The Price of 'Peace Operations'

November 29, 1994|By JEANE KIRKPATRICK

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- For more than a year Republican members of the Congress (and a few Democrats) have been worrying about the impact on American military readiness of deep cuts in the Pentagon budget, of downsizing military forces, and of new, non-traditional missions such as peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and nation-building.

These worries intensified as times passed and military failures multiplied. They were expressed in comments by Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz.,: ''It is difficult to ignore the parallels between Eagle Claw [the Carter Administration's failed attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran] and the nation-building fiasco in Somalia, the dispatch and subsequent recall of USS Harlan County in Haiti, the tacit approval of the U.N. plans for ill-advised and ineffectual use of force in Bosnia, the UH-60 shoot-down in Iraq, the inability to influence events in Korea.''

The Clinton administration's response to these worries was quite simply to deny that there was a problem. They saw no ''hollow forces,'' no growing incapacities. Republicans were told that their worries about unmet training and maintenance schedules, over-deployment of forces, declining recruitment standards and ''cannibalization'' were groundless. A month ago Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch assured Republicans on the House Committee on Armed Services that force ''preparedness'' was better than it had been at the outset of Desert Storm.

That was before the elections.

The other day Secretary of Defense William J. Perry wrote to committee Republicans that, as a matter of fact, there is a readiness problem. As a matter of fact, three of the Army's 12 divisions and at least two of its important rapid-deployment units are no longer combat-ready. Mr. Perry estimated that it would be mid-1995 before their deficiencies could be corrected.

The new chairman-to-be of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, Floyd Spence, R-S.C., has an even longer list of deficiencies to review with secretaries Perry and Deutch. He is not the only one.

Chairman-to-be of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., signaled that not only is he interested in readiness, he also has a special interest in expenditures on ''non-traditional'' activities like peacekeeping in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia -- in which the Clinton administration has a great interest.

Mr. Thurmond has already made clear that he is interested in a real accounting of all monies expended by the U.S. government on these operations, whether in support of U.N. forces, or of U.S. forces, or of humanitarian assistance, or of training, or of U.N. headquarters operations, or vehicles and other material, or what.

Republican senators already know that the true cost of ''peace operations'' is likely to be several times the figure found under the rubric of peacekeeping in the budgets of the Defense and State departments. No information on total costs has ever been provided or discussed.

It should be, and the more so because these ''peace operations'' have no record of success. Neither the costs nor the consequences of the Somalia or Bosnia operations have ever been fully discussed. Neither have the cost and consequences of other major ''peace operations.''

Yet these are conducted under new policies invented by the Clinton administration and the U.N. Secretariat. Only when we know more about what has and has not been achieved through those operations will it begin to be possible to make reasonable judgments about their success and cost effectiveness.

The new speaker and his colleagues would be well advised to defer their consideration of legislative action on U.N. matters until more complete information is in hand.

Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

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