Clinton warns U.N. to limit peacekeeping President vows to pay debts but wants changes

September 28, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- President Clinton, chafing at growing political, military and financial burdens posed by post-Cold War chaos, bluntly warned the United Nations yesterday to limit its intervention around the world or risk losing U.S. support.

"The United Nations simply cannot become engaged in every one of the world's conflicts," Mr. Clinton said in his maiden speech to an annual session of the U.N. General Assembly.

"If the American people are to say yes to U.N. peacekeeping, the United Nations must know when to say no," he said.

His message reflects a transformation in the young Clinton administration's attitude toward the world body.

For officials who once held an almost euphoric view of the organization's potential for peacemaking at limited cost in lives and money to the United States, the deepening quagmire of Somalia has proved to be a harsh reality.

After 11 American deaths and 67 injuries and with congressional and public opposition growing, U.S. officials are searching for ways to ease the United States out of Somalia without undermining the gains made in stabilizing the country and feeding its once-starving population.

Administration officials told the New York Times the United States has moved away from the goal of capturing the faction leader Mohamed Farrah Aidid and is focusing instead on isolating him and creating a political structure without him.

With more than 80,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops worldwide, the U.N. Security Council may soon authorize the world's biggest -- and potentially riskiest -- peacekeeping effort ever if warring Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslins agree to an enforceable settlement.

U.S. officials also disclosed the deployment starting this week of up to 600 military construction and civil affairs specialists to Haiti, where new Prime Minister Robert Malval is struggling to rescue the nation from a military dictatorship.

Mr. Clinton demanded a more hard-headed approach to new peacekeeping proposals, saying that before the Security Council commits itself, it should ask: Is there a real threat to international peace? Does the mission have clear objectives? Can an end point be identified for those who participate? And how much will the mission cost?

He outlined a series of ways U.N. peacekeeping should be streamlined and made more professional, including having a planning staff, access to timely intelligence, a logistics unit that can be quickly deployed and an operations center with global communications.

The president, while vowing to pay off the $400 million in arrears the United States owes for U.N. peacekeeping, also demanded a reduction in the 30.4 percent U.S. assessment to reflect the nation's declining share of the world economic pie.

"That will make it easier for me as president to make sure we pay in a timely and full fashion," Mr. Clinton said. The president also urged the United Nations to adopt such additional reforms as appointing a strong inspector general in the face of mounting evidence of waste, ineptitude and some corruption in the organization's worldwide operations.

Mr. Clinton's call for limits on U.N. peacekeeping seemed aimed in part at assuring Americans and congressional critics that the looming deployment of up to 25,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia won't be just one of a series of open-ended and perilous U.S. commitments abroad.

The president reiterated his pledge to join in a Bosnian peacekeeping effort yesterday but without specifics and with a caveat.

'Take the hard steps'

"If the parties of that conflict take the hard steps needed to make a real peace, the international community, including the United States, must be ready to help in its effective implementation," he said.

How to make the Bosnian mission fit the strict new criteria Mr. Clinton laid out for peacekeeping efforts is problematic, particularly the idea of an exit strategy.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe agreed on the need to set a time limit on the mission. But in a breakfast with reporters, he predicted that peacekeeping troops would remain there for up to three years.

He also warned that the whole effort "will not work" without the presence of U.S. ground forces.

Mr. Clinton, the first U.S. president born after the founding of the United Nations, coupled his downbeat look at U.N. peacekeeping with a promise that the United States would retain a leading role in the world as "a fulcrum for change and a pivot point for peace."

Outlining his vision of enlarging the circle of free-market democracies, first broached by National Security Adviser Anthony Lake last week, he said the United States would "patiently and firmly align ourselves with that yearning."

Describing key global threats, the president said he had made efforts to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction "one )) of our nation's highest priorities" and outlined a series of plans from a recently completed government-wide policy review:

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