By Tim WeinerNew York Times
May 20, 2000
A Republican senator has singlehandedly blocked the United States from paying $368 million that it owes the United Nations for four difficult peacekeeping missions, infuriating the Clinton administration and some of its allies.
The dispute is the latest skirmish in a running battle between an administration that has used American power and money abroad in operations short of war and a Republican-led Congress that disdains many of those missions.
The senator, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, has used his power as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to stop the State Department from transferring the money -- already approved by Congress -- to the United Nations for missions in Congo, East Timor, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Administration officials said unless the money was released, the United Nations' ability to undertake such missions, already frayed, might break down. The forces may lack gasoline and electricity in Kosovo, face difficult delays in their imminent and potentially dangerous Congo mission, and go unpaid in Sierra Leone, United Nations and administration officials said.
Mr. Gregg objects most strongly to the Sierra Leone operation. He said in an interview he would not lift his block until the situation there had changed. "I'm not going to pay for a policy that's unethical and, as it turns out, barbaric," Mr. Gregg said. He was referring to a peace agreement signed in July by the combatants in Sierra Leone's eight-year-old civil war. The accord gave amnesty and a share of power to rebels who had terrorized civilians, murdering, raping and mutilating thousands. The rebels, whose leader, Foday Sankoh, was arrested this week in Sierra Leone, have held hostage hundreds of United Nations soldiers sent to try to stop the violence.
Mr. Gregg, like many of his Republican colleagues in Congress, has a low opinion of peacekeeping in particular and President Clinton's foreign policies in general. "I do not think this administration has been engaged in a coherent way," he said. "They have made very bad decisions."
As head of the subcommittee that governs the State Department budget, Mr. Gregg can block money for foreign policy without hearings, debate or votes. That power is "unique to appropriations chairmen," Mr. Gregg said. He has refused to let the department transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for the four operations that he finds objectionable.
He placed a hold on $96 million for the Sierra Leone force; $181 million for East Timor, where United Nations troops are trying to maintain order on a island ravaged by forces that oppose the newly won independence from Indonesia; $50 million for Kosovo, where the troops policing towns and cities to halt ethnic conflict; and $41 million for Congo, where soldiers are starting to set up a system to monitor a cease-fire.
The under secretary general for peacekeeping operations at the United Nations, Bernard Miyet, said the United States' refusal to pay for the Sierra Leone mission was felt directly by third world nations that have sent troops. "Most of the countries involved are poor countries making human and financial sacrifices," Mr. Miyet said. "The burden for Sierra Leone falls on India, Bangladesh, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Guinea, all countries in dire need of money. There have been difficulties in certain African countries," because the forces have not been paid on time.
Mr. Miyet and several administration officials said the lack of money in Congo might slow the creation of communications networks, a system to control air traffic, improved roads and livable barracks. "In Kosovo," Mr. Miyet said, "we might have difficulty paying our personnel, in particular the 3,700 policemen" who are trying to maintain law and order. Administration officials also said the Kosovo mission faced logistical problems like paying for gasoline and electricity." "And in Timor," he added, "we might have difficulty reimbursing countries" that have provided the troops.
The under secretary general for management, Joseph E. Connor, said the United Nations owed $800 million to troops on peacekeeping missions in the last 10 years. "Many member states are saying, 'Don't call us until you're ready to send the check,' " Mr. Connor said.
The United States now owes the United Nations $1.77 billion. Most of that bill is for peacekeeping. The United States is supposed to pay at least 25 percent of the peacekeeping costs. It now owes the United Nations $1.3 billion for past and present missions, Mr. Connor said. The bill has been increasing since Jan. 1, largely as a consequence of Mr. Gregg's block, he said. The United States also owes $468 million in membership dues, Mr. Connor added.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the American ambassador to the United Nations, traveled to Africa this month as part of a Security Council delegation that paved the way for the Congo mission to begin. He declined a request for an interview today. Other administration officials said they were angry and embarrassed about the situation. "It really throws a spanner in the works," one said. "When the U.N. sees the U.S. Congress is reluctant to pay the bills, they are less inclined to go along with U.S. leadership." Another administration official said, "It undermines the capacity of the U.N. to do its job and undermines our credibility to argue that we are serious about enhancing the peacekeeping ability of the U.N."
The officials were loath to criticize Mr. Gregg, fearing that he would block more money or cut the State Department budget. Pat M. Holt, a member of the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 27 years, called the system that let a single member block spending that the entire Congress had appropriated a scandal. "It has no basis in law or Senate rules or history," Ms. Holt said. Law and tradition dictate that if an administration deviates in its spending from the program it presented to Congress, it has to report the changes to the appropriations committees. But "this morphed into a system in which members and staff can object and the gutless wonders downtown don't dare disagree," Mr. Holt said.
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, whom Mr. Gregg strongly supported in the New Hampshire presidential primary, has not addressed blocking the peacekeeping money, said Condoleeza Rice, Mr. Bush's chief foreign policy adviser. "Obviously," Ms. Rice said, "the administration has some very hard work to do with Congress over the peacekeeping issue."