AS the post-cold-war world evolves, the United States faces
pressures to use its enormous geopolitical clout in pursuit of
humanitarian world peace and stability. Americans are frequently
admonished that their country's "sole superpower" status
generates international obligations that Washington cannot fail to
meet. We are told that our power requires Americans to lead because
if we do not, who will? Cumulatively these pressures have led to
humanitarian peacekeeping or peacemaking exercises in Somalia and
Haiti, with another mission looming in Bosnia. Americans are wise
to have profound reservations about these enterprises.
Popular concern has focused on whether the US is being led
astray by its commitments to the United Nations and regional
multilateral security organizations. One important part of that
concern focuses on the question of placing US forces under UN
command. This irritates American sovereign sensibilities and
provokes opposition. Similarly, the United States' core role as the
only country capable of providing sustained forward-deployed
logistics and reliable intelligence threatens to entangle American
forces in support of an endless succession of UN missions.
There is ample reason to question why the possession of enormous
international power should necessarily translate into a mandate to
use that power toward ends not required by US national interests.
Just because we can do something does not mean we must or should do
it. When it comes to applying US military power in the
post-cold-war era, US armed forces should be tasked only with the
defense of the US and any vital interests it proclaims that are
amenable to military resolution. Other uses of such power are
In particular, US armed forces should have no role in
humanitarian missions. Two buzzwords of recent US strategic
adaptations to post-cold-war circumstances - "peacekeeping force"
and "humanitarian force" - are perverse oxymorons. Not one of
those missions is best accomplished with force.
Using US armed forces in these capacities dilutes and confuses
their prime function - to deter and (if necessary) wage war against
those who endanger the US. Having expensive military forces deliver
aid or help to develop infrastructure in troubled lands is a
terribly inefficient use of such national resources. Money spent on
such matters through the Pentagon will rarely, if ever, be cost
effective, given that institution's management track record.
If Americans are stricken by their collective conscience after
watching foreign calamities on CNN, the most cost-effective and
least geopolitically risky way to assuage their concern is to have
Washington write a check on the Treasury to appropriate private
relief agencies. These are excellent instances where checkbook
diplomacy might work, would be cheaper, and would make Americans
feel better. There are many ways the US can and should pursue
humanitarian agendas when confronted by horrendous situations
abroad that arouse American moral indignation - but those means are
all civilian in nature. …