WASHINGTON -- A hopeful era of ever-expanding United Nations peacekeeping operations is ending, the victim of politics, money woes and disillusionment.
Starting with Haiti, the new Republican-controlled Congress plans to clamp down on U.S. contributions of troops and money to U.N. peacekeeping operations, dealing a blow to the heady post-Cold War vision of collective security.
President Clinton will be under pressure to speed the withdrawal of the U.S. occupation force in Haiti and limit the stay of a subsequent U.N. mission that will include about 3,000 Americans, according to Republican and Democratic congressional staff members and administration officials.
Future peacekeeping plans by the U.N. Security Council will receive closer congressional scrutiny. And the likely refusal by Congress to approve new money for peacekeeping between now and October means that the United States will fall $800 million short of its dues, officials say.
Because the United States pays for a large portion of U.N. peacekeeping, the result will be less of it. "The implication of all this is that we could enter a stage where the U.N. is not a peacekeeping organization," said a Western diplomat at the United Nations.
The tougher stance -- along with the administration's troubles in lining up votes for a world trade accord -- has increased fears among Democrats that Congress and the nation as a whole are retreating into isolationism, with dire consequences for U.S. leadership.
With the end of the superpower standoff in the late 1980s, the United Nations started genuinely fulfilling its charter, assuming a greater role in preventing and resolving conflicts. The concept of peacekeeping shifted from monitoring cease-fires to forcibly keeping warring sides separate and protecting civilians.
From a tiny $97 million four years ago, the U.S. contribution has ballooned; last year, it exceeded $1.5 billion.
Disenchantment started with the U.N. quagmire in Bosnia, where thousands of peacekeepers have proved unable to ensure the smooth delivery of relief or to guarantee U.N.-declared "safe areas."
The debacle in Somalia forced Mr. Clinton to set a timetable for U.S. withdrawal and led to the end of the entire U.N. peacekeeping mission without a central goal being met: an end to clan warfare.
It also led the Clinton administration to draw up new rules for when the United States would participate in, or even approve, new U.N. peacekeeping ventures.
Now, Congress is going further. Even before the Nov. 8 elections, the Democratic-controlled Congress voted to shrink the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping after October 1995 from more than 30 percent -- about $1 billion -- to 25 percent.
The House Republicans' "Contract with America" would bar the placement of U.S. peacekeeping troops under foreign command without congressional approval and further restrict the use of U.S. funds.
"The whole question of peacekeeping is going to be subject to a very contentious debate," said a Republican Senate aide involved in foreign policy. "The whole premise of our commitment is going to be questioned."
An early test will be congressional reaction to a projected 7,000-troop peacekeeping mission in Angola if rebels and the government strike a peace agreement, ending a 19-year war that has claimed some 600,000 lives.
Although U.S. troops are not expected to be involved, the mission carries an estimated cost of $1 million a day. Congressional Republicans complain that the stated U.S. share of peacekeeping costs doesn't begin to reflect the actual spending.
"We're picking up bills all over the world that people don't know about," a well-placed Republican staff member said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Bosnia operation alone, he added, costs far more than U.S. payments to the United Nations reflect, with such items as the cost of NATO involvement.
Fueling congressional opposition is the Pentagon's acknowledgment last week that because of recent operations in Rwanda, Haiti and Kuwait, and in blocking the flow of Haitian and Cuban refugees, three of the Army's 12 divisions have fallen well below their peak readiness.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, indicates ambivalence about what he calls "operations other than war."
Describing the kinds of threats peacekeepers face, General Shalikashvili told a Georgetown University audience last week that "these operations have become so very murky that it is quite possible that, as you turn the bend in the road, all of a sudden you will come face to face with a real warlike situation, where you're either confronted by Somalis who are bent on killing you, or Serbs in Bosnia, or Muslims."
Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, current chairman of the panel that funds foreign operations, says: "We have many in Congress who want the status of world superpower but don't want the responsibilities that go with it."
The debate over Haiti may create tension in coming weeks between the Clinton administration and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who doesn't want to send in a U.N. peacekeeping force until he's certain that Haiti is secure.
With the United States due to make up 50 percent of the 6,000-member U.N. force, Congress will be impatient for an exit, which the administration doesn't want to happen until after a new president has been installed in early 1996.
Sen. Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who is in line to chair the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN in an interview broadcast yesterday that troops should have been out of Haiti "like yesterday."
"I think it's disgraceful that we have U.S. troops collecting garbage in Haiti," he said. "They should never have been sent in there in the first place, and they ought to be withdrawn now."
The need for peacekeeping shows no sign of ending, with a proliferation of ethnic and tribal conflicts worldwide. The burden will shift to regional organizations, with a decline in both U.N. and U.S. influence.
For instance, the Russian-controlled Commonwealth of Independent States could take over all peacekeeping in the former Soviet Union, a step toward re-creating an empire.
And individual countries, such as France, could assume responsibility in Africa and elsewhere, redrawing the world into spheres of influence.