Should the United States be the World's Policeman?

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The topic about which I have been asked to speak is a simple question: Should the United States be the world's policeman? Let me start by giving a simple answer: No, we should not.

I know of no one, on the left or the right of the political spectrum, who believes that the United States should assume the role of global cop. Nor, for that matter, do I believe that the rest of the world wants Washington to be the final arbiter of its conflicts and the enforcer of its rules. Turning back a few chapters in our history books, we find some nostalgia for the Pax Britannica of the Nineteenth Century, but such sentiment is primarily confined to the British themselves. To the rest of the world, the Pax Britannica was the Imperium Britannicum, and its sway was consistently resisted by other countries who jealously guarded their own power and independence, including the young United States.

The simple question that I have been asked to address masks a more complicated issue. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, we no longer face an antagonistic superpower whose military and political objective is our destruction. No other country seems able to mount such a threat in the near future. Yet we maintain an extensive diplomatic presence and powerful military forces, at great cost to the U.S. taxpayer, that dwarf those of any other country in the world.

This is because the United States remains a global power with global interests that transcend the life-and-death struggle of the Cold War. So the real question before us is, under what conditions and for which purposes should the United States engage in the limited use of military force for limited objectives?

The question is not whether the United States should ever use military force. Only a pacifist or isolationist would think, for example, that the United States should have consented to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and his domination of the Persian Gulf, despite the fact that Iraqi Republican Guards were certainly not going to storm ashore on America's beaches.

No, the only reason we are having this discussion today is because the current Administration has engaged in a muddled, at times dangerous, use of U.S. military power that is greatly at variance with President Bush's wise and prudent actions in the Persian Gulf. I will not today engage in a critique of the Clinton Administration's military efforts in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia or the Gulf. I have often done so before, and this audience needs no convincing on that score.

Rather, I will address the key factors that I believe should form the basis of a President's decision to use U.S. military forces for limited objectives.

The first and foremost is that American troops should not be ordered into a conflict unless U.S. vital interests are threatened. This is the primary distinction between the role of a great power and that of a policeman: it is the job of a police officer to enforce the laws in situations where the cop, the police chief and the mayor have no direct interest in an outcome. While we all hope for a world in which justice and law govern the actions of states, it would be self-destructive hubris for the United States to put the lives of its soldiers at risk for the sole purpose of good citizenship in the international community.

Of course, defining vital national interests is no simple matter. It calls for statesmanship and is a legitimate matter for political debate. It includes, I believe, ensuring the survival and prosperity of the American people, defending our allies, and combating such global threats as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or narcotics. But did the United States have a vital national interest in restoring President Aristide to power in Haiti or hunting warlords in Somalia? Of course not.

Second, there should be a clearly stated objective for the use of U.S. armed forces in a conflict.

Third, in keeping with the limited nature of the U.S. military objectives in the post-Cold War world, the commitment of U.S. troops must be of limited duration with a stated and achievable exit strategy. I must say that I was disappointed and angry, but not surprised, when President Clinton announced a few days after the November election that U.S. troops would stay in Bosnia well beyond the one year originally promised to the Congress and the American people. When the deployment of U.S. in Bosnia was debated in Congress in late 1995, I said then that a withdrawal date was not an exit strategy. Despite the outstanding efforts of the forces assigned to the multinational Implementation Force (or IFOR), the conditions for peace in Bosnia did not exist after twelve months, and I have the gravest doubts that they will exist by the time the next deadline for withdrawal comes up in June, 1998.

Fourth, a President who is willing to commit U.S. troops to a conflict must undertake to explain his actions to the American people and obtain political support for his policy. I suspect the failure of the Clinton Administration to seek popular and Congressional support for its peacekeeping operations has been a consequence of its attraction to the fuzzy doctrine of "assertive multilateralism," the purpose of which has been more to strengthen the United Nations than to protect the interests of the United States.

I am not among those who have a reflexively negative reaction to the United Nations. I believe that there are times when international organizations can be used to advance U.S. interests on some issues. But exposing the lives of American soldiers to conflict is and must remain a national decision which should not relegated to an international organization. Nor should such risks be undertaken to advance that organization's interests, as opposed to those of the United States.

Because make no mistake -- the anguish that any President must feel over the loss of American lives in a conflict will not be diminished by the fact that the use of force was authorized by an international organization. Nor will a President escape the judgment of the American people by pointing a finger at New York.

Has there been any change in the Clinton Administration's policies on the use of force since the tragedy of Mogadishu? I believe I am not alone at this gathering in wishing that Bob Dole were now President of the United States. But we only have one president at a time, and I suppose we should consider it a good sign that we hear less about multilateralist interests today than in the early years of the Administration. The decision to deploy troops to Bosnia, for all its faults, was justified on the basis of preserving NATO, an objective which I share. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- her years of service at the United Nations, Madeleine Albright seems to respect the limitations of international organizations on issues of war and peace. And I certainly trust my friend and former colleague Bill Cohen to offer the President sound advice on the use of military force.

Despite our well-founded misgivings about recent uses of limited military force, it is nevertheless true that the United States and our NATO allies have undertaken new commitments in the field of peacekeeping and peacemaking, without of course shedding our traditional responsibilities in the fields of warfighting and deterrence. Unfortunately, these new burdens are being added at a time when defense resources are being cut in all NATO countries.

This raises the issue of whether there might not be new institutional arrangements within the NATO alliance that might facilitate peacekeeping missions by those allies who want to participate, without undercutting our still-necessary mission of deterrence. In the December 10, 1996 edition of the Washington Times, I made a proposal that I believe might be of interest to this body.

I suggested that NATO adopt a new division of labor, under which some members, particularly those with smaller armed forces and/or greater experience with peacekeeping, will increasingly train, equip and organize their forces for peacekeeping missions. While I do not believe any ally should be required to assume such a role, I would think that Canada, the Nordics and perhaps the Benelux countries might be good candidates for specializing in peacekeeping missions on behalf of the alliance. Some of the new members of an enlarged NATO might also choose such a role.

Meanwhile, the United States, along with the United Kingdom, France and perhaps Germany, would agree to assume an even greater relative share of the general defense burden than in the past. A number of other countries, of course, could fit comfortably in either group.

I believe such a division of labor would make the best use of scarce military resources through increased specialization. The countries that emphasize peacekeeping would not have as formidable (or probably expensive) military forces as others, but their troops could expect to deploy more often and actually do more "soldiering." Other NATO members will have to shoulder the cost of maintaining larger, heavier forces and modernizing them with new generations of "smart" weapons.

I also think this arrangement could be made militarily feasible. NATO's new Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept could provide the basis for integrating the new peacekeeping-oriented forces within the Alliance, presumably under a non-American commander. As the division of labor matures, a peacekeeping CJTF might become less ad hoc and more a permanent part of the NATO military structure.

Perhaps most important, this division of labor would address a serious difference of views within the Alliance on peacekeeping missions, the first chapter of which we encountered during the Transatlantic debate with our European Allies participating in the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia before the Dayton Accords.

From America's point of view, our primary security interest in Europe is to protect our allies from external aggression, not to cope with ethnic and regional conflicts on Europe's periphery. The Europeans have much more at stake in the latter, in terms of their history, their economies and the importance of forestalling new waves of refugees -- who can flow across the Danube or the Elbe much more easily than the Atlantic.

I do not believe the American people will support an enduring U.S. political and military investment in dealing with such conflicts when U.S. vital interests are not at stake. This is particularly true because the United States also shoulders the burden of protecting, essentially alone, Western security and economic interests outside Europe, from the Persian Gulf to the Taiwan strait.

In this context, I am very pleased that, in his confirmation hearings, the new Secretary of Defense, Bill Cohen, emphasized that this time U.S. forces would definitely be out of Bosnia when the mandate of the new Stabilization Force (SFOR, the successor to IFOR) expires in the summer of 1998. If there is a need for outside military forces after that date, it will be up to the Europeans to handle this problem without the direct participation of the United States.

The response from our European Allies has so far not been very encouraging, as they repeat the "in together, out together" mantra that we have heard so often in the past. But I believe it will take this type of an ultimatum to force the Europeans, who are so proud of their increasing integration and covetous of an ambitious role for their European Security and Defense Identity, to assume a greater real-world responsibility for their own defense.

In closing, I will repeat that we will not be the world's policeman, but there will continue to be a need for the United States and/or our Allies to use military force for limited objectives that, by their nature, will be more complex and difficult than we have faced in the past. The main difference between the role of policeman and responsible world leader is the consideration of vital national interest. There will always be differences over what that interest may be in a given situation, but the decisions will necessarily be those of the President -- and the Congress and the American people will hold him accountable. In those cases where the important test of "U.S. interests" cannot be met, it may still be possible to find ways to facilitate other friendly countries in undertaking peacekeeping missions within the framework of the NATO Alliance.

Thank you.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).