Post–cold War Policy - Undertaking humanitarian interventions

Humanitarian interventions—the use of military force to save civilian lives in the absence of vital national interests—emerged as a major theme in post–Cold War American foreign policy and generated heated political and scholarly debates about their advisability, efficacy, and legitimacy. During the Cold War humanitarian interventions were rare, unilateral, and generally condemned by the international community. For example, in 1971 India invaded East Pakistan (Bangladesh) during a Pakistani civil war allegedly to save civilian lives, but the consequence was to split India's traditional enemy in two. Comparable international skepticism greeted the 1978 Vietnam invasion of Kampuchea (Cambodia)—supposedly to end the "killing fields" of the Khmer Rouge—and the 1979 Tanzanian intervention in Uganda was not only designed to oust the abhorrent Idi Amin but also to retaliate against a Ugandan invasion the previous year.

But after the Cold War a commitment among democratic states to respond to humanitarian disasters became the norm, if not always the rule. The United States assumed a global humanitarian role, intervening both unilaterally and multilaterally in an unprecedented number of situations. In 1991, U.S. forces provided aid and protection to the Iraqi Kurds shortly after the conclusion of the Gulf War. Many commentators and members of Congress criticized President Bush for not intervening sooner.

In December 1992, U.S. troops were ordered to Somalia in an effort to end a disastrous famine and then to turn over responsibility to the United Nations. But when eighteen U.S. Rangers were killed in a firefight with hostile Somali clan members in October 1993, an outraged Congress pressured a panicked Clinton administration to withdraw all U.S. forces. Misery soon returned to southern Somalia. No doubt in reaction to this experience, the United States did virtually nothing to halt a full-scale genocide the following year in Rwanda that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis. Europeans, in particular, criticized this inaction, and several years later Clinton apologized for his failure to provide more assistance.

In September 1994, in the face of an imminent U.S. invasion, Haiti's junta left the country and the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was reinstalled. At the time, former President Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker publicly opposed this action on the grounds that no vital national interests were at stake. But confronted with a humanitarian disaster in the form of thousands of Haitian refugees attempting to reach the U.S. mainland, and pressured by the Black Congressional Caucus to return President Aristide to power, the Clinton administration—armed with a UN resolution—prepared to use military force.

A decade earlier, in 1984, Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, suggested that six tests ought to be passed before dispatching U.S. troops: (1) "The United States should not commit forces to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest"; (2) the commitment should only be made "with the clear intention of winning"; (3) it should be carried out with clearly defined political and military objectives"; (4) it "must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary"; (5) it should "have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress"; and (6) it should "be a last resort." Believing that the outcome of the Vietnam War would have been vastly different if these stringent tests had been applied, the Weinberger Doctrine was quickly embraced by many senior military officers, including Colin Powell, who would serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993. And it was the fear of creating a "Balkan quagmire" that steered American policy toward Yugoslavia for much of the 1990s.

Prompted by the inspiring example of democratic revolutions sweeping Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, several republics in the Yugoslav confederation sought to break away from Belgrade's rule. In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence. While Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic did little to oppose the Slovenian action, he directly supported an uprising of ethnic Serbs in Croatia, and a ghastly civil war ensued. In December, Germany recognized both new governments, and the European Union and the United States soon followed, even though Secretary of State James Baker had declared previously that "we don't have a dog in this fight."

Macedonia was allowed to secede from the federation, but after Muslims held an independence referendum in multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina that was boycotted by its Serbian residents, a horrific war broke out among Croats, Serbs, and Muslims. The Bosnian Serbs, who were enthusiastically supported by Milosevic, undertook a systematic "ethnic cleansing campaign" designed to rid the republic of its Muslim population. The Bush administration, while recognizing the independence of a Muslim-led Bosnia, maintained that the Balkans constituted a European problem and refused to send U.S. forces there as part of a UN "peacekeeping" operation, even though several members of NATO did so. Some senior Clinton officials, led by Anthony Lake and UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, argued that the United States should lift the arms embargo that the United Nations had imposed on all the warring parties and initiate air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions. But the Joint Chiefs chairman Powell repeatedly rejected the feasibility of this "lift and strike" option, while nations such as Britain and France, with peacekeepers on the ground, argued that their troops would be the first targets of Serb retaliation.

Despite the worst fighting in Europe since World War II, the Clinton administration did little until August 1995, when, after an exceptionally heinous slaughter of Muslim civilians in the town of Srebrenica, NATO carried out five days of bombing that had the ultimate effect of bringing all of the factions to the negotiating table in Dayton, Ohio. Soon, NATO peacekeepers with American participation entered Bosnia, but Clinton, under congressional pressure, announced quite unrealistically that U.S. forces would remain there for only one year. Indeed, their continued presence became a major campaign theme in 2000 when George W. Bush and several of his advisers suggested that the Balkans should be policed exclusively by Europeans. On the other hand, in 1999, when reporting on the Srebrenica massacre, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that "the tragedy will haunt our history forever. A deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel, or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion." He implied that the United States bore a major responsibility for providing that political will.

In early 1999, Milosevic indicated his intention to purge Kosovo—a province of Yugoslavia whose semiautonomous status he had revoked ten years earlier—of its ethnic Albanian (Muslim) majority. After rejecting a demand that NATO forces be allowed to enter Kosovo to prevent "ethnic cleansing," Milosevic was subjected to an unprecedented seventy-seven-day bombing campaign. During Operation Allied Force, which ultimately threatened the cohesion of NATO, Yugoslav troops forced hundreds of thousands of Muslim Kosovars into neighboring Albania and Macedonia and thus created the very humanitarian catastrophe that the air strikes had been designed to avoid. From the outset, Clinton, fearing public and congressional criticism over possible casualties, ruled out the use of ground troops. American officials, remembering how quickly NATO bombing had ended the fighting in Bosnia four years before, expected a similar outcome in Kosovo. But it was not until Russia withdrew its support from Belgrade that Milosevic finally capitulated. Then he allowed peacekeepers under UN—not NATO—authority to enter Kosovo, where they encountered sustained hostility from both Muslims and Serbs.

All of these humanitarian interventions—as well as the decision to ignore Rwanda—provoked intense debate within the United States about the essential purposes of American foreign policy. Michael Mandelbaum, a leading scholar of American foreign relations, captured one side of the issue quite colorfully in a 1996 Foreign Affairs article entitled "Foreign Policy as Social Work," in which he likened Anthony Lake to Mother Teresa for telling a newspaper reporter that "when I wake up every morning and look at the headlines and the stories and the images on television, I want to work to end every conflict, I want to save every child out there." In rejoinder, Stanley Hoffmann, another renowned student of American foreign policy, predicted that the twenty-first century would be full of ethnic conflict and disintegrating states. While not all of them would be preventable or resolvable, instances of extreme violence should be considered as inherently dangerous for international peace and security and morally and prudentially unacceptable.

The national debate about humanitarian interventions involved at least four issues. First, under what circumstances would military power be used as opposed to other, less coercive tools of statecraft? Some observers, like Henry Kissinger, argued that unless a clear, vital interest could be found, military force should never be used. A substantial number of congressional Republicans shared his view. This position obviously reflected that of the Weinberger Doctrine. Yet no U.S. official or influential commentator suggested that the United States should intervene in all humanitarian crises, for the obvious reason that because resources were limited, priorities had to be set. Most political elites reached the conclusion that these situations should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Yet they disagreed about which ones warranted American action. Positions often were taken on the basis of ethnic identity. For example, the Congressional Black Caucus was especially eager to intervene in Haiti and Rwanda. Similarly, Cuban Americans, Armenian Americans, and American Muslims expressed other, predictable preferences.

Second, how much and what kind of force would be needed? Because there was a widely shared perception by civilian and military leaders that, after the Somalia "debacle," the American public would not tolerate casualties suffered during humanitarian operations, the Clinton administration refused to deploy ground combat troops in the Balkans. Rather, it relied exclusively on air-power. In fact, the administration may have mis-read the "lessons" of Somalia, for polling data indicated that the public was considerably more tolerant of casualties as long as the intervention resulted in success.

Third, what kind of training should be given to U.S. troops who might become peacemakers or peacekeepers? This facet of the debate was prima-rily conducted within the Defense Department between those who believed that special peace-keeping units should be created and those who argued that all forces should be taught to be potential peacekeepers. But some observers out-side the Pentagon questioned the whole concept of training forces for what they compared to police duties rather than traditional military roles.

And, fourth, how central a role should humanitarian missions play in U.S. foreign policy? In general, liberals like Anthony Lewis of the New York Times contended that their role should be central. Moreover, the interventions should do more than simply restore order and feed and clothe civilians; they should also aim to rebuild failed states, arrest war criminals, and integrate ethnic groups. Conservatives, who remained skeptical that such operations should be undertaken at all, believed that they should occur infrequently and seek to achieve modest objectives. These disagreements became prominent during the 2000 presidential campaign when Condoleeza Rice, a top adviser to George W. Bush and his future special assistant for national security, called for the rapid return of U.S. peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosovo at the same time that Vice President Albert Gore indicated that, if elected, he would devote even more resources to humanitarian missions.

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