A campaign is underway in Congress to endorse the concept of a
standing army controlled by the United Nations. Senator Joe Biden,
the Democrat from Delaware, has introduced a resolution (S.J. Res.
112) to allow American troops to be part of such a force. He claims
that the United States must abandon "the vainglorious dream of a
Pax Americana and look instead for a means to regularize swift,
multinational decision and response." Biden's assertion is curious
given a U.N. operation gone awry in Somalia, a confused U.N.
mission in Bosnia, and chronic U.N. mismanagement and fraud. This
is not a time to expand the power and influence of the United
Nations. If anything, this is a time to be skeptical about U.N.
effectiveness in settling conflicts around the globe.
For this reason, the U.S. should not endorse the idea of a U.N.
standing army. It could drag the U.S. into deadly and expensive
conflicts having little to do with American vital interests around
the world. Moreover, a standing army will only increase the U.N.'s
appetite for precipitous involvement in conflicts for which it is
poorly prepared. To be sure, a standing army would be more readily
available for deployment, but that may mean an overly hasty
involvement of U.S. forces in far-away conflicts in which no U.S.
interests are at stake.
Advocates of arming the U.N. make a curious argument. They say
that a U.N. army is necessary to keep America from becoming a
global policeman. Senator David Boren, the Oklahoma Democrat, has
noted that, "while Americans want something done, they do not want
to do it alone." In other words, in a standing U.N. army the U.S.
supposedly will share the burden of international peacekeeping with
Additional Burden for U.S. While a standing U.N. army may
increase token international support for a peacekeeping force, it
would also surely create a temptation for the U.S. to go along with
questionable armed interventions by the U.N. With some seventy
areas of conflict or potential conflict world-wide, a U.N. standing
army certainly would see much action. There are today fourteen U.N.
peacekeeping operations underway, involving some 80,000 troops from
75 countries. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali two
weeks ago suggested sending U.N. peacekeepers to hotspots in the
former Soviet Union, which would nearly double the number of U.N.
military operations around the world. Thus, while relieving the
U.S. of the burden of going it alone, a standing U.N. army would
create a new burden of participating in dubious and far-flung
operations which the U.S. otherwise would avoid.
Once U.S. forces are thus deployed, the potential for escalation
is high. American forces would hold the key to avoiding the
military failure of the U.N. peacekeeping operation. Indeed, in
Somalia, most of the firepower and command and control capability
available to the U.N. force is American; without that support the
operation would have eroded long before now. This would likely be
the case in all U.N. operations involving U.S. forces. Once
committed to a failing U.N. operation, the U.S. would have to
choose between saving it by unilateral escalation or condemning the
entire operation to failure by withdrawing.
The U.S. is already facing this dilemma in Somalia. The U.N.
operation there is falling apart as the U.S. tries to decide
whether to escalate or withdraw. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff Colin L. Powell has spoken of "going after" those responsible
for the recent deaths of four U.S. servicemen in Somalia. With the
Clinton defense budget in a virtual free-fall, a prolonged military
commitment to a country unimportant to America's vital interests
would be the height of folly. It would deprive the country of
resources possibly needed to defend America's interests elsewhere
-- in Korea and the Persian Gulf, for example.
Supporters of the U.N. standing army point to the U.S. Security
Council veto as a safeguard against ill-advised operations.
However, the veto would not be very potent. Invariably, the U.S.
would face pressure not to veto a U.N. standing army deployment to
relieve the type of human suffering seen in Somalia last fall and
in other countries today. Certainly the Clinton Administration
would find it difficult to resist such pressure. Indeed, the
Administration's policy of "assertive multilateralism," as outlined
by U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Madeleine K. Albright,
is based on a growing American reliance on the U.N. for
humanitarian and peacekeeping operations.
Confused Command. Another problem with a standing U.N. army
involves command structure. U.S. troops in a U.N. standing army
eventually will find themselves at odds with a multinational
command. Would resisting orders of a multinational command be
insubordination, or merely consistent with the good order and
discipline an American commander should display? To which flag
would the American commanders owe allegiance? The Joint Chiefs of
Staff recognize the potential for this confusion, and traditionally
have resisted subordinating their services to international
Biden's Senate resolution would reduce congressional oversight
of the use of American military force. The resolution states that
"the President shall not be deemed to require the authorization of
the Congress to make [American troops] available to the Security
Council on its call." Having encumbered the President's ability to
deploy forces as commander in chief with the War Powers Act,
Congress now wishes to make the President accountable to unelected
U.N. bureaucrats. Biden apparently believes that the President
should be restricted in his ability to defend purely national
interests, but free to commit forces in defense of more "noble"
To reject a U.N. standing army is not to reject U.N.
peacekeeping. There is plenty for the U.S. to do to improve the
financial, logistical, and professional aspects of the U.N.'s
current peacekeeping activities. For example, officers in the U.N.
"command center" in New York rely on CNN television news broadcasts
for their information from the field. The Clinton Administration
could help correct this problem by establishing an improved
command, control, and communications structure for U.N. military
A standing U.N. army encourages the misguided perception that a
"good" commitment of U.S. force is one for which there is
multilateral support, making future commanders in chief more
reluctant to apply force unilaterally to defend American interests
abroad. Moreover, it will embolden the U.N. into greater activism
in conflicts to which the U.S. would otherwise not have committed
American lives and resources.
The U.N. should concentrate on improving its traditional
peacekeeping role following realistic and achievable objectives,
while rejecting revolutionary efforts to create a standing U.N.
Thomas P. Sheehy is a former Policy Analyst at The Heritage