Dole attacks America's role in the UN: Clinton officials accuse Republican Senator of performing policy U-turn in attempt to score political points

THE UNITED NATIONS came under attack again yesterday from its fiercest critic in the US Congress, Senator Bob Dole, the Republican minority leader. In his efforts to smother UN peace-keeping operations by withdrawing congressional support, Mr Dole yesterday introduced the draft of a 'peace-powers act' that would severely restrict US military involvement in UN operations.

The Clinton administration, which supports continued and even expanded peace-keeping operations, is confident Mr Dole's effort will be defeated. Officials privately regard Mr Dole's latest attack as overtly partisan, accusing the Republican Senator of campaigning for another shot at the presidency.

Mr Dole's effort comes at an especially delicate time for US-UN relations, and will not make those relations any better. The Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, has irritated the administration by his insistence on a wider consultation role than the administration is prepared to give him in policy decisions about deployment of US forces.

The Secretary-General has sought to control key decisions on Nato air strikes in Bosnia, and wanted prior consultations with the US about its operations in Haiti. Mr Boutros-Ghali's insistence on these matters has given Mr Dole an opportunity to complain about UN 'interference' in US foreign policy.

Specifically, Mr Dole's 'peace-powers act' seeks a prohibition on US troops serving under foreign command in UN operations not directly in Washington's interests. The Republican leader also wants a ban on US troops serving in any UN standing army.

In support of their charge that this is a purely partisan move, Clinton officials point out that a proposal to ban US troops from serving under foreign command in UN operations was voted down in Congress last year. As for plans for a UN standing army, these are still on the drawing board, without much hope of ever moving forward unless member states increase their contributions to UN peace-keeping.

In other 'points of principle' in his peace-powers act, Mr Dole is asking for more consultation between Congress and the administration's mission to the UN, led by its ambassador, Madeleine Albright. Clinton officials respond by saying they have done more consulting with Congress than any administration, and certainly more than during the Bush and Reagan years.

By calling for a greater congressional role, Mr Dole has done an about-face for his own political reasons, the Clinton officials charge. When presidents Bush and Reagan were in office, Mr Dole was a champion of executive power; now he wants Congress to hold sway.

Finally, Mr Dole is seeking to limit the US contribution to the UN peace-keeping budget - now standing at 31 per cent - unless there are tighter congressional controls. Mr Dole complains that, in addition to being the largest contributor - at 25 per cent - to the UN's overall budget, the US gets overcharged for peace-keeping operations. He accuses the UN of 'warped' accounting practices in which the organisation does not include the substantial costs incurred by the US of transporting personnel and equipment to conflict areas.

The position of the administration, as put forward by Ms Albright, is to support peace-keeping operations at present levels, and even to expand them. She regards peacekeeping as a 'growth industry'.

However, the administration is constantly mindful of Mr Boutros-Ghali's obsession with his own prerogatives and what they regard as his unreasonable demands to be involved in unilateral decisions by Washington over troop movements. There is also the plain fact that UN peace-keeping operations are already underfunded. As Ms Albright observed, recently, the Security Council is not so ready to 'throw a peace-keeping operation' at every trouble spot.