AMERICAN military and political leaders have always been reluctant to cede command over United States troops to the United Nations or any other nation. But on May 1, that threshold will be crossed by putting 5,000 American troops in Somalia under UN command.
In the ashes of World War II, world leaders endowed the UN with the capability to use military power to maintain peace. The cold war gridlocked that early UN vision. Now the thaw in superpower rivalry has enabled the UN to use military troops to carry out the will of the international community. In the last five years, the UN has carried out more peacekeeping operations than it did in its previous 40 years. The 60,000 current UN peacekeepers are expected to grow to well over 100,000 in the next three yea rs.
This re-empowerment of the world body and the Clinton administration's willingness to make US troops part of UN peacekeeping forces means that the UN is finally beginning to walk the "global beat" as the world's policeman. Now the US can share the burdens of common defense with other nations.
A recent Roper poll conducted on behalf of the UN Association of the US (UNA-USA) indicated that most Americans approve of using UN forces to settle international conflicts, even when American interests are involved. While Americans believe we should be prepared unilaterally to protect our national interests, many perceive that certain conflicts no longer threaten only US interests. These will be better handled through collective security measures in which we participate, gaining the full authority and c ooperation of the international community.
Putting some US troops under UN command does not mean relinquishing control over them or ceding national sovereignty. Deployment will require approval of the Security Council, ensuring that the US maintains veto power. An additional safeguard is provided by the UN Charter, which guarantees that any nation submitting troops has the right to participate in decisions concerning use of that member's forces.
Before his appointment as CIA Director, James Woolsey chaired a UNA-USA study that advanced a three-tiered plan on how to achieve a UN force that would insure collective security action.
* First, the UN should have its own standing ready force of several battalions (a few thousand troops), initially drawn from one or two nations, for immediate dispatch to conflict areas to secure top-priority locations such as airports, communications centers, and key government facilities.
* Second, the UN should have a rapid deployment force, modeled on the Ready Brigade of the 82nd Airborne, to follow the standing ready force to a crisis area. These forces would be a multinational combination of national military units, housed in their home states and available to serve within 48 hours.
* Third, the UN should plan for a contingency force to provide troops for a larger military operation like Desert Storm. It would have to be strong enough to overwhelm a mid-sized opponent and move into the area secured by the rapid deployment force.
TO be effective - and to address the Pentagon's deep concern over the disparity in training standards between US and UN troops - these forces would have to undergo intensive international training in common military procedures, language, and doctrine. As the Pentagon begins closing unneeded military bases around the country, Mr. Clinton should consider turning some of these facilities over to the world body as training grounds for UN peacekeepers.
Increased US support for UN peacekeeping is a bargain. The US would pay less than one-third of a mission's cost and receive 100 percent of the benefits of its success. This plan represents an effective way to insure that the UN, like NATO, becomes a strong deterrent to aggression. A well-trained multilateral force might have discouraged Saddam Hussein from entering Kuwait or Serbia from entering Bosnia or Croatia. As NATO demonstrated during the cold war, the realization that the world community is capab le of mustering force to deal with aggression is arguably the best guarantee that force will not have to be used at all.