Rep. Jim McGovern was horrified by the violence he witnessed in East Timor last year and thinks the United Nations needs an armed force to prevent anything like it from happening again.
"A lot of lives could have been saved" if the international body had troops at its disposal, the Massachusetts Democrat said.
Mr. McGovern, therefore, has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for a 6,000-man international military force that could step into dangerous situations and keep the peace at a moment's notice.
He dismisses any suggestion that this is the first step toward creating an international army. Congress last year passed a law saying that the United States would not pay its dues to the United Nations if it attempts to build a permanent military force.
"I know there are some people who are suspicious, paranoid, about the U.N.," Mr. McGovern said. "I think they have seen too many Oliver Stone movies; they think everything is a conspiracy."
But the leading congressional opponent of expanding U.N. power, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, seems unlikely to agree to Mr. McGovern's resolution.
"It's a slippery slope," said Marc Thiessen, spokesman for the North Carolina Republican. "Next, [the United Nations] will be saying they don't want to collect contributions from member nations, they want the power to tax. This isn't fantasy: It was suggested by the last secretary-general."
Whether it is called an "army," a "police force," or a "rapid deployment force," Mr. Helms opposes putting armed troops under permanent U.N. control, he said.
"There are basic trappings of sovereignty: the power to exact justice, the power to tax, the power to call up a military," Mr. Thiessen said. "These are powers the United Nations should never possess."
Some members of the House agree that any armed U.N. contingent smacks uncomfortably of an international army.
"It's only a matter of definition whether something is a military force or police force," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee.
U.N. officials have long suggested they need more power to carry out their peacekeeping missions. The recent fiasco in Sierra Leone, where rebels captured 500 U.N. peacekeepers, shook the organization.
"We have to rethink how we equip troops and prepare them for these operations," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the London Independent last week. "In that way, they will be able to depend on themselves and do what they have to do."
While Mr. Annan has not openly called for a permanent military force, "he thinks it's a really good idea," according to Rep. …