The operational philosophy and military role of the United Nations have radically changed. In the U.N.’s first five years it launched only two peacekeeping missions, but since the fall of the Soviet Union the U.N. has mounted 19 operations involving more than 70,000 blue-helmeted soldiers. Last year these operations cost $3.6 billion. The United States was assessed $1.2 billion, and the Clinton administration spent another $1.7 billion for American military participation in U.N. missions. Today, thousands of American soldiers wear U.N.- blue helmets in ten countries ranging from Haiti to Lebanon to the former Yugoslav republics. Indeed, the U.N. has experienced a renaissance with the unexpected fall of the Soviet Union, rising from near impotence in the early 1980’s to worldwide peacemaker in 1995.

Harvard fellow Ronnie Dugger has called for the creation of a United Nations military force composed of volunteer peacekeepers financed by global citizen-members who pay dues and carry citizen cards. If that doesn’t fly, Dugger told New York Times readers in June, perhaps nongovernmental organizations like Greenpeace could become citizen-members of their own international agency and elect a world parliament to pass and enforce laws through a voluntary military force.

Franklin D. Roosevelt envisioned the U.N. as an organization dealing with traditional interstate aggression rather than the type of internal conflicts that now dominate its agenda. But the 50-year-old organization is adapting to the “New World Order.” That change is echoed by U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has issued An Agenda for Peace suggesting a greatly expanded U.N. peacemaking role. He endorses the principle of “universal” sovereignty: “Underlying the rights of the individual and the rights of peoples is a dimension of universal sovereignty that resides in all humanity and provides all peoples with legitimate involvement in issues affecting the world as a whole.” He has used this concept to sanction U.N. efforts in Somalia: “The magnitude of the human tragedy constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” This justified the world body’s intervention in the sovereign affairs of a nation-state without invitation. The same happened in Iraq after the Gulf War.

The 1990 invasion of Kuwait posed a classic situation for the U.N., a case of aggression in which the armies of one state crossed international borders to invade another. Desert Shield/Storm was a successful international effort to expel the invaders and restore the sovereignty of Kuwait. The U.N.-sanctioned follow-up incursion into northern Iraq to protect the Kurds (Operation Provide Comfort) in 1991, however, was the first time the Security Council had authorized the use of force to address strictly internal affairs of a member state. Thus began a dangerous new era for U.N. “peacemaking.”

“Loose constructions of the U.N. Charter believe the existence of such problems justifies expanding U.N. jurisdictions to deal with them,” says former American ambassador to the U.N. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who warns, “We arc slipping into practices which enhance only the power of the strongest. Is this what we want to do? Someone had better think through this question—and soon.” But Boutros-Ghali awards supremacy of rights to individuals and groups within countries. He argues that “the centuries-old doctrine of absolute and exclusive sovereignty no longer stands.” Outside forces, then, do have a right to trump national sovereignty.

The U.N.’s “right” to intervene in the sovereign affairs of a country leaves all member countries, including the United States, vulnerable to having their own sovereign territory compromised. For example, the next time Korean-Americans bear the brunt of a Los Angeles riot, the South Korean government could ask the U.N. to intervene to protect its citizens’ rights. It couldn’t happen now because the United States would veto the move procedurally and militarily. But it could happen in the future, especially if the U.N. has a standing military governed by a liberal world community.

There is no shortage of potential Bosnia-like situations on the horizon. The conscious choices that the international community makes about these situations will decide the new order. We can only hope that the U.N. will avoid the temptation to resolve these problems with the sword.

Meanwhile, the U.N.’s military focus has been growing. The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping has expanded from a staff of 25 to more than 350 with a modern situation center, staffed 24 hours a day, linked electronically to all U.N. hot spots. It has a standby system to tap troops and equipment from 185 member nations and has established a base in Italy to stockpile equipment, such as armored personnel carriers, for rapid deployment to peacekeeping missions.

There have been calls for a standing U.N. army. Former French President François Mitterrand endorsed the creation of a “U.N. Legion.” This brigade-size unit of thousands would be available for immediate deployment when the Security Council authorizes military action. The legion has been discussed at the U.S. Army Peacekeeping Institute, where representatives from various American government agencies met with U.N. representatives in 1993 and 1994. Anticipating future trends, the U.S. Army recently published a field manual entitled “Peace Operations” outlining relationships with the U.N. and including extracts from the U.N. Charter.

Last year the Clinton administration issued Presidential Decision Directive 25 on reforming multilateral peacekeeping operations. This was supposed to make them more selective and effective. The directive claims, “The U.S. does not support a standing U.N. Army, nor will we earmark specific U.S. military units for participation in U.N. operations.” Despite this assurance. White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry said President Clinton supports America’s continued U.N. involvement, and Madeleine K. Albright, America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told Congress, “The Clinton Administration believes very deeply in the potential of the U.N. system.”

The Clinton administration praises the U.N.’s radical transformation, but many Americans don’t share the optimism. Presidential hopeful Senator Bob Dole said, “It is high time we rein in U.N. peacekeeping, which is out of control.” Senator Jesse Helms called the U.N. “the nemesis of millions of Americans.”

We must heed the warning signs. History teaches that the acquisition of military power traditionally has been the first step toward establishing governance over a territory. Coupling the U.N.’s changing military strength with the new operational philosophy favoring individual over state sovereignty sends a warning flare that no liberty-loving people can afford to ignore.