United States Policy on United Nations Peacekeeping

By Bolton, John R. | World Affairs, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview
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United States Policy on United Nations Peacekeeping

Bolton, John R., World Affairs


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I wish to thank you for inviting me to testify before you this morning on United States policy toward United Nations peacekeeping operations, and how decision making by the present Administration conforms to its own announced standards in several specific contexts. I have a prepared statement that I ask be included in the record, and that I will summarize, and I would then be pleased to answer any questions the Committee might have.


President Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 25 ("PDD 25") for "U.S. Policy on Reforming Multilateral Peace Operations" on May 3, 1994. Unclassified versions of PDD 25, which had been under discussion within the Administration from its outset, were released subsequently.(1) I understand that the General Accounting Office has conducted an evaluation of the Administration's compliance with PDD as written, and I will not attempt to duplicate that here. Instead, I will examine briefly some of the flaws inherent in PDD-25 as written, and as are currently being demonstrated even as we meet here this morning in a number of ongoing or contemplated UN operations. This is obviously a complex subject, which we can analyze only summarily today, but the Committee's continuing interest in this subject is extremely important and worthwhile.(2)

The central deficiency of PDD-25 is that it really provides no policy guidance at all. Despite rhetorical gestures in the direction of limiting and rigorously analyzing proposed peacekeeping operations, loose language throughout the document permits justification of nearly anything the Administration ultimately decides to do. As a former official in the Executive Branch, I strongly support flexibility in Presidential decision-making, but I also believe that when the President purports to announce a policy decision, it should be a real decision, and he should mean it. I do not believe that PDD-25 meets these minimal standards.

The White House press announcement on PDD 25 says that "peace operations can be a useful element in serving America's interests," and that PDD-25 is intended "to ensure that use of such operations is selective and more effective."(3) President Clinton and other Administration officials have made similar remarks about "selectivity" on several occasions. For example, the President said to the UN General Assembly in September, 1999: "I know that some are troubled that the United States and others cannot respond to every humanitarian catastrophe in the world. We cannot do everything everywhere." Just before her trip to Sierra Leone in October, 1999, Secretary of State Albright said: "We have to resist the temptation to use our forces in every dispute that catches our eye or our emotions."(4)

The State Department version of PDD-25 seems to track these objectives when it says that "peacekeeping can be one useful tool to help prevent and resolve [regional] conflicts before they pose direct threats to our national security."(5) However, it then immediately adds that "peacekeeping can also serve U.S. interests by promoting democracy, regional security and economic growth." This is the critical sentence that has, in the actual unfolding of Administration policy, made the rest of PDD-25 essentially superfluous. The real issue for top decision-makers is not what a proposed policy might do, but what it will do in concrete cases presented to them for resolution. By turning from "direct threats to national security" to generalities and abstractions, however desirable they are, PDD-25 deserts the world of policymaking for the world of philosophy. While of philosophical interest, at least for some, it should come as no surprise that PDD-25 seems to be typically ignored by those whose decisions it purportedly constrains and directs.

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