The Pentagon is working with the United Nations on a 5,000-man peacekeeping force for the Congo, the first such collaboration with the agency since the death of U.S. soldiers in Somalia in 1993.
U.S. troops would not participate in the peacekeeping force, which would be accompanied by 500 observers. But U.N. Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke and other senior U.S. officials say the Pentagon would give the United Nations the benefit of U.S. experience in such matters.
“The Pentagon is trying to help the U.N. get it right,” said a U.S. official at the United Nations.
Mr. Holbrooke met with Bernard Miyet, U.N. undersecretary in charge of peacekeeping, and National Security Council officials yesterday in Washington in what he called a new relationship after years of strain prompted by the U.N. operation in Somalia.
“For the first time in many years the Pentagon is involved with the United Nations,” Mr. Holbrooke said.
The new relationship Mr. Holbrooke is trying to forge between the Pentagon and the United Nations comes as U.N. peacekeeping operations face a major increase in demands in East Timor, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and now the Congo.
Administration officials said they notified Congress Monday that they will support a Security Council resolution creating a 5,000-man peacekeeping force for the Congo, which would cost the United States $42 million.
“No U.S. troops are to be involved, and the U.N. has not asked to lease any U.S. equipment,” said one official at the National Security Council.
The chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, said yesterday that “the proposed Congo operation should be reviewed very carefully.”
He cited recent setbacks to U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone and noted that “a signed accord has not meant peace.”
Congo is facing an 18-month rebellion that has deteriorated into a free-for-all with invading troops from a half-dozen neighbors joining in the fray.
“This could destabilize a broad swathe of Central Africa,” said Mr. Holbrooke.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Undersecretary Walter Slocombe recently met in New York with U.N. peacekeeping planners, Mr. Holbrooke said Monday, after a dinner meeting of the Board of Governors of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Mr. Holbrooke said that the past few years had been a low point in U.S.-U.N. relations, especially after U.S. peacekeeping troops were killed on U.N. duty in Somalia in 1993, the U.N. allowed a genocide to take place in Rwanda in 1994 and U.N. peacekeepers failed in Bosnia to stop ethnic cleansing and huge losses of civilian life.
“I did not allow a U.N. observer to attend” the talks in Dayton, Ohio, that ended the Bosnian civil war, he said.
Mr. Holbrooke bitterly recalled that in the last presidential campaign, attacks on the United Nations by candidate Bob Dole won wide approval.
“Trying to get the U.N. out of the election campaign is very important,” Mr. Holbrooke said. “We don’t want a repeat of 1996.”
Bitterness over U.N. failures led the Congress to cut off payments for dues and arrears and “nearly brought the U.N. down,” he said. “The slide had to be stopped.”
Mr. Holbrooke’s call for deeper U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping comes as the Pentagon sees signs that some U.S. troops are fed up with the assignment and are threatening to quit.
For example, the Army Research Institute surveyed captains at Fort Benning, Ga., to determine why the attrition rate has jumped from 6 percent to 11 percent in 10 years.
One key factor was the military’s growing involvement in peacekeeping, which respondents believed took away time from real combat training.
Of peacekeeping, such as ongoing missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, an institute briefing chart said: “A source for career disillusionment for some leavers. Not what they came in Army to do.”
The Pentagon’s latest involvement in an advisory capacity follows a visit by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms to the Security Council, where the North Carolina Republican warned against infringement on U.S. sovereignty and repeated demands for reform.
Mr. Holbrooke reminded his audience that Woodrow Wilson, for whom the center is named, failed to win congressional approval of his cherished League of Nations because he failed to make “compromises.”
He said that to restore a good image of the world body “the U.N. must meet the twin challenge of reform and peacekeeping.”
He noted that while the United Nations has only 300 people directing 17 major peacekeeping operations around the world, it has 700 staffers in its public information bureaus.
Staff writers Rowan Scarborough and Betsy Pisik contributed to this report.