U.S. varies peacekeeping policy for a changing world

May 08, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Facing three military situations -- in Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti -- the Clinton administration has produced three different peacekeeping responses, from limited involvement to possible bankrolling to the threat of invasion.

Advocates of the policy say it is appropriately diverse to meet different situations and reflects the varying degrees of U.S. interest at stake. Critics say it smacks of impromptu policy management.

When President Clinton escalated his policy on Haiti's military dictators last week, from economic pressure to threats of military force, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas said a U.S. invasion of the Caribbean nation would be "a big mistake," and added: "It may just be the policy of the day for this government."

But Loren B. Thompson, of Georgetown University's National Security Studies Program, said: "The U.S. approach to peacekeeping is not only laudable, but it makes a good deal of sense. It is well-tailored to the world in which we find ourselves."

That world is one where the focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted from containing Soviet Communist expansionism to confronting regional conflicts that threaten international stability.

As Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, said: "These are particularly hard to come to grips with . . . because basically their origins are in political turmoil within those nations, and that political turmoil may not be susceptible to the efforts of the international community. This is a new era. We are all learning."

If foreign policy-making is changing radically, so is peacekeeping.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations undersecretary for peacekeeping operations, told Congress last week:

"The traditional peacekeeping operations had involved interstate conflicts. Recently, we've become more and more involved in war situations, because it is war situations, whether in Africa or in ex-Yugoslavia, and to some extent in the former Soviet republics, which is confronting the world with major flash points."

His point was echoed by Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said of Bosnia: "You know, we can't even figure out if it's a civil war or a national war, because it's both. This is a hybrid, a new hybrid situation."

The United Nations is involved in 18 international operations, nine of them in Africa. With demand for and costs of peacekeeping forces rising, the Clinton administration last week issued stricter guidelines to limit U.S. participation and funding.

"The reality is that we cannot often solve other people's problems," Mr. Lake said.

The new U.S. stance on peacekeeping has been shaped by bitter experiences in Somalia and Haiti. The slaying of 18 U.S. troops in Somalia in October, their bodies shown on television being dragged through dusty streets by a jeering crowd, was the first such setback.

"The experience of Somalia has made everybody extremely leery of intervention," said Marina Ottoway, an African affairs expert at Georgetown University.

The second came in Haiti in October, when a force of U.S. military trainers decided not to land after a small group of demonstrators assembled on the dock in Port-au-Prince. The Clinton administration said it had ordered the ship's withdrawal because the island's military dictatorship refused to guarantee the troops' safety while they helped prepare the local militia's transition to democracy.

But the retreat was widely portrayed as a case of a superpower being humiliated by a bunch of thugs on the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

President Clinton pointedly kept open the possibility of military intervention in Haiti.

After those two setbacks, a Gallup Poll found that the approval rating for Mr. Clinton's foreign policy management went into free fall, dropping to 31 percent, from 55 percent two months earlier.

Asked whether the U.S. experience in Somalia made them more or less willing to favor the use of U.S. troops in humanitarian efforts abroad, 43 percent said less willing.

Out of those experiences come the administration's latest policy decisions.

* On Bosnia, the administration has committed U.S. air power through NATO to guarding six "safe zones" around major urban areas and protecting U.N. troops on the ground.

But there has been confusion between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations over who can order in the planes. Nations with troops on the ground have been more reluctant than the United States to bomb. The United Nations has not been as willing as NATO to answer Serbian defiance of ultimatums with attacks.

'It is wrong'

The administration has ruled out sending U.S. ground troops to the former Yugoslavia until a peace accord takes hold, after which it is ready to commit up to 25,000 troops to a peacekeeping force.

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