AS THE U.S. military deploys for another peacekeeping operation, this time in Kosovo, many of the objections from Congress are familiar. Such deployments, it is said, degrade U.S. war-fighting capability and distract the military from its true function. So it is particularly timely to learn that many leaders within the military itself don't share those objections. The generals view peacekeeping as one essential and proper role for the armed forces. They believe that such deployments, if properly managed, can improve U.S. readiness to fight wars. But they also believe that such deployments haven't been managed in an ideal way.

Those are some of the conclusions of "A Force for Peace," recently published by the nonprofit Peace Through Law Education Fund. The report is based on interviews with two dozen active and retired military leaders, including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell; a former NATO commander, Gen. George Joulwan; and former service chiefs, regional commanders and officers who oversaw operations in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia.

These generals agree that peacekeeping is a legitimate function of the U.S. military in the post-Cold War era. Such deployments can sharpen leadership skills and morale, they say. If politicians act quickly enough, such deployments can lessen the chance of war. These generals for the most part favor coalitions with other nations and don't object to U.S. troops at times coming under foreign command.

There's also agreement that "exit strategies" and deadlines serve the interests only of America's adversaries. U.S. leaders should determine the mission and the definition of success, but they shouldn't limit the duration of the mission or the number of troops. The military should decide what force it needs to accomplish the goal.

There are potential readiness problems, but not because troops are being sent to keep the peace. There have to be enough troops, and the troops have to be given time to recover from deployments -- including to sharpen marksmanship and other war-fighting skills that may not get exercised during peacekeeping. And Congress should regularly provide for peacekeeping operations instead of enacting supplemental budgets every year; that ad hoc approach forces commanders to borrow money from essential training accounts.

Most of all, these generals said, the military can't be expected to do everything. In Haiti, Bosnia and now Kosovo, the military can separate combatants and enforce a peace; it can't provide jobs and shouldn't be asked to administer countries. Fine for NATO to disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army, in other words, but what are those demobilized soldiers going to do in a land where the Serbs have burned and looted so many stores, farms and businesses? The U.S. military is willing to play its part; but the World Bank, U.N. and other players can't be too far in the rear.