WASHINGTON -- United Nations peacekeeping, a cornerstone of President Clinton's national security policy, is running into a buzz-saw of diplomatic, financial and political problems just as the United States prepares to deepen and institutionalize its commitment.
Somalian operations are increasingly trapped in an urban guerrilla quagmire that has created tension between U.N. commanders and nations contributing forces, including Italy and the wealthy Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Dissatisfaction is growing among remaining U.S. support troops.
In Bosnia, the organization's persistent inability to make good on the Security Council's promise to protect safe areas and to guarantee delivery of relief has forced the United States and NATO to threaten air strikes to prevent a further debacle of hunger and disease this winter.
Even a U.N. success story, the vast peacekeeping operation in Cambodia, has failed to end that nation's lengthy civil war. This week's new offensive by government troops and non-Communist guerrillas, with apparent U.N. backing, against the Khmer Rouge seemed to demonstrate as much.
Meanwhile, member states are falling ever more deeply in arrears on support payments as peacekeeping costs mount with 85,000 U.N. troops deployed worldwide. With the total peacekeeping tab climbing to $3.5 billion for this calendar year, the United Nations is now owed about $1.2 billion, causing nations that have contributed peacekeeping forces in the past to think twice about new commitments.
Of this debt, the United States owes more than 20 percent. By Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, it will owe $340 million, and at current spending rates the United States will fall $1 billion behind by the end of fiscal 1994, officials say.
"We're now figuring out how" to get the money from Congress, a senior administration official said yesterday. "It's a serious issue." Another called it "a major headache."
The financial crunch is just one manifestation of the painful transition from traditional passive "peacekeeping" to a more muscular "peacemaking" posture.
"Just when everybody was beginning to accept peacekeeping, it's time to do something else. They're going to have to develop techniques for something different, and they haven't got around to it yet," said Sir Brian Urquhart, a former U.N. undersecretary-general who is now at the Ford Foundation. So slow is the United Nations to react to crises that "it only tends to get in when it's too late to control them."
These developments form a gloomy and almost otherworldly backdrop to an anticipated major expansion of U.N. peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia and the Clinton administration's plans to put both peacekeeping and U.S. commitments to it on a sounder long-term footing.
Closer to decision
The prospect of a peace arrangement for Bosnia puts the United States closer to a decision on ground forces. The Clinton administration has repeatedly indicated that the United States would contribute troops to help implement an agreement reached in good faith by the warring Muslims, Serbs and Croats.
Neither the numbers, nor how forceful U.S. troops will be in pushing Serbian and Croatian forces out of territories granted to Muslims under the pact also would has been defined. The State Department declined last week to commit the United States firmly to ensuring a U.N. protectorate in Sarajevo even after the three parties agreed to it.
Efforts in Congress to oppose any U.S. troop deployment to the Balkans may gain strength because of dissatisfaction with the U.N.-mediated partition plan itself, congressional aides say.
Administration officials have resigned themselves to a pact that ratifies much of the Serbs' gains through aggression and "ethnic cleansing," and they hope that enough of a central Bosnian government will remain to allow for possible reconciliation later on.
In a campaign-style attack on the Clinton administration's foreign policy this week, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas predicted that such a settlement would hasten Serbian ethnic cleansing against Albanians in Kosovo.
"We cannot allow the principles of international law and order to be violated with impunity and watch silently as regional instabilities grow unchecked," Mr. Dole told the nation's governors Tuesday. "Nor can we put false hopes and high expectations into flawed institutions, especially the United Nations."
A senior administration official acknowledged last week the difficulty of getting Congress to approve a dispatch of ground forces to implement the accord but predicted that Capitol Hill would do so when faced with the alternative of large-scale Bosnian death this winter.
"You know what would be even more unpopular . . . is the alternative of how you get through winter with no agreement of any kind and a lot of people at risk and a [U.N.] structure that might not be able to cope with that," the official said.