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Keep the Peacekeepers

July 08, 2002

The number of U.S. troops involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world is small, but American influence on such missions is not, because of the U.S. veto in the Security Council. Valid concerns about the newly formed International Criminal Court are being blown out of proportion, and the result is a threat to peacekeeping as an institution.

Several dozen U.S. police officers helped the fledgling nation of East Timor build a law enforcement infrastructure; 46 U.S. police officers are training recruits in Bosnia. Far more U.S. soldiers are part of NATO commands: 2,500 in Bosnia, 5,800 in Kosovo.

But rather than declining to take part in U.N. missions for fear that U.S. soldiers would get hauled before the new international court, Washington appears willing to block the operations completely by using its Security Council veto. Last week the U.S. vetoed an extension of the U.N. mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It later relented and began discussing a compromise; a new deadline is next Monday.

The U.N. peacekeeping missions occasionally have had problems with soldiers attacking the civilians they were meant to protect--or, as with Dutch troops in Bosnia in 1995, not being forceful enough; in the Dutch troops' case, the result was the Serbian massacre of thousands of Muslims.

But those are aberrations. U.N. forces' record in separating combatants in places such as East Timor and Kosovo is good. Leaving battling factions to sort matters out themselves would vastly increase the bloodshed in most cases.

President Clinton signed the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court but did not submit it to the U.S. Senate for ratification, knowing it would not pass. Many in Congress are concerned that the court, designed as a permanent institution to prosecute war crimes like those in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, would usurp U.S. sovereignty. Now the Bush administration has declared Clinton's signature void.

The United States, as the sole superpower, does have enemies that object to its political, military and cultural influence. There is a danger of politically motivated attempts to prosecute U.S. forces trying to keep the peace in such countries as Ethiopia and Bosnia. But the court is supposed to take action only if a country refuses to inaugurate proceedings against its own nationals, and then only after delaying proceedings for a year. That's enough time to bring home, and thus shield, anyone facing what the U.S. sees as a false charge.

Before Sept. 11, the Bush administration received deserved criticism for its tendency to go it alone; afterward, it discovered the value of allies. But its frontal assault on the International Criminal Court needlessly provokes friends, including Britain, France and Germany. Washington's objections to the court do not entitle it to attack an effective peacekeeping institution that other nations value.

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