U.S. must affirm its commitment to peacekeeping

July 18, 2002|By Derek Chollet

WASHINGTON -- The recent showdown between the United States and the rest of the United Nations Security Council over the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia was a setback not just for those who care about Bosnia or believe in strengthening international law.

Rather, the brinkmanship added a new layer of tension between the United States and key allies such as Britain, France and Canada. It lent credibility to those around the world who worry about U.S. arrogance and unilateralism. And it threw into question a much more fundamental issue: whether the Bush administration is willing to participate in peacekeeping -- not just in Bosnia, but anywhere.

The United States threatened to end the Bosnia mission unless the Security Council granted Americans blanket immunity from the new International Criminal Court.

Not that the administration's concerns about the ICC were entirely illegitimate. There should be guarantees that those Americans participating in any peacekeeping effort will be insulated from "political" charges being levied against them by vindictive prosecutors.

In fact, although our European allies opposed the United States in the dust-up over Bosnia, they believe this, too: This year, Britain, France and Germany secured the same kind of protections for their own troops before they were deployed in Afghanistan. And in initial talks about the ICC four years ago, France even got a seven-year "waiting period" during which it could withdraw from the treaty.

Yet the Bush administration nearly cut off its nose to spite its face. Threatening to disband the U.N. mission in Bosnia because Washington could not get its way was selfish and shortsighted. It sparked an unnecessary fight.

In the end, the administration backed down and accepted a reasonable compromise in which the Security Council agreed that U.S. personnel are exempt from ICC charges for one year.

But this deal is at best a Band-Aid: Administration officials have made clear that they will return to brinkmanship once the deal expires next year. And the whole sorry episode leaves a bitter aftertaste with troubling implications that go far beyond Bosnia.

President Bush, by letting his concerns about the ICC hinder U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping -- or, worse, allowing his concerns possibly to prevent such missions from existing at all -- undermines his promise to emulate George C. Marshall and give today's defeated states (such as Afghanistan and Bosnia) the same kind of support Germany and Japan received after World War II. More than that, as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned, the U.S. position threatens the very future of U.N. peacekeeping.

Some speculate that the United States is only using the ICC as an excuse to get out of the peacekeeping business entirely. It's no secret that many administration officials still believe that peacekeeping and "nation-building" are not worthy of U.S. commitment and resources.

This is the wrong policy at exactly the wrong moment. Because today in Afghanistan and, if the administration gets what it wants, tomorrow elsewhere -- such as a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq or a post-Yasser Arafat Palestine -- active U.S. engagement will be needed to keep the peace.

It's remarkable that at the same time the Bush administration is articulating an aggressive new doctrine of pre-emption to deal with threats to U.S. security, it is adopting exactly the opposite approach to deal with the consequences: Call it a doctrine of pusillanimity.

Does it make any sense to fight the war only to lose the peace? Of course not. That's why the Bush administration needs to articulate a bold doctrine of peacekeeping.

Washington must help defeated societies rebuild. This requires a U.S. commitment to put boots on the ground and to run risks. This requires real resources. And this requires tough choices.

The Bush administration must show that it can be as strong in building good societies as it is in destroying bad ones. Hiding behind excuses such as the ICC damages American credibility and leadership at a time when they're needed most.

At this critical moment, it is fair to ask: How can Mr. Bush expect the world to believe he is prepared for a new long-term peacekeeping commitment in a place like a post-Hussein Iraq if he is too worried to allow U.S. personnel to fulfill current commitments in places like Bosnia?

Derek Chollet served in the State Department from 1999 to 2001 and was chief speechwriter for the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke.

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