U.S. troops may get foreign officers Clinton weighs policy change in expanded U.N. role

August 18, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Shifting away from the long-standing tradition of U.S. commanders for U.S. troops, the Clinton administration is considering an expanded role in United Nations peacekeeping operations that would include having Americans serve under foreign commanders on a regular basis.

Administration officials say a presidential policy directive to allow for such an expansion of the U.S. role has been drafted and is expected to be signed by President Clinton next month. It has the backing of the Defense Department, the State Department, the National Security Council and Madeleine K. Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has only detailed individual officers as monitors for U.N. peacekeeping efforts, or has generally provided air and sea transport for such operations.

Before the U.N. operation in Somalia, the United States has only once placed a U.S. military unit under direct U.N. command -- a small air transport unit in Western New Guinea in 1962, according to William J. Durch, author of "The Evolution of U.N. Peacekeeping."

But U.S. troops fought under foreign commanders in both world wars. American forces also served in Korea as part of a U.N. operation, but their commanders were American.

"If we were asked to contribute an engineering unit that nobody else had, we would do it," a State Department official familiar with the directive said of the present policy. "But if we were asked to contribute an infantry unit, we would say, there are plenty of others who can contribute infantry units."

The directive goes beyond the Bush administration's acceptance of a multilateral approach to regional conflicts, the officials said, and reflects a belief that military responsibilities must be shared in the post-Cold War world.

The tradition of U.S. command was first dented when the United Nations took over the Somalia operation from the United States in May. But even that precedent is limited since the top U.N. official there is a retired U.S. Navy admiral.

And the 1,300 combat troops in the Quick Reaction Force, which carried out the assaults against warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid and his supporters, remain under the command of U.S. officers.

And the various proposals for Western military intervention in Bosnia have all called for the action to be undertaken under the command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, not the U.N.

The administration proposal falls far short of what some, including U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, would like to see the United States do. Last year, Mr. Boutros-Ghali asked U.N. members to provide up to 1,000 troops each to be part of a standing army to be used to deter aggression.

In an interview, Ms. Albright said of the idea of a standing force, "I see it as way, way down the line. I think there are genuine questions at the moment about the U.N. having its own anything."

She stressed that the primary mission of these troops would be the service of their particular country, and that participating in U.N. operations would be secondary.

Even so, aware of the difficulty of selling the new directive to Congress and reluctant military officers, the administration is strongly considering allowing heads of U.S. military units to ignore or disregard orders from U.N. commanders that they consider to be illegal or militarily questionable.

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