation, passed in the House last Thursday and being considered in the Senate, simply adds thrust in a direction that raises serious doubts about the US role in a world stripped of cold-war certainties. Not long ago, there was a growing consensus that multilateral action had become more important than ever. Remember the intense UN coalition- building that preceded the Gulf war?

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Then came the loss of American lives in Somalia. Rethinking set in, as it should have. The US interest in any operation should be debated and clarified. But isn't there also a clear US interest in having an international organization capable of quelling conflict and thus lessening threats to world stability and commerce?

While UN peacekeeping has stumbled in Bosnia and Rwanda, it has succeeded in El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, and Cyprus. If, as the Republicans propose, the US reserves a right to figure its own peacekeeping bill and deduct expenses it sees as related to peacekeeping - whether or not they come under a UN mandate - what kind of a precedent does that set? Would Russia be able to submit a bill for future unilateral actions it might take to calm its neighborhood?

And if the determination to never have US soldiers serve under a foreign commander becomes diktat, what does that mean for the whole concept of a multilateral force? Can the most influential country simply opt out and expect everyone else to keep playing?

Backers of the legislation say it is not isolationist. They say the US will remain engaged with the world. But they are not making that job any easier by trying to dull a crucial tool for jointly handling conflict.

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