Hard Questions, Smudged Answers

September 28, 1993

President Clinton, in his address to the United Nations yesterday, said that before new peacekeeping missions are undertaken -- and Bosnia could well be the first -- some "harder questions" must be answered: "Is there a real threat to international peace? Does the proposed mission have clear objectives? Can an end point be identified for those who will be asked to participate? How much will the mission cost?"

Yet the president, in the same speech, asserted that "if the parties to that [Bosnian] conflict take the hard steps needed to make a real peace, the international community, including the United States, must be ready to help its effective implementation." He did not specifically reiterate his administration's past readiness to furnish up to 25,000 troops to a Bosnia peace mission, nor did he indicate how or when he proposed to have his "harder questions" answered.

So far, such questions have been fodder for domestic critics of both the current Somalia operation and the proposed peacekeeping effort in Bosnia. As if to placate them, Mr. Clinton declared: "The United Nations simply cannot become engaged in every one of the world's conflicts. If the American people are to say yes to U.N. peacekeeping, the United Nations must know when to say no."

Noting that the number of U.N. peacekeepers has grown from 10,000 to 80,000 in only six years, he said the world organization must have the "technical means" -- planning, intelligence, logistics -- to run a rapid-response military operation. He promised the U.S. would pay $400 million in arrears within a matter a weeks but insisted on a "fairer" funding formula to reduce U.S. financial obligations to a far-flung U.N. bureaucracy that needs the watch-dogging of an inspector general.

If it was Mr. Clinton's purpose to offer a vision of American foreign policy during his White House watch, what emerged was merely a broad-based sketch with significant smudges. He made predictable noises about protecting the global environment, described protectionism and isolationism as "poison" and suggested that those nations that cooperate in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons could count on U.S. technological and economic support. But even as he said the U.S. intends "to lead" in international affairs, he made a strong case that "domestic renewal" in industrial nations with weak economies is necessary if they are to expand "market democracy" around the world.

Mr. Clinton described himself as the first American president who was born after the founding of the United Nations. Just what shape the world organization will be in three or seven years hence will depend in large degree on whether he can shape a policy in which U.S. imperatives and world conditions are made roughly compatible.

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