Improve Forces, Bush Urges U.N. : Peacekeeping: President promises a larger U.S. role in international operations to prevent war. He offers a training base for units that could be deployed quickly.
President Bush urged the United Nations on Monday to create a well-trained and highly mobile military force to prevent wars around the world and promised that the United States will play a far greater role in international peacekeeping operations than it did during the Cold War, when U.S.-Soviet rivalries tended to keep both superpowers on the sidelines.
In a speech to the opening of the General Assembly, Bush said he will direct the Pentagon to increase the emphasis on peacekeeping so U.S. units can be ready to join U.N. forces on a moment’s notice to try to stop wars like the ones in Bosnia and Somalia before they start. He urged other member nations to do the same.
The President offered to turn over to the United Nations an American military base, probably Ft. Dix, N.J., to give the international force a place to train.
If fully implemented, the President’s proposals would profoundly change Washington’s relationship with U.N. peacekeeping forces.
In the past, U.S. personnel have held administrative positions with U.N. forces, and American naval and Air Force units have transported and supported U.N. peacekeepers. But Washington has shied away from supplying ground troops except in situations like the 1950-53 Korean War and the Persian Gulf War where the entire operation was under American command.
Bush said he directed the Pentagon “to place new emphasis on peacekeeping. Because of peacekeeping’s growing importance as a mission for the United States military, we will emphasize training of combat, engineering and logistics units for the full range of peacekeeping and humanitarian activities.” He said all U.S. military schools will add peacekeeping to their curriculum.
A senior Administration official cited the 82nd Airborne as a division well-suited for a peacekeeping role because it is highly trained and very mobile. Elements of that division have participated for a decade in a U.S.-led force deployed in the Sinai desert as part of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
The Sinai force was created outside of the U.N. framework because of a threatened Soviet veto in the Security Council.
However, Pentagon officials appeared to have been taken by surprise by the President’s speech. They said the Defense Department does not have any troops earmarked for peacekeeping missions and, until the Bush speech, had no plans to train any. The Joint Chiefs of Staff does not have a single planner responsible for peacekeeping operations, the officials said.
But U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has urged member nations to devote far more resources to peacekeeping operations. Although Bush did not endorse Boutros-Ghali’s specific proposals, he clearly endorsed the concept.
“Nations should develop and train military units for possible peacekeeping operations and humanitarian relief,” Bush said. “And these forces must be available on short notice at the request of the Security Council.”
Bush’s speech to the General Assembly, where he once sat as the U.S. representative, was received in stony silence by the assembled presidents, foreign ministers and diplomats. Not once was the 29-minute speech interrupted by applause.
Like almost everything Bush does in the weeks preceding the Nov. 3 election, there was a clear political component to the peacekeeping proposal. Ft. Dix, a basic training base since World War II, is scheduled to be closed under a congressionally ordered cost reduction program. By turning the base over to the United Nations, Bush could save thousands of jobs in New Jersey, a key political battleground state.
“If multinational units are to work together, they must train together,” Bush said. “The United States is prepared to make available our bases and facilities for multinational training and field exercises. One such base . . . is Ft. Dix. America used these bases to win the Cold War. And today, with that war over, they can help build a lasting peace.”
Bush did not specify how the United Nations would pay for enhanced peacekeeping operations, although he said there must be “adequate, equitable funding.” Some delegates grumbled later that Washington is behind in its assessments and thus is in no position to call for increased U.N. spending.
The senior Administration official said the United States is about $282 million behind in its payments but has already adopted a program to pay off the debt in five years. In addition, Washington, which puts up about 25% of the total U.N. budget, owes about $340 million for this year, an amount the official said will be paid on time.
In his speech, Bush also announced plans to restructure the Agency for International Development to encourage the private sector in developing countries and to support U.S. business interests there. Although AID has had such an objective since the Reagan Administration, Bush said he planned a thorough reorganization of all foreign aid programs.
“Foreign aid, as we’ve known it, needs to be transformed,” Bush said. “The notion of the handout to less-developed countries needs to give way to cooperation in mutually productive economic relationships.
“Using existing foreign affairs resources, I will propose creating a $1-billion growth fund,” he said.
If all that money comes out of the existing foreign aid budget, many programs would be gutted. In the budget he sent to Congress last January, Bush asked for just $6.3 billion in economic aid to individual countries.
Bush also called on the United Nations to redouble its efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and other weapons of mass destruction.
The senior Administration official said Bush’s peacekeeping plans stop short of creating a U.N. standing army. The official said that countries should be free to participate or not in any individual deployment. For that reason, he said, there should be a large pool of trained troops available so that there would always be enough force to meet any crisis even if some nations chose to remain on the sidelines.
He said Bush used the peacekeeping designation loosely to cover troops that could be sent to a trouble spot to prevent war from breaking out as well as forces dispatched to enforce a cease-fire.
Times staff writer Melissa Healy in Washington contributed to this report.
PRIMER ON PEACEKEEPERS: The cost and composition of U.N. peacekeeping actions. World Report, Page 6