WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are poised today to challenge President Clinton's national security policies by expanding congressional power over peacekeeping missions, NATO expansion, long-range military priorities and missile defense.
Undeterred by the threat of a presidential veto, Republicans say their bill, dubbed the National Security Revitalization Act, would counter the Clinton administration's deployments of troops for "nation-building" missions, which according to the Republicans
harm military readiness.
But the administration, in a strong lobbying campaign, calls the bill an assault on the authority of the commander in chief, an action that would stop all United Nations peacekeeping.
In a blunt, three-page letter yesterday to Republican leaders, Mr. Clinton said the bill "contains numerous flawed provisions that are simply unacceptable."
Since Republicans do not appear to have a veto-proof majority for the bill in either the House or the Senate, the measure is unlikely to take effect in its current form. As a result, it would not affect U.S. participation in a 6,000-troop U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti due to start when the U.S. occupation ends next month.
But Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned yesterday that Mr. Clinton's authority could be eroded even without the bill becoming law.
"I would say it's a very uncomfortable situation if Congress purports to diminish the authority of the president of the United States, confronts him with a bill that has passed Congress, puts him into a veto situation with the need to override that veto," he said yesterday.
The Republican-sponsored measure would affect three broad areas:
* Peacekeeping. The bill would bar participation of U.S. armed forces in any U.N. peacekeeping missions unless Congress gave its authorization. If such a measure were already in effect, it would have forced President Clinton to get congressional approval before sending U.S. troops to participate in the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia begun in 1993.
The bill would also require that the costs borne by the United States for U.N. peacekeeping operations be deducted from amount the United States contributes to the overall U.N. peacekeeping budget.
According to Republicans, that would cut $150 million from this year's peacekeeping costs. Administration officials say the cuts would be greater and other countries would demand the same treatment, thereby gutting U.N. peacekeeping.
* Military policy: The GOP bill would require the administration to resume development of a weapons system to protect the United States from incoming ballistic missiles.
"That's probably the hottest button of any of this," said Rep. Floyd D. Spence of South Carolina, chairman of the House
National Security Committee, citing Republican "focus groups" with voters alarmed over lack of protection against U.S. missiles.
Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, arguing that the United States has adequate defenses against any possible threat, also says the administration is developing a missile defense system that could, if needed, be deployed later.
* NATO expansion: The GOP bill overturns the administration's deliberately vague policy on expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by specifying that Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic be allowed to join.
These countries are widely expected to be the first admitted to an expanded alliance. But the administration says that naming them at this point would weaken their incentive to modernize their own defense establishments.