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Keeping the peace


IS THE United States running around the world doing the bidding of the United Nations, or is the United Nations running around the world doing the bidding of this country? Whether the Persian Gulf War or Haiti, recent history teaches the latter. It was none other than George Bush who said after the Gulf War, "The U.N. is emerging as a central instrument for the prevention and resolution of conflicts and the preservation of peace."

Nevertheless, some congressional leaders think the United States is paying more than its share for peacekeeping. The House recently passed a measure which allows the United States to subtract the cost of its support for U.N. missions from its peacekeeping dues. But U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright says if the bill becomes law, it would eliminate any U.S. monetary contribution to U.N. peacekeeping. In fact, the United Nations would owe us.

A look at the figures is instructive: Last year, the United States was assessed $1.2 billion for its 30 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping bill. It paid $750 million. Counting the U.S.-led Haiti mission, we spent many times that amount in voluntary support of U.N. peacekeeping around the world.

Because this country has more power for good or evil than any other, even what America decides not to do has worldwide impact. Other countries will follow in subtracting from peacekeeping dues their own voluntary expenditures. Those are not inconsequential. According to a recent survey by the Council on Foreign Relations, Britain bore an additional $741.5 million; France, more than $700 million; Canada, $500 million; Norway, $140 million; Sweden, $122 million; Argentina, $60 million, and other countries, lesser amounts.

No one need pretend all is well with the fiscal and organizational house of the United Nations. It is still, as Ambassador Albright describes it, "a work in progress."

But it works better than did the League of Nations, the Congress of Vienna, or any of its other peacekeeping predecessors. And there's bipartisan agreement in Congress and widespread agreement in the Security Council that as a matter of policy, the United Nations should reduce the United States share and establish a 25 percent ceiling on assessments.

The House bill could mean the end of small but crucial peacekeeping contingents in hot spots like the Golan Heights, the Iraq-Kuwait border, Croatia, Lebanon, Angola, the Republic of Georgia. It's hardly far-fetched to believe that stability in such places is indeed in our national security interest.

Americans don't limit our global responsibilities just to security interests. In a poll conducted by an international policy institute at the University of Maryland last month, 77 percent of those quizzed rejected the notion that we should "only send aid to parts of the world where we have security interests."

The House bill could mean the end of small but crucial peacekeeping contingents in hot spots around the world.

Martha Ezzard is a member of the Atlanta Journal's editorial board.

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