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REIN IN THE U.N.'S GROWING TROOPS

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The United Nations needs to take a new look at its burgeoning efforts to keep peace by stationing blue-helmeted U.N. troops in various world trouble spots.

No, we're not about to endorse the long-standing proposal to create a permanent U.N. military force for rapid deployment in the event of a major crisis. Such a force would breach the principle that only the American government should send American troops in harm's way. Understandably, plenty of other governments feel the same way about their own military personnel.Rather, the United Nations ought to reappraise its military operations not with an eye to solidifying and entrenching them but with some down-sizing in mind.

The need for a review should be clear from the inexorable growth in U.N. military operations and the potential for even more of the same.

At last count, almost 90,000 men and women were observing and soldiering for peace under U.N. auspices. In the past six years, U.N. peacekeeping costs have risen nearly 16-fold, from $233 million in 1987 to an expected $3.7 billion this year. When all the logistics and equipment are taken into consideration, the cost of keeping a single U.N. soldier in Bosnia comes to $3,000 a day.

The quality of some U.N. contingents leaves something to be desired. The London Observer reports that a Ukrainian battalion serving in a U.N. operation at Sarajevo lost its first man because he was sunbathing at an old army barracks that was constantly under mortar fire. A junior officer turned out to be a Russian who could barely communicate with his men.

The most ambitious of the recent U.N. operations have met with only limited success. The United States had to bail out a discredited U.N. relief effort in Somalia. U.N. peace plans have failed to settle civil wars in Angola and Bosnia. The most expensive venture of all, in Cambodia, is faltering.

Then there's the embarrassing matter of Cyprus. Only 1,500 U.N. troops are there now. But a U.N. contingent has been stationed on Cyprus for 29 years. It's only fair to ask how much longer the Mediterranean island's Greek majority and Turkish minority should expect troops from Britain, Austria, Denmark and Canada to keep them apart. If the disputing parties can't or won't settle their differences, their claim on the U.N. budget and patience should not be open-ended.

Nor should the United Nations be expected to settle each and every international dispute. The world organization, after all, was designed to be a forum, not a global policeman. Though there are occasions when its peacekeeping forces can and should help, the United Nations is overextending itself and needs to get back to its original purpose.