Peacekeeping's Price

PRESIDENT Bush offered some welcome words in support of United Nations peacekeeping this week. Addressing delegates gathered for the opening of the 47th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Mr. Bush said the United States was ready to contribute training facilities and logistical help as needed. He even made a vague pledge of greater American financial backing for peacekeeping.

That pledge no doubt drew some wry smiles at the UN, since Washington is currently $733 million in arrears in its dues to the world organization. The administration and Congress have worked out a five-year program for paying off that bill, but the UN faces a financial crisis right now.

Peacekeeping costs have zoomed, with huge undertakings such as the reconstruction of Cambodia, as well as unforeseen emergencies like Yugoslavia and now Somalia. As the demand for UN intervention has grown since the end of the cold war, the organization's books have taken a beating. The UN's second-largest debtor, and its biggest deadbeat when it comes to peacekeeping operations, is Russia. But Russia is in no shape to pay off its $420 million tab anytime soon.

The US, despite a tight budget, will have to come up with emergency funding for peacekeeping, as will other wealthy nations. Congress is considering a contingency fund for peacekeeping, and the administration has requested $700 million for it.

Such requests, however, always have a tough time in Congress. Lawmakers find it relatively easy to slice off "foreign aid," a category which currently includes contributions to peacekeeping.

UN Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, in setting forth a plan for enhanced peacekeeping earlier this year, suggested that all countries consider peacekeeping contributions part of their defense outlays, not "aid."

That's a solid suggestion. It would not only deter some budget cutters, but it would also show a practical commitment to a genuine new world order.

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