This essay is a condensed version of an article that will appear in the Fall 2001 issue of Orbis, a journal of world affairs published for FPRI by Elsevier Science, Inc. The Fall issue of Orbis features the complete collection of papers originally presented at FPRI's conference on humanitarian intervention.
We have been asked to consider four models of intervention. These are defined along a continuum consisting of
THE ABSTENTION MODEL
In most of these cases, no one in the executive branch of the U.S. government argued for U.S. military intervention nor did anyone in Congress do so. (Even the Black Congressional Caucus, which pressed for military intervention in Haiti in 1994, did not do so in regard to the far greater humanitarian disasters in Africa.) Within the general public, there was no call for military intervention. Indeed, not even the so-called humanitarian and human-rights organizations within the United States and their lobby in Washington called for intervention with U.S. military forces. Furthermore, with the important exception of Rwanda, virtually no one who is engaged in the current debate over humanitarian intervention is now condemning non-intervention by the United States in regard to these many cases of humanitarian disaster.
The normal policy, the default policy, in regard to humanitarian disasters has not been humanitarian intervention but rather humanitarian isolation, i.e., abstention. Abstention is also the safe policy, at least for policymakers. Abstention is very likely to be forgotten, even forgiven, by the usual advocates of humanitarian interventionthe humanitarian and human rights lobby which is principally located in Washington, the media, and academiaonce the humanitarian disaster is over or, even if the disaster continues, once their restless attention moves on to some new, and more exciting, humanitarian disaster elsewhere.
THE RELIEF MODEL
The relief model is, in practice, an unstable equilibrium. However limited and moderate it might seem in concept, if in the real-world there are conflicting interests and warring parties and forcible entry into the afflicted country is required, a relief operation either must be expanded into relief plus or even beyond (as the Clinton administration tried and failed to do in Somalia), or it must be abandoned and become abstention (as the Clinton administration then did in Somalia and as the U.N. in effect did in Bosnia). By now, there is enough experience to indicate that relief alone is not a practical model for humanitarian intervention, if forcible entry into the afflicted country is required. Today, almost no one is arguing for this kind of intervention.
THE RELIEF PLUS MODEL
Indeed, this is what the United States has done on numerous occasions in the Caribbean and Central America over the past century. Examples have been Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua in the 1900s-1930s, the Dominican Republic in 1965, Grenada in 1983, and Panama in 1989. The United States has undertaken this kind of intervention so often and so regularly that it might be seen as "the American way of intervention."
Relief plus thus is a very traditional, indeed classical, kind of intervention. It is also very feasible. Political order is restored relatively quickly and cheaply. The disaster which was produced by the disorder (or by an excessively oppressive order) soon subsides, the intervention can be concluded, and the U.S. soldiers can be withdrawn.
This kind of military intervention, therefore, is quite effective at ending a humanitarian disaster. However, the new political regime which has been installed by U.S. military force can be almost as oppressive or disruptive as the old one, and fundamental humanitarian problems, such as widespread poverty and disease, remain. This has certainly been true of Haiti since 1994. It is normal in such cases that, a couple of years after the intervention has been concluded, many of its original advocates have become discouraged or perhaps even embarrassed. They avert their eyes from what is happening in the country and turn their attention elsewhere. The moral meaning of the intervention, which once seemed so clear and compelling, becomes confusing and ambiguous.
Humanitarian interventions on the model of relief plus are likely to continue to be undertaken by the United States from time to time, especially in the Caribbean and Central America. (One can readily conceive of one in Cuba in the aftermath of the death of Fidel Castro.) These interventions are also likely to be relatively effective in ending the humanitarian disaster (although not endemic humanitarian problems, like poverty and disease). Liberal advocates of humanitarian intervention, however, will not see these interventions as being humanitarian but as being merely the selfish pursuit of U.S. strategic and economic interests.
THE RECONSTRUCTION MODEL
Discerning economic historians, however, have noted that the Marshall Plan was aimed at the REconstruction of the European economies after their destruction in the Second World War, not at their development upward to an entirely new economic stage. Similarly, discerning political historians should note that the American occupations were aimed at the REconstruction of the liberal-democratic political systems that had existed in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan in the 1920s, before their destruction by Nazism, Fascism, or militarism in the interwar period.
This kind of reconstruction is not what is happening in Bosnia and Kosovo, nor can it ever happen there. These countries have never had a liberal-democratic political system in their entire history. What the United States and its NATO and U.N. allies have been attempting in Bosnia and Kosovo is not REconstruction but a NEW construction, which is a very different and more demanding task. It should be no surprise that very little political construction has actually occurred in Bosnia and Kosovo, certainly not construction toward a liberal, democratic, and multicultural political system.
In Bosnia and Kosovo, we see once again how the moral meaning of a humanitarian intervention can quickly change from certainty to ambiguity, after the passage of only a couple of years. In each case, the military intervention achieved an unambiguous and indisputable moral good of the highest importance: the stopping of the killing, at least killing on a large scale. But that is about the only moral aspect of the interventions and their aftermaths that remains unambiguous and undisputed. Once again, many of the original advocates of the interventions have become discouraged or even embarrassed (especially by the brutal and criminal behavior of Albanian gangs in Kosovo and now in Macedonia, but also by the intolerant and corrupt behavior of Muslim officials in Bosnia).
The reconstruction model is likely to prove as much or more disappointing, were it to be attempted someplace in most of the other regions of the world. Virtually no country in Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia has the historical experiences or the social conditions that would enable the construction (it could hardly be the REconstruction) of a liberal or democratic political system. For the most part, the only regions that have some of the historical experiences or social conditions that are necessary for successful political reconstruction are Western and Central Europe (where humanitarian disasters are unlikely), East Asia, such as South Korea and Taiwan (where the strategic calculations would dwarf any humanitarian concerns), and perhaps Latin America (where, as we have seen, the more likely model for U.S. military intervention is relief plus, which is merely the selection and support of a local and friendly political leader).
HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION: THE TALK VERSUS THE WALK
In conclusion, our assessment of the past experiences of the United States with the four models of humanitarian intervention gives rise to rather modest expectations for humanitarian intervention in the future. There will be further interventions on the model of relief, but these will largely be limited to evacuating citizens of the United States or perhaps other Western countries from the scene of the humanitarian disaster. There will be further interventions on the model of relief plus, but almost all of these will be in the Caribbean or Central America. There may be further interventions on the model of reconstruction, but these will be rare, and the local conditions that will enable a successful reconstruction will make each case virtually unique. Instead, the normal model for humanitarian intervention will be and should beabstention, or no U.S. military intervention at all.
Published in Foreign Policy Research Institute WIRE, Volume 9, Number 6, August 2001. Republished by permission.