The Clinton Doctrine: U.S. Military Intervention Policy
Area - National Security
Title: Beyond The
Clinton Doctrine: U.S. Military Intervention Policy
Major Robert W. Lanham, USMC
The Clinton Doctrine, currently governing U.S.
military intervention policy, is based upon a decision framework which is not
suitable for discerning and prioritizing the nation's interests, resulting in
reduced diplomatic credibility abroad.
The paper examines the evolution of military
intervention policy, focusing on the post-Cold War trends. Beginning with the
Weinberger Doctrine, intervention policy is seen to drift away over time from
two key policy elements that have been part of the U.S. historical tradition:
(1) Americans are sent into combat primarily to protect vital national security
interests; and (2) military force is a
last resort option, used once it is determined that other policy means to have
failed. Although military intervention has been used to protect less-than-vital
interests, it has been done with increased risk of failure of attaining both
the military and political objectives.
Although the Clinton Doctrine (as articulated in the 1996 National
Security Strategy and Presidential Decision Directive-25) states
President Clinton's definitions of vital interests, and does clearly recognize
the need for carefully considered criteria whenever forces are committed; the
Clinton Doctrine is based on defending American values vice interests and
therefore misses the mark. America has neither the resources nor the desire to
defend every instance in which it's collective values are challenged. In order
for military intervention (or even threat of intervention) to be credible, it
must be clear, uncompromised, and supported by the majority of Americans and
their elected representatives. The only way the President can be sure of that
degree of support, is to reserve the commitment of his armed forces for only
those interests which Americans hold most dear. Anything short of this leads to
the commitment of national blood and treasure over issues that may later be
compromised. Over the long haul, this process reduces American credibility on
the global scene, thereby reducing national security.
intervention policy must be approached with a firm grasp of the nation's
priorities and interests, as well as of military capabilities. The President
must be keenly aware of the many complex issues within a particular situation
before he or she can make an intelligent military intervention decision. The
decision process derived from the intervention policy must ask the right
questions, and must lead the President to make a cost/benefit analysis which is
grounded on relevant information. Following
are some suggestions for improving U.S. military intervention policy:
1. Invest in human intelligence collection
capabilities and country/region expertise.
2. Define national interest in terms of
interests; not values.
3. When decided upon as an appropriate
option, military intervention must be done in a way which ensures that the military commander can seize and
maintain the initiative.
4. Much effort must be put into determining
the cost/benefit relationship.
5. Particular care must be given to military
intervention decisions which involve UN or other multinational coalitions.
Table of Contents
I. Defining National
II. The Historical Tradition
III. U.S. Post-Cold War
Intervention Policy 14
IV. The Clinton Doctrine 23
V. Assessment 28
VI. Summary and
End Notes 51
MILITARY INTERVENTION POLICY
Since the end
of the Cold War the United States has had to deal with increased uncertainty in
the international security environment. The absence of a primary peer
competitor to focus the energy of U.S. foreign policy has made it more
difficult for the nation's leaders to envision and carry out policies that are
clearly based on America's national interests. Indeed, defining U.S. interests in
the absence of a peer competitor on the global scene is a daunting challenge
for the country's leadership.
In such an
environment, U.S. foreign policy and national security strategy have evolved.
Of particular interest to this paper is that facet of policy which governs the
use of U.S. military forces in support of the nation's policies. Since the end
of the Cold War, policies regarding the support and protection of American
interests have grown to reflect changing realities and priorities, but these
challenges have been met with varying success. Policy failures in Somalia,
Iraq, and Bosnia-Herzegovina raise questions about the underlying soundness of
the policies and about current decisions to commit U.S. military power.
explores the elements of military intervention policy. First, national
interests are defined to provide some common ground on which further discussion
can develop. Second, the general history of the relationship between United
States interests and policies is explored in an effort to understand the
context within which the decision to commit military forces takes place. Third,
current intervention policy is examined to determine the role deployment of
military forces currently fulfills in the defense of U.S. interests.
argues that the Clinton Doctrine currently governing commitment of U.S.
military forces is based upon a decision framework which is not suitable
for discerning and prioritizing the nation's interests. It will argue further
that U.S. vital interests are, in reality, it's security interests and that
U.S. military power should primarily be reserved for the defense of these vital
interests. Finally, the paper will
argue that, because intervention policy is not currently based on the
definition and defense of vital interests, the policy leads to reduced
diplomatic credibility abroad.
criticized the Clinton Doctrine, an alternative intervention decision framework
is offered in the hopes of providing military intervention policy that is more
credible and consistent in the long run. Though no uniquely original concepts
are proposed here, the framework itself seeks to revitalize the link between
vital interests and military intervention --that in order for military
intervention (or even threat of intervention) to be credible, it must be clear,
uncompromised, and supported by the majority of Americans and their elected
representatives. The only way the President can be sure of that degree of
support, is to reserve the commitment of his armed forces for only those
interests which Americans hold most dear.
I. Defining National
begins with Donald Nuechterlein's construct which divides national interests
into categories of type and intensity.1 Basic types of U.S. national
interest include (1)defense of homeland, (2) economic well-being, (3)favorable
world order, and (4) promotion of American values abroad. Neuchterlein states
that, within each of these four broad categories, the "intensity"
with which Americans approach that interest will vary. The most intense
interest for Americans is the Survival interest, or those events which
threaten the very existence of the country. Next in intensity comes Vital
interest, where serious harm can happen unless strong measures (often, but not
always including the use of military force) are taken. Major interests are defined
as instances when a country's political, economic, and social well-being may be
affected adversely by events and trends abroad. Last in order of intensity are Peripheral
interests--when a nation's well being is not directly affected, but harm to
some segment of U.S. society (most often U.S. corporations with operations
overseas) may be sustained. These categories are useful for arranging and
prioritizing interests so they can somehow reflect the national will during the
process of policy formulation.
basic interests of "defense of homeland" and "economic
well-being" are apt to take on survival and vital intensity. For this
reason, the term "national security interest" is often used
interchangeably with "vital interest". The basic interests concerning
"favorable world order" and "promotion of American values"
tend not to be vital interests which threaten serious harm to the U.S.;
instead, they tend to dominate the intensities asscoiated with major and
peripheral interests. The tendencies cited here are generalizations, of course,
but the tendencies exist nonetheless.
Intensity of Interest
Defense of Homeland
Favorable World Order
Promotion of American Values
It is the role
of the President--with balanced opposition from the Congress-- to discern and
define American interests. It is also his role to exercise judgment as to the
intensity of interest that Americans should have in a particular development.
There is usually little disagreement on survival issues. If America is
attacked, even indirectly, U.S. leadership is quick to respond, courses of
action are rapidly developed, and public support rises quickly and is
relatively sustained. It is much more difficult to draw the line between major
and peripheral interests, but according to Neuchterlein, "If the policy
the United States cannot tolerate a developing threat, the level of
national interest for him is vital; if, however, he concludes that the issues
and should be compromised, even though the result can be painful,
the interest is major."2 (Italics added) These categories and
intensities of interest can be applied to any geo-political area for which U.S.
security policy is being developed.
history, the U.S. has traditionally--but not always-- committed its military
forces in the name of vital interests. In light of Neuchterlein's definitions this only makes sense, since
compromising an interest becomes politically difficult once the nation has
spent money and lives to secure it . This is not to say that the military
cannot, nor should not, be committed to protect and preserve major or
peripheral interests; only that to do so involves certain risks. Not the least
of these risks is to lose American public support for military operations
defending an interest that is not vital, if combat casualties begin to mount.
II. The Historical
of America's historical experience will reveal that there have long been distinct
elements of American foreign policy which still influence policy makers today:
(1) Americans generally resort to military force only after other policy
options have failed; (2) Americans have always attempted to spread democratic
values and influence over wider and wider geographic areas; and (3) Americans
generally support military intervention in those instances where vital national
interests (national security interests) are at stake. In other instances,
public and Congressional support falter before the political objectives are
reached, signifying a fourth distinct element: Americans do not like to think
of promoting and protecting their interests in terms of brokering power,
but rather, they couch their policy in the ideology of promoting American democracy
and individual (or human) rights. It is unreasonable to expect Americans to
begin thinking in terms of power politics because they rarely have. It is also
unreasonable to expect Americans to give up the cause of spreading the values
which have brought so much bounty and individual freedom to their country.
U.S. foreign policy of enlargement and engagement which has developed since the
end of the Cold War is actually the latest installment of an evolutionary
process that began at the nation's birth. The United States was born as a
working model of republican democracy. As the first such experiment, the
very idea of American-style democracy,
based on majority rule and a degree of individual freedoms (though quite
limited at the outset for many Americans), resides at the foundation of the
American character. So, too, does the
notion that America will resort to armed conflict only as a last resort as it
attempts to solve its foreign policy challenges. From the very beginning,
George Washington believed in the sword as "the last resort for the
preservation of our liberties".3
sought to extend the benefits of democratic ideology to others. Even when
Americans seem, on the surface, isolationist in character, closer scrutiny
reveals that there has been an ongoing effort to promote American values of
democracy and individual rights. In 1801, Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural
speech to the nation, spoke of the need for "peace, commerce, and honest
friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." The emphasis was not isolationist at all,
but emphasized engagement with the community of nations while avoiding entanglements.
These entanglements might
require American involvement in spite of whether or not it was in the best U.S.
interest to be involved. Within a very short time, in fact, Jefferson was able
to close the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon of France. This extremely
beneficial arrangement was possible largely because Jefferson had maintained a
free hand on the global economic scene by not being entangled in the ongoing
dispute between Britain and France.4 Additionally, the land purchase
fueled America's great westward expansion (hardly isolationist in nature) and
extended the "benefits" of American democracy to the inhabitants of
the North American continent.
The War of
1812 was largely a misguided attempt by the U.S. to annex the Canadian
territory. Shortly thereafter, American eyes turned southwesterly. The War with
Mexico was fought to expand influence into Texas.
extended its influence westward, it also began to reach outward. In 1823, the
Monroe Doctrine put the world on notice that, in addition to increasing its
territorial boundaries, the United States was intent on carving out a regional
sphere of influence as well. No longer
would the United States accept European encroachment in the Western Hemisphere.
The Doctrine gradually solidified over time into a centerpiece of the U.S.
security framework. The Open Door Policy , extending across the Pacific to
China, emphasized the commercial and economic nature underlying U.S. interests.
territorial borders secured and a sphere of influence established, the
extension of American ideals and beliefs turned inward for a brief period. At least in part, the American Civil War was
fought to resolve existing conflicts over the ideology of individual rights and
majority rule. As such, the Civil War was a continuation of the refining
process; a consolidation of those ideas which the American Revolution had affirmed.
Resolution of those ideological conflicts was necessary for the nation to
define itself and set the stage for further attempts to promote those ideals
At the turn of
the century the United States was a
nation growing in power and economic might, but certainly not a major player on
the world stage. The experiences of the First World War and Woodrow Wilson's
Fourteen Points were to change that reality forever. Once again the nation was
reluctant to pick up the sword and involve itself militarily. As the American
giant finally lumbered into action in WWI, American military power grew
quickly. As the war ended, Americans were anxious to see the rapid reduction of
their forces in their rush to return to normalcy. The U.S. situation and responsibilities had changed however. Due to the extent of economic strength which
the U.S. possessed, and due to the Wilsonian ideology it had now purchased
through the blood and treasure spent during the Great War, America's place on
the world stage had changed. No longer a bit player, the United States played a
much larger part in world diplomacy, but refused to remain actively involved
after the war's end. In the words of Walter Lippman,
The Wilsonian thesis was, if I may put it in
this way, that since the world was no longer safe for the American democracy,
the American people were called upon to conduct a crusade to make the real
world safe for American democracy. In order to do this the principles of the
American democracy would have to be made universal throughout the world.5
Lippman argues, Wilsonian ideology extended the traditional, historic
fascination with expansion of liberal democracy and individual rights to the
the American focus had been on the continent, then the hemisphere, the nation's
ideology became a crusade to extend the benefits of its political and
historical experience to the world at large. It is true that the American
people resisted this urge for awhile during the interwar years, but when WWII once
again thrust America onto center stage, Wilsonianism sounded the battle
cry--now pledging to defend FDR's Four Freedoms. Once again Lippman characterized the ideology as a great crusade:
Therefore, all wars are to end all wars, all wars are crusades which
can be concluded only when all the peoples have submitted to the only true
political religion. ...No war can end rightly , therefore, except by the
unconditional surrender of the aggressor nation and by the overthrow and
transformation of its political regime.6
Clearly, the events of WWII gave credence to this view. After a period
of reluctance to enter the war, America embraced the crusade for democracy and
freedom with all its energy.
aftermath of the Second World War, America found itself as the most powerful
and influential nation on earth. Very soon America would be confronted with a
major competitor on the world stage whose determination to export its ideology
(one totally opposed to American liberal democracy) was equal to her own. During the Cold War, America would carry the
brunt of the effort to fight the Soviet Union, ideologically and physically
opposed in a protracted struggle for the global sphere of influence.
struggle posed two very substantial challenges to the framers of U.S. foreign
policy and security strategy. First, the challenges which the totalitarian
regime of the Soviet Union placed before America occurred rapidly and spanned
the globe. The efforts to "contain" such direct challenges were primarily
reactive; events drove the formulation of policy more so than a framework
focused on developing strategic policy which directly related to interests.7
Secondly, America became engaged to counter Soviet expansion wherever it
occurred. This precept took precedence over whether the underlying situation
was a vital interest or not. The vital interest became: "to combat
Communism". Because communism was
involved (the spread of which is anathema to American democratic crusaders),
the situation automatically became a vital interest no matter what the
underlying situation demanded. The
Korean peninsula was not considered a vital interest until the North Koreans,
ostensibly at the request of the Kremlin, invaded South Korea. Vietnam held no relation to American vital
interests until it was perceived as another thrust at expanding the Communist
The fact that
neither Korea, nor Viet Nam really represented vital U.S. interests manifested
itself later on as loss of public support for those conflicts. As the Korean conflict turned into a U.S.
versus China confrontation, Americans ceased viewing the war as being in their
best interests. In fact, they perceived an increased threat to national
security as a result of fighting the Red Chinese. As the Viet Nam conflict became
more and more protracted, Americans perceived that its leadership lacked either
the will or the capability to "win", and therefore were unwilling to
invest more lives and money. This
context reveals that America is sensitive to the ideals and interests for which
it is willing to shed the blood of its citizens. Both cases support the idea
that, at least insofar as committing the American military is concerned, vital
national interests are national security interests. When
military involvement increases national security risk (as it did during the
Korean conflict), or decreases national security policy credibility (as during
Viet Nam), American public support wanes. Leaders ignore history if they
imagine that the American public will tolerate combat casualties for causes
which are not linked to underlying vital interests and are not committed with
the intention of winning the political objective.
iii. U.S. Post-Cold War INTERVENTION Policy
The American public was never particularly
fond of the concept of managing national power to pursue national interest.
Instead, they preferred to wrap the concept of interests (power) inside the
cloak of principles (ideology).8 So it is natural that America's
leaders have taken to devising some form of political theology when
articulating their foreign policy, rather than articulating the interests which
they believe are the most important to protect and promote. A policy which
clearly discriminated between various interests, then prioritized them and
delineated clearly for which of those interests the country should be willing
to sacrifice its sons, daughters, and treasure, has seldom existed in the
Since the end
of the Cold War, the fundamental change has been the movement from a bi-polar
world (in terms of primary centers of power) back to a multi-polar world. As
Henry Kissinger pointed out, "America is more preponderant than it was ten
years ago, yet, ironically, power has also become more diffuse."8
In this environment the United States has had to learn new ways of relating to
the community of nations. As the single most powerful nation on earth (in terms
of its combined economic, diplomatic, and military might), the U.S. has had to
balance leadership with building consensus on certain issues. It has had to
achieve this balance without acting unilaterally simply because it had the
power, or because it was easier diplomatically, to do so.
At the end of
the Cold War, U.S. policy for the use of force in defending its interests was
defined by the Weinberger Doctrine. The doctrine stated that, when committing
U.S. combat forces, six conditions should be satisfied: (1) The interest at
stake was a vital U.S. interest, or that of one of its allies; (2) resources
committed to victory (however "victory" was defined) were committed
wholeheartedly; (3) clear political and military objectives were defined; (4)
policy makers had to continually review the match between objectives and
resources; (5) a reasonable assurance of congressional and public support must
exist; and (6) commitment of U.S. forces should be a last resort, once all
alternatives had been exhausted. 9
Weinberger Doctrine greatly facilitates making sound decisions in the
commitment of the military, it came under criticism from many directions. The
point was made that diplomacy would not work unless the U.S. showed a
willingness to use force as the "teeth" in its policy. The Weinberger
Doctrine was seen as being too restrictive, seeking to constrain American
power.10 Secretary of State George Shultz wanted to
use military power to support "coercive diplomacy" in situations
where less than vital national interests were at stake.11 Neither
Weinberger nor Shultz defined "vital interests" in their debates, but
Secretary Shultz clearly envisioned a wider range of circumstances in which
military power would be employed.
Weinberger's critics lost sight of the fact that the Weinberger Doctrine was
intended to provide guidelines for conventional combat operations. In his
remarks to the National Press Club in 1984, Weinberger stated, "If we
determine that a combat mission has become necessary for our vital national
interests, then we must send forces capable to do the job--and not assign a
combat mission to a force configured for peacekeeping." Clearly he envisioned his guidelines as
governing just conventional combat operations. What never materialized was a set of similar guidelines for operations
other than war which may have allayed
the concern of Secretary Shultz that the Weinberger Doctrine was too
Bush administration, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was General
Colin L. Powell. Much current literature discusses the impact on policy of the
"Powell Doctrine", but many authors decline to define the Doctrine. The Powell Doctrine states that the concept
of applying overwhelming (later changed to "decisive") force against
the enemy to achieve a rapid victory, would be layered atop the Weinberger
Doctrine to form the new guideline for deciding when to commit U.S. forces.
In an article
Affairs, General Powell set out his own ideas in these words:
When a 'fire' starts that might require
committing armed forces, we need to reevaluate the circumstances. Relevant
questions include: Is the political objective we seek to achieve important,
clearly defined and understood? Have all other non-violent policy means failed?
Will military force achieve the objective? At what cost? Have the gains and risks been analyzed? How
might the situation that we seek to alter, once it is altered by force, develop
further and what might be the consequences? 12
There are many
similarities to the Weinberger Doctrine. However, the call for a link to vital
interests is replaced by the requirement that the political
objective be "important". The desire that committing forces remain an
act of last resort is still present. General Powell went on to caution against
incremental commitment of forces as was the case in Viet Nam, claiming that the
use of "decisive means and results are always to be preferred". So,
the Chairman reasoned, "that use of force should always be restricted to
occasions where the good will outweigh the loss of lives and other costs that
will surely ensue". 13 In this last statement Gen. Powell underscores his belief that the
primary cause for a reluctance to resort to force is that the Commander-in-
Chief is going to risk American lives in doing so. This fact is not lost on the Chairman, and he implores the
nation's leadership to make a thorough accounting for that fact throughout the
decision-making process. Once again,
Powell's guidelines address the commitment of forces to a combat situation, but
do not address the use of the military in operations other than war. Powell
argued that although force should be proportionate to the goal, force must be
decisive whenever it is committed--even for a limited objective. This leaves little room for employing the
threat of force in support of the coercive diplomacy that Shultz and other
diplomats seem to require.
Doctrine governed the way General Powell, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
approached his work. But it did not always govern the approach taken by Defense
Secretary Cheaney and President George Bush. Powell's opposition to committing troops to both Kuwait and Bosnia is
well documented. It follows, then that President Bush had some guidelines of
his own. Indeed, those guidelines are spelled out quite clearly in an address
to the Corps of Cadets at West Point at the end of his term of office. 14
was not averse to carrying on the American historical tradition of crusading
for democracy and individual rights. In his speech he discussed his overall
political aim for his foreign policy: "Our objective must be to exploit
the unparalleled opportunity presented by the cold war's end to work toward
transforming this new world into a new world order; one of governments that are
democratic, tolerant, and economically free at home and committed abroad to
settling inevitable differences peacefully, without the threat or use of
force." He quickly recognized,
however, that "Unfortunately, not everyone subscribes to these
principles." His proposal, therefore, was to engage in building a world
order "compatible with our values and congenial to our interests".
Bush saw it as a duty to spread the "theology" of the American
historical tradition, recognizing a window of opportunity presented by the fact
that U.S. influence in the world was relatively greater than at any time in
history. But he did acknowledge limits, saying: "The fact that America can
act does not mean that it must. A nation's sense of idealism need not be at
odds with its interests, nor does principle displace prudence."
recognizing some limitation, the above statement begins to obscure the
relationship between interests and ideology. In effect, it fuses the two so
that the ideology can become the interest. Such a policy is of no use if it
cannot prioritize its national interests, or determine which of those interests
it will defend by force. According to
President Bush, intervention decisions would require judgment on a case by case
basis; "To adopt rigid criteria would guarantee mistakes involving
American interests and American lives." This seems sound enough, but he
went on to say, "The relative importance of an interest is not a guide:
Military force may not be the best way of safeguarding something vital, while
using force might be the best way to protect an interest that qualifies as
important but less than vital." Here, the break between vital interest and commitment of forces has
become complete. Vital interests should not be viewed as those interests which
can be defended only by military force; but that military force should only
be used to defend interests that are vital--and only after all other options
have failed. President Bush does not differentiate between the intensity of
interests which may be promoting American values. According to this policy
American military members will be thrust into harm's way when there is no cause
that has been deemed a "vital interest" to the United States .
then went on to outline some considerations for deciding when to use force.
After warning against looking for a set of hard-and-fast rules, the President listed
his six guidelines:
"Using military force makes sense as a
policy where the stakes warrant, where and when force can be effective, where
no other policies are likely to prove effective, where its application can be
limited in scope and time, and where the potential benefits justify the
potential costs and sacrifice. Once we are satisfied that force makes sense, we
must act with the maximum possible support."
similarities to the Weinberger and Powell Doctrines are apparent. There is an
attempt to match capabilities with political aims, and a recognition of the
importance of using force as a last resort (though Bush states it as "no
other policies are likely to prove effective").
President Bush seems to support Powell's call for decisive force once the
decision to commit has been made. Still, no clear guidelines have been issued
for committing forces in situations other than in combat operations. This may
have been due to a real reluctance to admit that there was a role for the
military other than combat operations in the post-Cold War environment.
At this point
there still existed a lack of consensus in Washington regarding America's
"proper role" in the post-Cold War. In a 1992 speech, Representative
Les Aspin (later to become President Clinton's Secretary of Defense) described
two schools of thought regarding the use of military force:
Under the 'all-or-nothing' school, the U.S. military is likely to be
used only very, very rarely. The 'limited objectives' camp says the military
will become, in fact, very much like the nuclear weapons program during the
Cold War--important, expensive, but not useful. It will not be a useful tool
for achieving objectives if it's only going to be used in the extreme cases.
And therefore, this argument goes, support for it will diminish and it will
become basically irrelevant to the problems that the United States faces on a
day to day basis in the post-Cold War world. ...It may be that to maintain a
military for the extreme contingencies, it will be necessary to show that it is
useful in lesser contingencies, too.15
Aspin describes the polarity of the two views regarding America's
military role. On the one hand, those in the "all-or-nothing" school
wish not to commit the military short of all out war. The "limited objectives"
school wishes to use military force to threaten or coerce in "lesser
contingencies" as well.
steps in the evolution of current policy came during the Clinton
administration. President Clinton inherited the Iraqi, Bosnian, and Somalian
situations from his predecessor. But in Somalia, as the mission shifted from
U.S. to U.N. control, the mission changed from one of protecting food
distribution efforts to one of nation building. The Clinton administration failed to reassess this situation as
it developed, and the loss of 18 U.S. Army Rangers, some of which were dragged
through the streets of Mogadishu in front of the worldwide press, led to the
U.S. pullout from the Somalia mission.
In the wake of
the Mogadishu incident, the Clinton administration implemented six
"tests" meant to be applied to the decision of committing U.S.
troops. This tests were included in the President's National Security Strategy of
Engagement and Enlargement (NSS) of 1994. These six tests resembled the six elements of the earlier
Weinberger Doctrine, but with some important differences. The tests are listed here highlighting the
Weinberger Doctrine, presumably in the interest of making them less
(1) are cost
and risk commensurate
with the stakes? (no direct link to vital interests)
non-military means been given sufficient consideration? (vice last
(3) is the use
of force carefully matched to U.S. political objectives?
(4) is there a
reasonable assurance of support from the American people and their elected
(5) is there an exit
strategy ? (vice continual reassessment)
(6) will U.S.
action bring lasting improvements? (versus forces committed
wholeheartedly to achieve "victory")
While it is easy to be critical of President Clinton when comparing his
list of tests to Weinberger's and others', there is a positive trend beginning
in the 1994 NSS that is not so readily apparent. There is, for the first time,
a positive effort by the President to realize and articulate a broader framework
for considering the appropriate use of military force which meets the
requirements of the post-Cold War era. This realization matures in the National
Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement (February 1996), to
be discussed shortly.
Table (2) traces the evolution
in the post-cold war period from the Weinberger Doctrine through the Clinton
Tests. None of these policies were intended to be a panacea for the nation's
foreign policy challenges. None fully delineated when America should and could use
force, and when it should not or could not. But it is interesting to trace the
changes in the underlying ideas.
There is a
drift away from the link between the decision to commit forces and the presence
of a vital interest. There is an obfuscation of the differences between intensity of
interest and promotion of values (a basic interest in
itself). And, finally there is a distinct softening of the intent to use
military forces only as a last resort. For an American, given the historical
experience of this country, these should be disturbing trends.
forces can be committed to combat when...
1. Vital U.S. or Allied
interest at stake
1. Political objective
1. The stakes warrant
using military force.
1. Cost and risk are
commensurate with the stakes
2. Resources will be
wholeheartedly committed to victory
2. Military force
will achieve the objective. Decisive
means and results are preferred.
2. We act with maximum possible support
2. U.S. action will
bring lasting improvements
3. Clearly defined
political and military objectives are in mind
3. The objective is
clearly defined and understood
3. We use force where
and when it can be effective
3. The use of force is carefully matched to U.S. political
4. A continuous review
to match resources and objectives
will be conducted
4. How might the
situation we wish to alter, once altered by force, develop further and with
4. Application of force
can be limited in scope and time
4. There is an exit
5. Reasonable assurance
of public & Congressional support exists
5. The costs have been
determined. Have the gains and risks been analyzed?
5. Potential benefits justify the potential
costs and sacrifice.
5. Reasonable assurance
exists of support from the American people and their elected representatives
6. Commitment of U.S.
forces is a last resort
6. All other
non-violent policy have means failed
6. No other policies
are likely to prove effective
6. Non-military means
have been given sufficient consideration
IV. THE CLINTON DOCTRINE
President Clinton spoke of his vision of American power: "The United
States cannot and should not try to solve every problem in the world. But where
our interests are clear and our values are at stake, where we can make a
difference, we can act and we must lead."15 Michael Dobbs, a
staff writer for The Washington Post, termed this view "the Clinton
Doctrine". The intent to use U.S. military power where "interests are
clear and values are at stake" raises many questions. What sort of
interests and values justify the use of military force? Since we cannot solve
all of the world's problems, what mechanism do we use to discriminate and
prioritize the problems we wish to solve and the situations in which we will
choose to use military force? In The National Security Strategy of Engagement and
Enlargement -February 1996 (NSS-96) President Clinton gave his
answers to those questions.
embraces the notion that military force may be appropriate to support coercive
diplomacy in situations where less-than-vital national interests are at stake.
In this respect, he falls squarely within Les Aspin's "limited
objectives" camp. But in NSS-96, President Clinton spelled out his concept
of committing forces in defense of those lesser interests better than any other
post-Cold War President. He began by defining "national interest" in
his own terms.
The NSS lists
three basic categories of national interest, the first being those which are
"vital". Vital interests, according to President Clinton, are those
"that are of broad, overriding importance to the survival, security, and
vitality of our national entity--the defense of U.S. territory, citizens, allies,
and our economic well-being." The
conflict underlying Desert Storm was listed as an example of the defense of
this interest (though no specific rationale is offered). The next category
concerns "important, but not vital" interests. These are "interests which do not affect
our national survival, but they do affect importantly our national well-being
and the character of the world in which we live." The situations in Haiti
and Bosnia were listed as examples of "important, but not vital"
interests. The third category involves "humanitarian" interests, such
as the relief operations in Somalia and Rwanda. The NSS states:
"Generally, the military is not the best tool to address humanitarian
concerns. But under certain conditions, the use of armed forces may be
In the defense of vital interests, the NSS
states that the "use of force will be decisive and, if necessary,
unilateral. In other areas of less than vital interest, "military
engagement must be targeted selectively on those areas that most affect our national
interests--for instance, areas where we have a sizable economic stake or
commitments to allies and areas where there is a potential to generate
substantial refugee flows into our nation or our allies'." Additionally, in all cases, the NSS states
that the costs and risks of military involvement must be judged against the
Doctrine as stated in the NSS(-96), therefore, is quite involved. It delineates
the fact that military involvement in less than vital interests warrants its
own set of guidelines which are different than those for defending against more
direct threats to U.S. vital interests. Table (3) summarizes the elements of
the Clinton Doctrine in detail.
Table (3) The Interests
Important, but not vital
Whether/When to use force:
1. Whatever it takes...use of force will be decisive and, if
1. Military engagement targeted selectively on those areas that most
affect national interests
--only if forces are likely to accomplish objectives
--when a human catastrophe dwarfs the ability of human relief
agencies to respond
--other means have been tried, but failed to achieve objectives
--when the need for relief is urgent and only the military has the
ability to jump-start the longer term response
--costs and risks commensurate with the stakes
--when resources unique to the military are required
--when risk to American troops is minimal
2. Costs and risks of U.S. military involvement must be judged to be
commensurate with the stakes involved.
3. Several critical questions will be considered before committing
a. Have we considered
non-military means that offer a reasonable chance of success?
b. Is there a clearly defined,
c. What is the
environment of risk we are entering?
d. What is needed to
achieve our goals?
e. What are the potential
costs--both human and financial--of the engagement?
f. Do we have a
reasonable likelihood of support from the American people and their elected
g. Do we have the
timelines and milestones that will reveal the extent of success or failure,
and in either case, do we have an exit strategy?
How to use force (once the decision to use
force has been made):
1. Send forces with a clear
mission and, for those missions likely to involve combat, the means to
achieve their objectives decisively.
-- What types of U.S. military capabilities should be brought to
-- Is the use of military force carefully matched to our political
2. As much as possible, we
will seek the help of our allies and friends, or of relevant international
As can be seen from the chart, the policy framework
which this paper calls "The Clinton Doctrine" is not a simple
one. But the Clinton administration has realized the need for different sets of
guidelines which cover different types of military involvement. NSS-96 goes to
great lengths to spell out the administration's rationale in this key
decision-making process. This is a very positive development.
It is also
useful to turn to the guidelines set out in another document published in May
of 1994. This document is the unclassified summary of Presidential Decision
Directive-25 (PDD-25) and is entitled, The Clinton Administration's Policy on Reforming
Multilateral Peace Operations. In this directive, the Clinton
administration states guidelines which apply to the decision on whether or not
U.S. personnel will participate in U.N. and other peace operations.16
The factors for consideration are as follows:
advances U.S. interests and both the unique and general risks to American
personnel have been weighed and considered acceptable.
funds, and other resources are available.
participation is necessary for the operation's success.
--The role of
U.S. forces is tied to clear objectives and an endpoint for U.S. participation
can be identified.
Congressional support exists or can be marshaled.
control arrangements are acceptable.
At the end of
this list the PDD goes on to note: "Any recommendation to the President
will be based on the cumulative weight of the above factors, with no single
factor being an absolute determinant." This is a curious and detrimental
restriction. It means that none of the individual factors would be
"showstoppers" for a particular operation and, conceivably, U.S.
troops could participate even though personnel, funds, and resources are not
available, or even if U.S. participation was not necessary for the
operation's success. Clearly the note is unnecessary and invites confusion.
however, is another attempt to codify the decision on how and when to use
military force in the post-Cold War era. Along with the NSS-96, a picture has
emerged of how the President's policies have adapted to the complexity of
multi-polar relationships in the wake of the Soviet Union's fall. Although a
framework has been set forth to aid in the decision on when and how to commit
U.S. forces, is the framework adequate?
the adequacy of The Clinton Doctrine, both the doctrine and the application of
that doctrine must be examined. Earlier, President Clinton was quoted as
saying, "where our interests are clear and our values are at stake, where
we can make a difference, we can act and we must lead."17 His
vision misses the mark, and his leadership in this area has been weak. Interests must not only be clear, they must
be prioritized. Values may be challenged, but we can defend them with blood
only when those challenges pose a threat to our vital interests or our national
security. Where we can make a difference is not always the
same as where we should make a difference.
will focus not only on the lack of credibility generated by the way in which
President Clinton's policies are carried out, but it will link that lack of
credibility to the fact that the Clinton Doctrine is based on interests which
are not suitable for discriminating and ordering the nation's priorities.
Unless the framework of the Clinton Doctrine is changed, challenges to policy
will never be focused in the minds of the leadership nor, subsequently, of the
American people. If the underlying issues are never clearly defined (in terms
of the interests being harmed and the degree that those interests are being
threatened), then no President can clearly discern those issues upon which he
can or cannot compromise. Without knowing the issues which can or cannot be
compromised, the proper decision on whether to commit force, if needed, cannot
intervention policy must be based on vital interests and not on important values.
There are dangers in committing military forces to defend ideals which can be
compromised. Ironically, in a multi-polar world U.S. values will often be
subject to compromise before U.S. vital interests are. Secondly, American
intervention policy must be a policy of last resort, and
intervention must be accompanied by substantial public and Congressional
support in order to be sustained and credible. This support takes time and
energy to develop. Responsibility for that development rests squarely upon the
shoulders of the President.
In the Preface
National Security Strategy of 1996, President Clinton states:
The need for American leadership abroad
remains as strong as ever. I am committed to forging a new public consensus to
sustain active engagement in pursuit of
our cherished goal--a more secure world where democracy and free markets know
ideal he envisions is lofty and a crusade for worldwide democracy is consistent
with the American historical tradition, there is a real tension between that
ideal and the realities of the multi-polar world of today. Just
within the United States there are some very real limitations which call the
feasibility of attaining the "world democracy" ideal into question.
Unattainable ideals do not make good policy objectives.
Walter Lippman stated, "In my view
it is becoming increasingly plain that Wilsonian ideology is an impossible
foundation for the foreign policy of a nation, placed as we are and carrying
the burdens of our responsibilities. Our people are coming to realize that in
this century one crusade has led to another."18 His comments
are as cogent today as they were forty- five years ago. The American people
realize that, at least for now, resources for unabashed crusading do not exist.
This is not to say that Wilsonian ideals have gone by the wayside; they have not.
But it is extremely difficult to realize such grand ends when a nation is
willing and able to allocate only modest means to those ends.
There is a
fundamental question as to whether or not the U.S. possesses the power and the
means to export American democracy and values abroad. Clearly there has been a
feeling of over-extension in the nation's public discussions. The debate
continues on whether or not a hollow military is resulting from the drawdown of
military force structure while operational tempo remains high. Military
peace-keeping, peace-enforcement, and humanitarian efforts have been funded out
of military operating funds which normally are used to train military units for
more conventional warfare. The American public, if one is to believe the tone
often cited in today's newspapers, considers it's domestic priorities higher on
the list than it's foreign obligations.
no overseas concerns, particularly regarding U.S. economic interests. It makes sense that America's long term
interests --especially its security interests-- are best met by improving the
nation's own domestic strength. Americans are focusing on deficit reduction, education programs, curbing
drug abuse, fighting crime, and adjusting to demographic shifts and a changing
economic structure. All of these areas affect American power. Concurrently, there have been some real
fiscal limitations placed on the means used to conduct U.S. foreign policy. The
American public is not likely to put the welfare of other nations ahead of its
own welfare for very long. Owen Harries, editor of The National Interest,
eloquently captured the tension between ideology and reality regarding
America's relations with its world community:
Americans of all political persuasions
believe profoundly that it is their right and duty--indeed their destiny--to
promote freedom and democracy in the world. It is a noble and powerful impulse,
one not casually to be ridiculed or dismissed. But acting on it--if one is
concerned to be effective and not merely feel virtuous--is a complicated and
delicate business, and the dangers are many. Success requires that this impulse
be balanced against, and where necessary circumscribed by, other interests that
the United States must necessarily pursue; more mundane ones like security,
order, and prosperity. For these represent not merely legitimate competing
claims but the preconditions for a lasting extension of democracy.
requires, too, an awareness of the intractability of a world that does not
exist merely in order to satisfy American expectations--a world that, for the
most part, cannot satisfy those expectations in the foreseeable future.19
Not only must
we question the credibility of a policy based on the establishment of global democracy,
but we must also question a policy based on the importance of American values;
where "our values are at stake". American leadership must learn to
wield its unrivaled power prudently, with discretion. To the extent that U.S.
power is used to bully and cajole fellow nations into acting as America
expects, it stands to reason that a backlash of some sort will be inevitable.
Is there, as Jerrold Greene asks, a fundamental expectation " that
American sponsorship of democratic practices or institutions will, of
necessity, culminate in a pro-American feeling"?20 The United
States is increasingly part of an interdependent community of nations. It does
and will continue to need partners in order to maintain stability around the
globe. American leaders do not have the luxury of picking those partners based
on an American sense of moral values. To make those moral values the basis
for the nation's foreign policy makes no sense at all.
In fact, the
nation does not consistently enforce compliance with its values abroad. It
would be hard to imagine the United States spending the amount of diplomatic
capital it does on human rights in China if the U.S. imported all of its oil
from the Chinese. The same can be said for Egypt, India, or Turkey. Is the long
term ill will that can be generated in these pivotal nations by such a policy
worth the real gains the nation will reap? Certainly Americans have a deep and
heartfelt concern for individual rights in all nations. But it is not prudent
to base international policy on such a thing. The foreign policy of this nation
generally based on human rights issues -- only selectively is this
done and that is where policy based on values makes no sense. Basing policy on values rather than
interests, especially when those same values are inconsistently applied,
decreases U.S. credibility.
Additionally, policy which is compromised, or does not further U.S.
interests, decreases credibility. This is especially true once military forces
have been committed in support of an interest which is subsequently compromised. Policies in Iraq, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia
have not succeeded well at reaching their political aims. In Iraq, rather than
isolating Sadam Hussein for his attack on the Kurds by a missile attack against
southern Iraq, it appears that Sadam achieved what he wanted. Today, the
Kurdish opposition to Sadam's rule is gone from northern Iraq, and his oil
flows once again to the world market. In 1994 the Clinton administration was totally opposed to accepting ethnic
partition of Bosnia; now the country is being partitioned along ethnic lines.
It appears that the detestable practice of ethnic cleansing worked for the
Croats and Serbs in Bosnia--largely at the expense of the Muslim faction.21
The perpetrators of the ethnic cleansing--those that were charged with
crimes--have yet to be brought to justice, and remain still in positions of
power to usher in their new, ethnically pure sub-states. Then, the U.S. began
to arm the disenfranchised Muslims and is preparing to bring its forces
home--all the while proclaiming the success of its policy. The war in Bosnia is
not over, yet the underlying purpose for which U.S. forces were committed in
the first place has been compromised. In Haiti, over 20,000 U.S. military
personnel and two billion dollars from the nation's treasury have yet to pay
All this is evidence that underlying national interests have not been
correctly identified, or the "strategic endstates" have not been
clearly envisioned. This points to the heart of the matter: the imperative that
strong Presidential leadership grounded in a thorough knowledge of the issues
and a vision of the priorities of the nation be provided. In a day and age of
unprecedented news media access and dissemination capability, there is no
shortage of terrible images that can stream into American living rooms. Parts
of the population may begin building tremendous pressure for the President to
"Do something!". This fact
does not obviate the need for the President and his counsels to make reasoned
judgments based on all the facts. It is the responsibility of the U.S.
leadership (primarily the President) to act without the emotion of the moment;
to channel the nationalistic fervor (which is the basis of the crusading urge)
into a constructive force. In short, the President has the responsibility to
lead. With that responsibility comes the need ask the questions: What are the
American interests at stake? To what extent are these interests being harmed?
What policy options are available short of committing U.S. forces (even if it
may be more expedient to commit those forces)?
In order to
answer these questions, the U.S. intelligence structure and State Department
expertise in various countries and regions are vitally important. Although the
U.S. has bolstered it's technological capabilities for intelligence collection
and analysis, the capabilities for human intelligence collection and State
Department expertise in many countries and regions have been curtailed. These
HUMINT capabilities are essential for providing the President with informed
analysis required for sound decision-making.
Clinton has built his intervention doctrine upon three categories of national
interest: vital, important (but not vital), and humanitarian. In the 1996 National Security
Strategy the President cites Desert Storm as an example of the type
of military response appropriate for the protection of a "vital"
interest. As examples of responses to "important" interests, he lists
Haiti and Bosnia. As to "humanitarian" interests, he suggests Somalia
and Rwanda. I would argue that Desert Storm is the only example listed above
that can truly be characterized as successful in terms of furthering U.S.
interests, in spite of the political rhetoric. The Desert Storm military intervention
protected vital security interests of the United States and its allies.
reason for having a hierarchy of national interests is twofold: (1) to
prioritize interests in order to allocate energies and resources to them, and
(2) to aid in the decision of whether or not a particular interest is worth
spending U.S. lives to defend. In thinking through a process whereby interests
are discriminated and prioritized, some sense develops regarding which of those
interests can and cannot be compromised. Only some of the interests that appear
on a list of national interests are worthy of defending to the death.
There is great
danger in committing forces over an issue that is later compromised. If blood has been spilled in addition to
diplomatic capital, compromise on the issue brings political consequences at
home and reduces U.S. credibility abroad. If policies continually produce
situations which involve force, followed by the compromise of the issues or
values at stake, then a decline of American power over time may result. Policy
makers must realize that committing U.S. forces to a situation raises the
stakes and limits the options for resolving the conflict without losing face.
Once the troops are committed, compromising the initial issue that involved them becomes a costly option.
this possibility of compromise may lead policy makers to commit only minimal
forces. This is a dangerous temptation and reflects the underlying reality that
there is not a strong enough reason to commit the military in the first place.
If the policy calls for too many limits on the military force committed--if the
rules of engagement are too complex, if there are strict time limits set (where
the exit becomes
the strategy), if there is undue pressure placed on the military commander to
avoid casualties at all costs--then the military power exerted is really no power at
all. In fact, a hamstrung military commitment can quickly turn into a
vulnerability which can invite more dangerous activity from a hostile force.
The force committed should be at least sufficient to achieve the military aim.
Anything short of that is dangerous. If the political aim calls for a force
that is too weak to achieve the military objective under a worst-case scenario,
then military force is not the appropriate means to apply to the
situation. Additionally, if the
political endstate envisioned is unclear, if military force cannot contribute
directly to a clear endstate, then the military is the wrong tool to apply.
Roskin, Samuel Huntington and others have posed the question: Does the U.S.
turn a major or peripheral interest into a vital interest by committing U.S.
forces? 23 In Bosnia, for instance, there is no underlying vital
interest--nothing which can harm the nation if strong measures are not taken
there. Yet by committing U.S. forces, diplomatic prestige, and credibility, the
leadership risks enough that Bosnian issues take on the proportions of a vital
interest. The arguement that the Bosnian civil war posed an indirect threat to
U. S. vital interests by threatening to spill over into other European
countries is discounted here. The major European partners did not appear
sufficiently concerned by that threat to provide their forces without
U.S. participation. The issue concerning how the U.S. leadership role in NATO
was challenged by the instability in Bosnia raises other issues which go beyond
the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, because military forces have been
committed, the stakes have been raised. In essence, the U.S. has lost control
of the situation because if U.S. forces there began taking serious casualties,
public support at home--and the President's desire to keep forces there--would
wane. The victors would be the faction(s) responsible for making the Americans pull
out. U.S. credibility and power would be damaged.
become obvious here. First, this example shows how such an "entangling
alliance" as Jefferson warned against limits the free hand of U.S.
diplomacy. Secondly, it underscores the importance of keeping the use of force
linked to vital interests. Other arguments aside, the reason that public
support would evaporate in Bosnia should the American death toll rise is that
the commitment in Bosnia does not represent a defense of U.S. vital interests .
The real litmus test of a vital interest is its ability to sustain American
public support through great adversity because it is recognized that serious
harm will come to the U.S. if that interest is compromised. If the underlying
interest is not of sufficient importance, the U.S. population will not support
many casualties, nor the policy.
of a vital-interest-based intervention strategy is also important when only the
of intervention is used to achieve objectives. Decisions concerning the use of coercive diplomacy and military
intervention become increasingly difficult as the nation moves towards a goal
of coalition building and multilateralism. President Clinton states that,
"as much as possible, we will seek the help of our allies and friends or
of relevant international institutions."24 An opposing view is
offered by Matthew C. Waxman:
Recent experiences in Somalia and Bosnia,
however, have highlighted constraints associated with the conduct of coercive
diplomacy by coalitions. In theory, coalition-building often limits both the
potency and credibility of the threats that are critical to coercive
strategies. The United States must therefore be more selective and assertive in
its use of coalitions as instruments of foreign policy.25
coalitions can bring increased legitimacy to bear against a rogue power, often
the interests of the coalition parties do not converge sufficiently to apply
the increased legitimacy effectively in achieving demands. Experience in Bosnia
has provided many examples of how difficult it can be to get all of the players
to "turn the key" which will take them down a common path. Coalition
determination to maintain IFOR in Bosnia remains tentative to this day. Credibility is also limited by
multilateralism. Coalition dissent prior to an armed intervention (or threat of
one) reduces credibility and exposes weakness which an adversary can exploit.
The "process of transmitting a clear and credible threat, often already
encumbered by domestic dissension, is complicated by competing demands of
coalition-maintenance."26 It was much easier to mitigate this
phenomenon during Desert Storm when the vital interests defended by the
coalition members were clearly defined and threatening (because they were vital
interests). This was less so in Bosnia and Somalia, hence coalition-maintenance
required much more focus and energy if it was sustained at all.
multilateral and coalition activity in carrying out foreign policy can also
lead to more and more commitments for the military. There is a danger in making
too many commitments. If an already drawn-down force structure is responding to
defend interests which are less-than-vital in importance, and unforeseen threats to vital interests
arise, the responsiveness to meet the vital interest challenge is reduced. A
strategic reserve of military capability should always be held for response to
unforeseen challenges. The problem is that the size of that response will be
impossible to determine ahead of time. In the current national security
environment, unforeseen threats to vital interests are a very real possibility.
Rogue states have increased access to advanced weaponry and command and control
technology; remnant Soviet-bloc countries continue to present challenges (most
recently, anarchy in Albania threatened U.S. citizens there).
sharply defining vital security interests, a framework for clear
decision-making is established. For almost any foreign policy challenge, the
issues will change with time. A constant reevaluation process must be in place
to continually ask the right questions. Usually this has taken place as
Congress has provided oversight to administration policies abroad. But as U.S.
Representative Lee Hamilton has pointed out, Congress has become increasingly
reluctant to provide realistic oversight.27 As Presidents have used
the War Powers Act to introduce military forces, Congress has not wanted to
appear divisive with the President. There follows a lack of substantive
dialogue between the executive and the legislature. So the real issues may
never be uncovered and debated in the very forum that the Constitution
provided. Senator Russ Feingold has gone further, calling for a measure
requiring Congressional approval every time a military intervention is
earlier critics of the Weinberger Doctrine were correct in saying that the
guidelines were too restrictive. It would seem more restrictive for a President
to lose the freedom of the War Powers Act, however. The decision process would
likely improve either way. Military force would not be committed unless a vital
U.S. or allied interest was at stake, and only after other policy options had
failed. These would be the key elements debated in Congress prior to a
commitment of force--if that debate took place. By focusing on
the concepts of vital interest and last resort, policy makers wrestle with the
real underlying issues in question. The focus on interests and whether or not
there was room for compromise would result in better policy.
Finally, the weakening of the determination to use force only as a last
resort must be considered. Up through the Powell Doctrine the traditional
requirement to use force as a last resort has been incorporated as policy. This
did not mean that force could not be used--nor is it to say that the first use
of force could not be justified. The concept of last resort is a long-standing
tradition in Western civilization derived from the concept of the "just
war", or jus ad bellum. Americans are fortunate that they live in a world which generally
settles its disputes peacefully. There is strong prejudice against resorting to
all out war when major disagreements occur. According to James Turner Johnson,
The same consideration does not apply to uses
of forceful means at lower levels and in the service of diplomatic undertakings
or other activities that fundamentally enhance stability. But the key concern
is that the game must be worth the candle; even in such cases force must be the
last step, not taken until other steps have been tried. 29
The view that military intervention should come only after all other
non-violent policy means have failed fits well with America's moral and
historical traditions. Direct military
intervention is always very costly--at least in monetary terms, and potentially
in bloodshed as well. Often, military intervention leads to long term
commitments which can entail great expense over time (a presence in Southwest
Asia is still required in spite of the success of Desert Storm). Monetary expense
is less dear than the cost of lives, however. In a country which has always
placed a very high value on human life, it makes sense that a
Commander-in-Chief would conduct the due diligence required in attempting
everything in his power to solve a dispute before sending his own people into
harm's way. It is extremely puzzling in this light to see policy drift away
from insisting on force being applied as a last resort. Perhaps this is
resulting from some confusion on what it means to commit forces.
The President does not necessarily commit force when he sends a
detachment of the Army Corps of Engineers to help a developing country build
infrastructure. The same is true when logistical units of the military services
are sent to aid in food distribution to starving peoples in Africa. But to the
extent that these units come under the risk of being attacked or harmed by
hostile foreign forces, the picture begins to change. If the risk of attack is
plausible, most likely those logistical forces (for the sake of example) would
be accompanied by security forces. Now the risk of losing American lives in a
combat situation is a possibility. For this reason, combatant forces should
only be committed when there is no other viable policy means available that
will succeed. This does not mean that every avenue other than force has been
physically implemented--only that they have been intelligently considered and
deemed to fall short of the desired objective. There should also be an
accompanying discussion on the importance of the venture to American interests,
and the fact that use of force is being considered.
America cannot engage
everywhere. Even to chose all of the places in the world that U.S. values and
sensibilities are offended would be extending U.S. reach beyond its resources
and capabilities. Henry Kissinger warns, "America must be careful not to
multiply moral commitments while the financial and military resources for the
conduct of a global foreign policy are being curtailed. Sweeping pronouncements
not matched by either the ability or the willingness to back them up diminish
America's influence on all other matters as well." 30 A foreign
policy that cannot be sustained or, by its very nature, cannot be universally
and consistently applied is sure to reduce the credibility of U.S. diplomatic
efforts abroad. At a time when the
international security environment is most inclined to respond to diplomacy and
economic incentives, reducing diplomatic credibility makes no sense.
VI. SUMMARY AND
In this paper
I have argued that military intervention should primarily be considered in
instances where vital national interests are being challenged, and only after
other non-violent policy options have failed. On the other hand, a study of history demonstrates that military
intervention has often been used in support of less-than-vital national
interests, and that the President will most likely continue to call upon the
military to defend those lesser, but important, interests. Military
intervention is a difficult tool to use well. When military forces are
threatened or used, risk increases. The risk not only arises from the dangers
of the battlefield, but in regard to diplomatic credibility as well. Therefore,
intervention policy must be approached with a firm grasp of the nation's
priorities and interests, as well as of military capabilities. The President
must be keenly aware of the many complex issues within a particular situation
before he or she can make an intelligent military intervention decision. The
decision process derived from the intervention policy must ask the right
questions, and must lead the President to make a cost/benefit analysis which is
grounded on relevant information. Following are some suggestions for improving U.S. military intervention
1. Invest in human intelligence collection
capabilities and country/region expertise. Situations
like Bosnia, North and West Africa, the Middle East, China, and countless
others cannot be adequately understood through information technology alone.
There must be a human mind involved which is capable of interpreting subtleties
in relationships. There must be people
involved in the every day concerns of the citizens of the countries of interest
to the U.S. who are highly trained and experienced in analyzing and
communicating the political, social, and economic realities of what is
occurring there. The U.S. must make an investment in improving and expanding
these capabilities. This need not be done covertly. But it must be done so that
someone who knows the real situation can be available during times of crises
(or ahead of time to prevent crises) to answer questions, challenge policies,
and provide the guidance that only first hand experience can provide.
Pro: The U.S. and
its leaders will be well served by increasing the level of understanding in a
given situation before policy decisions are made--certainly before military
forces are introduced. This increased level of understanding will translate
into more appropriate and effective policy responses which will save time,
money, and effort (perhaps lives) over the long run.
Con: The increased
investment in human intelligence and expertise will take additional funds from
an already austere budgetary environment. The costs should be examined in light
of long-term as well as short-term benefits. Making the investment up front
before other, more costly policy options are implemented, may be the most cost
effective in the long run.
2. Define national interests in terms of interests;
not values. Neuchterlein's definitions are satisfyingly simple because they define
interests in negative terms. In other words, they define interests in terms of
how seriously the U.S. is potentially harmed when those interests are
challenged. Yet diplomats must deal in
ways which the U.S. can gain in particular instances. It is more
difficult to define interests in these positive terms. The President must be
able to see and define the nation's interests in both positive and negative
terms. In this way he will be guided to consider the costs as well as the gains
inherent in a given situation.
points in mind, I offer some definitions of U.S. interests that lend themselves
to defining national interests in terms that can be used for setting
priorities. While not entirely original by any means, these definitions
synthesize from the current literature a more useful method of discriminating
national interests are, basically, national security interests:
--Protecting U.S. territory and citizens,
both at home and abroad (protection from ballistic missiles, weapons of mass
destruction, terrorism, direct attack, drug
trafficking, catastrophic economic loss, etc.)
--Ensuring access to sea-lanes and airways
for the conduct of trade and the movement of vital resources
--Preventing hostile aggression from shifting
regional balances in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, the Middle East,
--Those other instances where serious harm can come
to the nation unless
strong, deliberate measures are taken.31
Major national interests
warrant serious attention, but do not generally require military intervention:
--Expanding free and open markets; increasing
economic prosperity at home and abroad
--Influencing the behavior of hostile regimes
--Enhancing global partnerships in commercial
and environmental endeavors
--Those other instances where the country's
political, economic, and social well-being
may be affected adversely by events and trends abroad, but where serious
harm to the U.S. will not occur.32
Other national interests
are important and require constant effort and consistent policies. I do not
like the term "peripheral" interest because it implies that these
interests are not important--they are. Still, for the purposes set out in
this paper, these interests could rarely be seen as requiring military
--Providing aid to foreign countries in need
who have demonstrated the capability to
put that aid to intelligent use
--Supporting friendly nations
which are developing open markets and the respect for human rights
--Promoting economic development abroad, as
well as the universal respect for human