Peacekeeping is costly is travel tax the answer? U.S. seeks new ways to aid U.N.

July 16, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Brace yourselves, international travelers, overseas speed-dialers and arms-sellers. You may one day be hit with a "peacekeeping" tax.

Levying a tax or user fee on certain types of international commerce is one of a number of ideas generated to help the United Nations pay for its ever-expanding and perpetually hand-to-mouth peacekeeping operations around the globe.

Another, perhaps more far-fetched, is to persuade corporations to become sponsors of peacekeeping operations.

The United States hasn't endorsed these proposals. But a classified report being prepared for President Clinton urges at least that their feasibility be explored as a way of putting U.N. peacekeeping on a sounder financial footing, according to officials familiar with its contents.

"The point is, it's clear that the current method of peacekeeping financing is not working and that imaginative ways need to be brought to bear" to improve it, says a senior U.S. official.

The proposal that these and other ideas be explored is contained in the latest, and possibly final, draft of a document called Presidential Review Directive 13, which officials say will soon be delivered to Mr. Clinton.

The study is one of a series of broad reviews of U.S. foreign and national security policy that Mr. Clinton ordered after he took office. The reviews are being prepared with help from a number of U.S. government agencies, including the State and Defense departments, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council staff.

Building on an expanded U.S. commitment to U.N. peacekeeping begun by President George Bush, the report addresses financing, the U.S. military contribution and intelligence-sharing, among other aspects.

The need for more reliable sources of money, troops and equipment for U.N. peacekeeping operations is increasingly evident in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, among other places, where often ill-equipped soldiers with disparate levels of training have been assembled on an ad hoc basis.

In Somalia, this arrangement has produced obvious problems of command and control, with Italian troops at times flatly ignoring U.N. commanders' orders and troops from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait clearing orders with their own capitals before following them, according to U.N. officials.

In Bosnia, the United Nations has been scrambling to assemble the minimum number of troops needed to protect "safe areas" designated by the Security Council and has been unable to prevent the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, from turning into a humanitarian nightmare.

A study led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker and former Japanese Finance Minister Shijuro Ogata warned in February that "the international community should be prepared to accept significantly increased peacekeeping costs in the next few years." It recommended creating a peacekeeping reserve fund of $400 million, financed by three annual assessments from member governments, and urges governments to tap their defense budgets.

The Volcker-Ogata study specifically discouraged levies on airline traffic, shipping and arms sales, saying existing methods of financing are preferable to "new and inevitably controversial measures."

But air traffic and shipping "have a stake in the maintenance of international peace," the report said.

A U.S. official said arguments raised against such levies include collection problems and the larger issue of giving the United Nations a taxing authority that it does not now have.

"The traveling publics would not be very happy," this official added.

But he went on: "I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. We will give it a fair hearing."

Other suggestions that the report urges be studied include increased voluntary contributions from member governments, and collecting a "peace dividend" from countries that benefit from peacekeeping operations.

As for corporate sponsorship, much as in sporting events, a senior U.S. official chuckled: "This one is very much in the formative stage."

The report being prepared for Mr. Clinton also recommends a study of the feasibility of turning a U.S. base over to the United Nations in turn-key condition, with these costs to be deducted from sums this country owes the United Nations, and increased information-sharing that would not compromise sources and methods used by U.S. intelligence agencies.

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