`Blue Helmets' Deserve More US Help without Leadership from the US, UN Peacekeepers Will Find It Hard to Meet Nobel Prize Expectations in a World Marked by Civil and Ethnic Conflicts
Mark Sommer. Mark Sommer is a research associate in the Peace and Conflict Studies Program California, Berkeley., The Christian Science Monitor
JUST five years after winning the Nobel Prize for settling conflicts in Cambodia, Namibia, El Salvador, and elsewhere, United Nations peacekeeping is besieged and nearly bankrupt. While peacekeepers are being assigned to far more numerous, complex, and violent disputes than ever (20 in the past four years alone compared with 13 over the prior 40 years), they have been consistently denied the political support and financial and logistical resources necessary to fulfill their missions.
Instead, the perpetually over-strained and underfunded UN has become the disposal site for deadly quarrels that no individual nation has any interest in confronting.
In Rwanda's civil war, up to half a million people were slaughtered in just two months; but UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali pleaded in vain for an international response. Finally, France, largely on its own and with questionable neutrality, intervened at the margins of the conflict. At the same time, the French have warned that if a settlement is not soon reached in Bosnia, they may pull out their peacekeepers by year's end.
As the world's sole superpower and the UN's largest financial contributor, the United States is uniquely well situated to influence the policies of other nations on this issue. But the Clinton administration's actions in recent months have only further weakened international support for the beleaguered institution. Candidate Clinton made increased support for the UN a central tenet of his foreign-policy platform. He even proposed a standing rapid-deployment peacekeeping force. Once in office, however, his good intentions were soon thwarted.
Inheriting an unwise commitment made by President Bush just before leaving office, President Clinton endured an undignified exit from Somalia amid cries of derision from Somalis themselves. This political embarrassment gave opponents just the ammunition they needed to block future US commitments to UN forces.
In early May, Mr. Clinton issued a Presidential Decision Directive that effectively cedes the argument to his opponents. The document severely constrains the circumstances under which US personnel and financial resources will be committed to UN peacekeeping operations, setting conditions far more restrictive than those it generally imposes on its vastly larger, more hazardous, and more costly unilateral military interventions.
The directive puts the US on record firmly opposing any "standing UN army." With the ostensible aim of making US participation "selective and more effective," the administration now insists that all American involvement "advance US interests" (giving no acknowledgment to the larger human interest), that command of US forces never be transferred to UN control, and that the US share of peacekeeping expenses be reduced from its current 31.7 percent to 25 percent.
With a steadfastness that he sadly lacks on other issues, the president has refused to commit US forces to UN missions in Bosnia and Africa.
He also continues a shameful tradition, dating from the early Reagan era, that marks the US as the world's leading debtor for peacekeeping efforts. …