U.S. Domestic Politics and the Emerging Humanitarian Intervention Policy: Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo

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The 1991 Gulf War was seen at the time as a watershed in international relations. It was the first time that the superpowers--whose rivalry had been the source of so much international friction and violence over the last half century--had cooperated in a major military action under the auspices of the United Nations. President Bush's embrace of collective security in Iraq was built on cooperation with Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev through explicit authorization from the UN Security Council on the use of force to stop aggression. At least rhetorically, Bush couched the intervention in terms of strict adherence to international law. Stopping Iraq in Kuwait was meant to set a precedent to use the UN wherever possible to establish international rule of law. Of course, U.S. national interests were supported; oil was at stake. This explained why the incipient, post-cold war cooperation started in the Gulf. The absence of interests also explains why the "new world order" proclaimed by Bush was put on hold when President Clinton pulled U.S. troops out of the UN humanitarian mission in Somalia in October 1993.

Still, U.S. interventionism did not end with the back-to-back embarrassments of a U.S. soldier's dead body dragged through the streets of Mogodishu and, a week later, U.S. and Canadian peacekeepers being prevented from disembarking in Haiti. Clinton engaged in more short "wars," or at least interventions, than any American president since Wilson. Some would argue that the Weinberger/Powell doctrine of certain victory cum superior power cum national interests cum U.S. public support was quickly abandoned because of Wilson and Clinton's common idealism. Although both favored an actively engaged U.S. foreign policy on behalf of democracy and humanity, the Clinton "doctrine" of humanitarian intervention has been mostly honored in the breach. The frequent U.S. interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo and indirectly in East Timor, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other UN peacekeeping missions, have been guided by equally compelling considerations: U.S. domestic politics.

As President Bush stated on the eve of a massive U.S. bombing attack against Iraq over the latter's occupation of Kuwait, "What is at stake here is more than one small country, it is a big idea: a new world order," an order that would supplant "the rule of the jungle" with "the rule of law." (1) The "new world order" was to be based on strict observance of international law as defined by the United Nations. This was further articulated by Bush and Gorbachev in the Paris Charter for a New Europe in 1991:

   We support fully the United Nations and the enhancement of its role
   promoting peace, security, and justice. We affirm our commitment to the
   principles and purposes of the United Nations as enshrined in the Charter
   and condemn all violations of its principles.

However, as Weiss has explained, "Former President Bush's heralded `new world order' has obviously not materialized." There is still no consensus concerning international humanitarian intervention, although "a fragile body of UN and state practice is emerging." (2) Even a cursory examination of this emerging body of UN and state practice does not seem to suggest that that the "rule of the jungle" will be supplanted by the "rule of law" anytime soon.

Although international interventions under the aegis of the UN have taken place during the 1990s--such as peacekeeping and election monitoring in Nicaragua and Haiti, and human rights monitoring in El Salvador (1992-96) and in Cambodia (1990-93)--cooperation among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council has declined markedly. The Clinton administration increasingly found UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Russians, and the Chinese obstructing U.S. foreign policy goals in the Security Council--despite the fact that U.S. influence in that organization has been at its zenith. …