White House Support For a More Usable UN

THE vision of the United Nations founders may be a step closer to reality after President Clinton's approval last week of new United States policies to reform multinational peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. His action is a bold effort to design and sharpen new tools to keep peace and help the UN fulfill its promise as a guarantor of international security.

The most likely future security crises are not large wars like Desert Storm. The US must maintain its capability to deter or win large conflicts. But regional and ethnic disputes, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and humanitarian emergencies are our major security challenges. For these crises, multinational operations may be more appropriate. They can be conducted impartially and spread the burden more equally among all nations that benefit from less world conflict.

The US cannot and should not be the world's policeman in all these disputes. But Americans do want the US to participate in multinational peacekeeping and peace enforcement when the world deems it necessary. Multinational operations, if conducted effectively, are the best kind of burden-sharing; by reducing the demand on US military forces, they increase military participation by others.

The president's new policy provides clearer criteria for US support of UN peace operations, and terms for US participation. Of course, there is no simple, automatic equation. The president must choose among many crises demanding our attention and resources, weigh the level of US interests at risk and the cost of multinational action, and assess public and congressional support. But the new policy states explicitly that the president will also consider the political, economic, and humanitarian costs of not acting. The risk of leaving a small brush fire to burn and grow larger must be examined carefully before a multinational operation is rejected.

The Clinton policy also reaffirms that the US will not give up command of US military forces. In some limited and specified circumstances, temporary control of those forces may be transferred to a non-American commander. But the president will remain the commander in chief of every man and woman in our armed forces, as he should. The administration also will undertake new, extensive consultation procedures with Congress relative to US participation in these operations.

These policies on participation and command of US forces show that the Clinton administration is not pushing a massive expansion of UN peace operations or an abrogation of US leadership. The heart of the new policies promotes the kinds of reforms that will make the UN more usable, whether US forces participate or not.

Largely because of Bosnia and Somalia, public confidence in the UN's ability to conduct effective multinational operations has dropped. Under the Clinton policy, the US will lead efforts to make UN peace operations work more efficiently and effectively by supporting 11 initiatives to improve UN planning, logistics, and information, command, and control capabilities.

Many of these actions are already under way, with US military experts assisting UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright to bring the UN into the modern age. A few months ago the Pentagon helped establish the UN's first situation room so the Security Council could keep track of 70,000 peacekeepers deployed around the globe. US officials are helping to bring the UN accounting and management practices into the computer age.

By taking the lead to improve the UN, Mr. Clinton is making it more likely that, in time, the UN will have what it needs to be effective: a working military command structure, uniform tracking standards for national peacekeeping units, ready-to-go headquarters units for rapid initiation of an operation, quick availability of airlift, a high degree of integration, and the ability of forces from different nations to operate jointly. The administration is taking care to help an international security institution adapt and evolve, much as the president's ``Partnership for Peace'' program is helping NATO evolve.

The capability for the world to respond to aggression with collective force has long been a dream. President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations collapsed without this capability, so the UN founders put it in the charter. Now, after the cold war, such action may finally be possible, subject of course to the direction of the Security Council, where the US has not just a vote but a veto.

Even the best tools need skillful operators, and the UN will always require its members' political will to act effectively. But President Clinton's new policies on peace operations can at least give the UN the chance to meet its great promise, to save lives and establish peace. The US would not be a world policeman, but the world would have quicker access to multinational police forces when it collectively decides to use them, and that would be a historic legacy.

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