In July 1995 a battalion of United Nations peacekeeping forces in the U.N.-designated "safe area" of Srebrenica was surrounded by Bosnian Serb militiamen. The Serb forces, led by indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, threatened violence against the blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers unless they turned over 300 Muslims who had taken refuge in the U.N. compound. Here is how one peacekeeper described the U.N. reaction:

"Everybody got a fright. You could easily get killed in such an operation."

So the U.N. peacekeepers turned the Muslims over to the militia. They watched as the men were separated from the women and children--a process that was already well known in Bosnia as a sign that the men were in imminent danger of death. None of these men was ever heard from again.

Three weeks after the massacre at Srebrenica, the top U.N. official in Bosnia had dinner with Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic at a hunting lodge outside Belgrade. When Milosevic pointed out that hunting was prohibited in the immediate vicinity of the lodge, the U.N. official joked that it was "a safe area for animals." Everybody laughed.

The U.S. Congress, disgusted with the costly and ineffectual U.N. operation in Bosnia, has refused to pay a $504 million supplemental bill for the operation. Instead, we paid even more for a subsequent NATO force, which did the job the U.N. had failed to do. So it is shocking to hear Richard Holbrooke, our new ambassador to the United Nations, suggest that paying the U.N. bill is necessary in order to "recognize that evil really exists" in the world and to "match our rhetoric with resources."

Holbrooke has got the good-and-evil question exactly backward. It is U.N. bureaucrats and General Assembly member states, not their critics in Congress, who need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the recognition that evil exists and must be confronted.

Not only in Bosnia but also in Rwanda, U.N. forces led by then-head of U.N. peacekeeping Kofi Annan chose to do nothing in the face of clear evidence that genocide was about to occur. Annan was rewarded with a promotion to secretary general, from which position he promptly proclaimed that Saddam Hussein was "a man I can do business with." U.N. entities have also provided cover for forced abortions in China and Vietnam, proposed a "new world information order" that would essentially abolish freedom of the press, and proclaimed that Zionism is racism.

Of course the United Nations does good work as well as bad. Much of the good is done by the United Nations Children's Fund and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which Congress generously funds outside the regular U.N. budget. In all, Congress appropriates about $2 billion a year for the U.N. and its affiliated agencies. Total U.S. assessed and voluntary support of U.N. operations over the years amounts to at least $57 billion. The far smaller amount that is in dispute--the so-called "arrearages" for which U.N. critics have been accused of being deadbeats and isolationists--arises mostly from specific policy disputes such as the Bosnia peacekeeping operation, U.N. subsidies for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Cold War-era kickbacks to Communist governments from U.N. employee salaries.

There are plausible arguments for resolving these disputes, but they have to do with treaty interpretation and big-power diplomacy, not with good and evil.

The administration claims it can make the U.N. a better organization if Congress will just write a billion-dollar check. Many of us in Congress have serious doubts about this, but we might give the administration the benefit of the doubt if it would stop taking cheap shots and sit down at the negotiating table.

In any such negotiations, the administration will have to address not only its own foreign policy priorities but also those of Congress. Indeed, the administration's strident rhetoric on the arrearages question conveniently ignores the fact that Congress passed a comprehensive foreign policy bill last year that authorized payment of the U.N. arrearages. Incredibly, President Clinton vetoed the bill, because he objected to a provision restricting U.S. support for foreign organizations that promote abortion around the world.

The administration claims that abortion and abortion lobbying--even by U.S. foreign aid grantees--is somehow irrelevant to foreign policy legislation. In this respect, Ambassador Holbrooke's excursion into moral philosophy may be helpful. Some international issues really do boil down to questions of good and evil. The next step is for the administration to recognize that it will never get the robust bipartisan support it seeks for its foreign policy so long as important aspects of the policy deeply offend the moral sense of a significant segment of Congress and the American people.

The writer, a Republican representative from New Jersey, is chairman of the subcommittee on international operations and human rights.

Taking Exception