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THE INTERVENTION DEBATE: Towards a Posture of Principled Judgment
by Dr. John Garofano; Strategic Studies Institute

8:00 a.m. January 15, 2003 PDT

The following is excerpted from an extensive study provided by the Strategic Studies Institute. The full .pdf document (306 kb) may be downloaded here.

The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government or the e11th hour editorial staff.
American policymakers must take an approach based on "principled judgment" when deciding on the use of force.


Political debate over the proper guidelines for using force has been polarized since the end of the Cold War. Force conservers emphasize future threats and conventional challenges, while proponents of the liberal use of force consider a wider range of national interests and accept greater risk regarding future challenges. Administrations have taken various paths between these two poles. The Weinberger Doctrine remains one of the most influential schools of thought. A contrary school of thought, that of intuitive intervention, was articulated by Secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright but proved highly problematic. The Clinton administration settled upon a complex set of requirements that tried to bridge many approaches, but it, too, failed to gain wide acceptance among the polity or the public at large.

Without general political agreement upon a general approach to the use of force, the military services will be hard put to develop the tools required when intervention occurs. The author argues that what may be called the Powell-Bush argument is a useful starting point for forging a consensus, since it recognizes the need for flexibility, choice, and balance—in a word, judgment—when force is considered. After examining the advantages of this and the other postures adopted by previous administrations, the author makes the case for an approach of "principled judgment." A series of principles, or guideposts, for intervention policy are then suggested, followed by the argument for several institutional changes that should strengthen the ability of diverse administrations to exercise judgment when using force. The author concludes with a discussion of Army roles and requirements for future contingencies.


The Continuing Debate
Despite a decade with which to absorb and adapt to the implications of the end of the Cold War, the United States has not settled on a basic disposition towards the use of force. A debate continues between two main camps, force proponents and force conservers, defined by diverging views on the costs, risks, and effectiveness of using U.S. military force for traditional and emerging challenges. Realists and idealists, Democrats and Republicans can be found in each of these two groups. The debate was temporarily submerged in the unity that emerged following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Yet by the end of that month, the administration's stand on the force-conserving side of the debate was already shaping U.S. strategy by eschewing operations that could lead to nation-building and humanitarian operations. It is likely that the debate shall re-emerge as a central issue of contention as U.S. foreign policy returns to something resembling "normalcy."

The two poles in the debate may be summarized as follows. Force proponents consider military power merely the first among equally valid instruments of national power, suitable for shaping the security environment as well as for responding to direct challenges to important or vital U.S. interests. These active internationalists were generally supportive of U.S. interventions in Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Kosovo, and elsewhere. They believe America has a unique role in history as the sole superpower, and that it must use its power to stand up for its values as well as for a broad continuum of national interests.

Force conservers, on the other hand, believe that recent administrations have wasted precious resources on idealistic and perhaps politically-driven adventures. Such activities, argue these critics of the frequent use of force, weaken the country's ability to defend against the threats that truly matter and will inevitably arise. Whereas force proponents stress the long-term opportunities found in crises as well as the interconnectedness of vital, important, and humanitarian interests, force conservers echo Secretary of State John Quincy Adams' admonition that America should "not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Near-term threats to interests that are vital rather than merely important or humanitarian, and maintenance of the nation's military readiness and effectiveness against the potentially serious military challenges, inform the position of the force conservers. They usually opposed U.S. intervention in situations where we had no clear vital interest at risk.

Each school holds related views on how force should be employed once its use has been sanctioned. Active internationalists believe it is suitable in a variety of situations and may safely and rationally be meted out in measured doses, while force conservers prefer to use force in overwhelming bursts. Activists have confidence that limited force can usefully serve diplomatic goals, but conservers doubt the utility of limited force for vague political ends.

A final, critical distinction between the two schools bears on the guidelines that should inform decisions on the use of force. Active internationalists resist laying out maps or plans that would carefully guide when force is to be used and how. Force conservers prefer clear and strict criteria and like to refer to the Weinberger and Powell doctrines, discussed below, as examples par excellence of guidelines for policy.[1]

The oppositional nature of this debate adversely affects U.S. foreign policy. Strategy lurches from one side to the other, the product of elections, temporary political clout, and the winds of executive-legislative relations. This satisfies neither camp; heightens rather than lowers the shrillness of the debate; sends mixed signals to allies, potential enemies, and to instigators of local violence; and places great strain on the most frequently used foreign policy instrument—the military. In addition, lack of agreement on the purpose of military power leads to missed opportunities as well as to thinly supported operations, such as that in Somalia. When an intervention is the result of a tenuous political compromise, strategy and resources for the mission may also be compromised, potentially leading to unexpected casualties and rapid withdrawal.

This antithetical yet unresolved debate also has serious implications for military innovation and adaptation. Without some clear sense of where the nation is likely to send it, the military will resist risky, expensive, and painful changes in hardware, doctrine, and organization. Political uncertainty makes innovation a risky strategy for organizations and for leaders of those organizations.

For the Army, the strategic review undertaken by the Secretary of Defense makes a resolution of the intervention debate even more imperative. Initial reportage indicates that there will be a renewed emphasis on long-range weapons and indeed long-range, remote approaches to the use of force. Yet although strategic priorities are a vital and welcome development, policymakers, as I argue below, will continue to be buffeted by unexpected situations and subjected to unanticipated motivations to use force. This extends to the actual emplacement of troops on the ground. Basic agreement on how and when force will be used would assist the Army and all the services in adapting to international and national trends.

This monograph argues that there is common ground between the two schools of thought, and that this area can be expanded. The common ground is found in the realm of Judgment—the ability to discern and weigh the myriad factors bearing on complex international dilemmas while following some basic guidelines. In a world where new values, norms, and challenges confront the remaining superpower, no escape from judgment can legitimately be sought in a clear and fixed blueprint for action, in a rejection of all guidelines, or in a retreat from the gray areas of the national interest. What will be described as the Powell-Bush argument—to be distinguished from the Powell Doctrine or other pre-set formulas—provides a useful starting point for expanding the area of agreement. Recommendations will then be made for improving the quality of this judgment in lasting ways.

Though unsatisfactory to ideologues, judgment is a more useful construct than strict criteria and full-fledged doctrines. Judgment acknowledges that all use-of-force decisions have unique characteristics, while doctrine and narrow criteria are static and based on questionable generalizations. Judgment is based on principles of permanent relevance, including such basic facts as the strain that peace operations place on the military and the need for limited force options by policymakers and diplomats. Frequently the activist approach ignores these constraints. Criteria and doctrine are usually politically loaded and of fleeting relevance, based on prior political or ideological positions; judgment acknowledges the continuous evolution of the international security environment.

Policymakers inevitably confront situations that are in many ways new and frequently sui generis. Neither unbridled activism nor strict criteria prepare them adequately for these tasks. Judgment allows for necessary discussions about the frequency with which force can be used, the matching of ends with required resources, and the risks associated with various responses, including inaction. Doctrine and strict criteria assume or posit certain values for these factors and then avoid further debate, while the activist approach pays little attention to costs.

Presidents will enter office with various degrees of expertise and even interest in foreign affairs, and with advisors and advisory systems of varying degrees of effectiveness. Domestic politics will always influence foreign policy, frequently to its detriment. And as was seen merely a decade ago but forgotten prior to September 11, the security environment can change fundamentally and without warning. For these reasons, we should begin to think about how to make decisions on using force regardless of these inevitable limitations. This requires an agreed-upon posture of flexible, "principled judgment" and the institutional support necessary for it.

The dichotomy in the current debate belies four approaches that administrations have adopted since the Vietnam war. These are described and critically assessed in Part II. In Part III, the author sets forth several principles that should guide future decisions on the use of force. Finally, in Part IV he discusses possible methods for institutionalizing better judgment in complex decisions.


The Doctrinal Approach: Weinberger and Recent Echoes
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger provided the first well-defined programmatic description of when and how the United States should use force in the post-Vietnam period. In a speech to the National Press Club on November 28, 1984, he laid out six ìtestsî that should be met before U.S. forces are employed:
  1. vital national interests must be at stake;
  2. the United States and allies must be willing to commit sufficient forces to win;
  3. there must be clearly defined political and military objectives;
  4. forces must be sized to achieve these objectives;
  5. there must be reasonable assurance of support by the American people; and,
  6. the use of U.S. force must be a "last resort."[2]
Weinberger had two motivations for shaping the debate. First, he felt responsible for the lives of American troops, and was vehemently opposed to placing them, for example, in the "bull's eye" of the Beirut airport. The October 23, 1983, attack that killed 241 U.S. Marines in their barracks reinforced Weinberger's belief about what happens when a military force is not sized to fight and win but only to act as a buffer between opposing armies. He viewed it as a misuse of American soldiers and a misunderstanding of the utility of military power.

Weinberger also sought to counter what he viewed as a State Department and National Security Council (NSC) too eager to deploy U.S. forces abroad. As he explained in his memoirs, these two institutions believed in the "intermixture of diplomacy and the military":
Roughly translated, that meant that we should not hesitate to put a battalion or so of American forces in various places in the world where we desired to achieve particular objectives of stability, or changes of government, or support of governments, or whatever else. Their feeling seemed to be that an American troop presence would add a desirable bit of pressure and leverage to diplomatic efforts, and that we should be willing to do that freely and virtually without hesitation. The NSC staff was even more militant, with a number of its members seeming to me, and to the Joint Chiefs, to spend most of their time thinking up ever more wild adventures for our troops.... The NSC staff's eagerness to get us into a fight somewhere—Anywhere—coupled with their apparent lack of concern for the safety of our troops and with no responsibility therefore, reminded me of the old joke, "Let's you and him fight this out."[3]
Some 2 years later, Weinberger recognized that other goals were inherent in a reasonable national security strategy (NSS). These included, in addition to the obvious vital interests of preserving the independence, institutions, and territorial integrity of the United States and its allies, the shaping of "an international order in which our freedoms and democratic institutions can survive and prosper." Further, they included the promotion of democratic institutions even where major reconstruction was required, the maintenance of an open international economic system, and the creation of an alliance of industrial democracies joined with the United States.[4] Yet Weinberger and proponents of the doctrine clearly meant to exclude the frequent use of force as a preferred policy instrument. They certainly did not consider the promotion of democracy or good behavior in small countries not vital to U.S. interests a valid reason for using America's military power.

In part due to the Clinton administration's record, Weinberger's skepticism of active interventionism has been mirrored in more recent calls for a set of clear and restrictive criteria.[5] Henry Kissinger opposed intervention in Bosnia in the early 1990s on the grounds that it was not a vital security interest for the United States. In his 1994 book, Diplomacy, Kissinger called for criteria in order to avoid swings towards aimless interventionism; Americans' belief in their exceptional role can lead to the desire to "remedy every wrong and stabilize every dislocation." Alluding to John Quincy Adams, Kissinger notes, however, that it is just as clear that "some monsters need to be, if not slain, at least resisted. What is most needed are criteria for selectivity."[6]

John Hillen claims that because it did not develop the criteria purportedly called for by Kissinger, the Clinton administration squandered resources on "a host of 'feel-good' operations" such as those in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Even in Europe, American policy is "determined by local factions in Bosnia," with the United States "relegated... to the role of a medium-sized player in a peripheral European security affair." Hillen then asks for criteria that mirror Weinberger's.[7]

Ambassador William Abshire, Director of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and organizer of a transition team report, makes a similar argument. He hails the wisdom of President Dwight Eisenhower in purportedly laying out a clear list of strict criteria that would have been necessary for intervention in Indochina in 1954. Ambassador Abshire and others contend that this led to the wise decision not to use force at that time, and that this is a useful model for the future.[8] Others echo this general perspective.[9]

Assessing the Weinberger Doctrine. Despite indications of change, the Weinberger Doctrine retains broad legitimacy and support in significant portions of the defense community—and for good reason. Its author's ultimate rationale was the protection of the nation's capacity effectively to deter and, if necessary, fight and win battles that threaten its very existence. To order soldiers to their deaths for less vital tasks is not "fully warranted"; other instruments of national power should be used instead.[10] This combination of avoiding casualties for nonvital aims and the need for a significant force in reserve continue to reverberate in a period in which U.S. military operational tempo is at an all-time high for peacetime.

Yet agreeing upon useful criteria is much more difficult than calling for them. Consider Vietnam. The war involved guerrilla, conventional, international, and civil aspects. The superpowers and major regional powers had strong interests in the outcome, some of them possessed nuclear weapons, and all of them supplied their clients. The battleground was a developing country with minimal infrastructure and characterized by multiple cultures, climates, terrain, and political identities.

Such complexities do not lend themselves readily to simple criteria or checklists any more than they resemble conventional campaigns in a desert. It is not surprising, then, that, despite his call for criteria, Kissinger explains U.S. mistakes in Vietnam not in terms of absent criteria but by noting policymakers' inability to understand guerrilla war, their blind faith in a flawed "domino theory," and their attempts to create a South Vietnam in America's image.[11] None of these, it should be noted, could have been avoided or corrected by the kinds of criteria that politicians and policy analysts have offered: "Being smarter" is a difficult standard, and one that cannot be called into being through stipulation.

Similarly, in explaining nonintervention in Indochina in 1954, Kissinger correctly focuses not on criteria but rather on Eisenhower's overriding belief that America's unique image of being a noncolonial great power was more valuable than Indochina itself.[12] To this we can add Eisenhower's visceral opposition to placing ground troops on mainland Asia, and his sensitivity to taking any initial steps that would, he was sure, lead the ultimate commitment. In effect, Eisenhower used criteria to justify to the American public his decision against intervention: criteria did not determine the wisdom of his decision.[13]

The lesson is that criteria should contribute to sorting out complex phenomena; they should not simplify reality to the point where they cease to become aids to decision-making. Ultimately, they cannot replace insight, instinct, and judgment. To this end, Kissinger's basic formulation of "criteria for selectivity" remains helpful. Unlike the Weinberger school's focus on strict criteria directly translatable into action, criteria for selectivity allows for the kind of judgment and insight required by policymakers.

If matching criteria to complex and changing environments is the first problem with the Weinberger Doctrine, a second is its reliance on the touchstone concept of "vital national interests." This concept garnered consensus when international threats, rather than conceptual efforts, delineated for policymakers the boundaries between vital and other interests. Weinberger's 1984 Report to Congress included in the category basic threats to the country's freedom, the general deterrence of Soviet attack, and the defense of "key forward theaters" in all regions.[14] Few would have argued vehemently with this categorization.

Even at the height of the Cold War, however, it was difficult to know where the critical inner circle of "vital" interests ended and where the next concentric circle of merely "important" or otherwise significant interests began. One can look to Southeast Asia or to Central America for examples in abundance during the Cold War.

Since the Cold War, there are more serious problems with using the vital national interest construct as a guide to policy. One is that the task of distinguishing vital from less-than-vital interests has become even more difficult. To many, Bosnia matters to the United States because of its location, the atrocities, the ethnic groups involved there and in neighboring countries, the danger of spillover and of NATO's fragmentation, and the European Union's earlier choices. To others, the problem indicates that NATO should stay within its historical area of concern, avoiding the imbroglio of ethnic strife in forbidding terrain. And if there is fundamental disagreement on the significance of ethnic cleansing or genocide in southeastern Europe, there is unlikely to be agreement on any issue other than war on the Korean peninsula and possibly in the Persian Gulf. A skeptic might conclude that even NATO's new members would do well to note that Article 5 of the NATO treaty calls only for consultations on appropriate action in the event of an attack on a member nation.

The doctrinal approach to such disagreement is to err on the side of caution in the sense of retaining the ability to fight major wars later rather than securing questionable interests now. Military force should play its "essential, but circumscribed and necessarily limited, role" in foreign policy.[15] Where the stakes are not clearly vital, leaders cannot depend upon public support, and the military is unlikely to receive clear orders and goals.

Related to this general limitation is the extent to which vital and near-term security threats are interwoven with less-than-vital and longer-term or merely potential threats. It could be argued that the very notion of a hierarchy of national interests—so central to the realpolitik outlook of most statesmen—depends on a logic that is now open to question. The realist architects of America's containment policy worried that weak states might bandwagon with communist powers, garner industrial and manpower resources, and use these resources to conquer more territory through labor-intensive warfare. Today, statesmen legitimately worry over refugee flows, capital flight, transnational crime, and the conditions in which political terrorism incubates. Any of these problems—which in and of themselves reside in the "important" or "humanitarian" categories—can spill over into the vital category under the right conditions. In other words, the importance and scope of secondary interests have grown, and they are potentially connected to vital interests in fundamentally new ways.

This raises the stakes for U.S. leadership in gray areas while requiring varied and innovative forms for that leadership. A failure to take a stand against genocide where we have the ability to do so at low cost, for example, will undermine the moral legitimacy of our objections to oppressive political systems. The bombing of U.S. embassies abroad requires some response, too, but this is unlikely to include an overwhelming conventional military attack on a state.

A final issue related to the concept of vital national interests is its limited utility as a guidepost for proactive action. The approach connotes present and foreseeable threats rather than future potentialities. The Department of Defense's (DoD) aim of shaping the security environment through military-to-military exchanges, exercises, and related programs, recognizes that there are major opportunities to be had by improving relations and promoting transparency among friend and foe alike. Each of the unified combatant commands can reasonably claim successes in this area.

A third major area of deficiency in the Weinberger approach is that its strict criteria downplay the role of presidential vision. Regarding Grenada, President Ronald Reagan asked: "What kind of a country would we be...if we refused to help small but steadfast democratic countries in our neighborhood to defend themselves against the threat of serious danger of being killed or taken hostage?"[16] A president with a different vision would have acted differently or not at all. President George Bush had a similar personal reaction and initiated the process that led to intervention in Somalia.

Presidents are unlikely to condone or, if they do condone them, adhere closely to, strict criteria. They will rely instead on the vision and motivations that propelled them to seek election and for which the public voted. Such motivations, and the kaleidoscopic makeup of "vision," cannot be pigeonholed into strict criteria. If promulgated, they will be violated. Weak criteria are bad criteria, for they will be violated and will not be effective guides for policymakers or for those who must execute the overridden criteria.

Many decisions to use force, then, have been made without the involvement of the public ahead of time. More to the point, Weinberger's "assured public support" stipulation is unreliable as a guide because the persistence of such support depends to a large extent on choices that can be made only after military involvement. This is discussed in more detail below, but two examples will be given here. Public support for U.S. involvement in Vietnam remained strong even after some 150,000 American casualties.[17] The problem was a failing strategy, not public support in general. Support was also initially high and then indifferent for U.S. involvement in Somalia. A mistaken decision to capture an unsavory but politically important warlord—a major change in strategy in the summer of 1993 — led to a major congressional attack on U.S. policy. As discussed below, public support for humanitarian operations remains more than sufficient to support operations with clear, reasonable goals and an expectation of some success.

A fourth, more specific problem is the doctrine's corrosive effect on strategically ambiguous policies. Strategic ambiguity plays a critical role in any country's foreign policy. It is necessary due to limitations on resources: since we cannot be in all places at all times, it makes sense not to announce ahead of time when and where we will react. As the Truman administration discovered following its public exclusion of the Republic of Korea from the U.S. security commitment, this will not only invite unwelcome challenges, but may misrepresent the actual U.S. response in the event of a challenge.

Related to the ambiguity problem is the importance of reputation: Is it productive to enshrine in a declared doctrine a U.S. unwillingness to engage in limited operations where casualties will be small but significant? According to the "Ladenese epistle," Osama bin Laden considered the U.S. retreat from Lebanon strong evidence that the United States did not have the stomach for battle.[18]

Furthermore, even a president, administration, or public may not know how they will react to a given challenge to important but nonvital national interests; thus strategic ambiguity may accurately reflect internal ambiguity. President George Bush's initial inclination to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was to "wait and see." Very quickly, this changed to drawing a line in the sand. It is possible, too, that a strict-criteria interpretation of vital interests would coincide with General Colin Powell's early view in the Gulf crisis that America's vital interests were not threatened by Saddam Hussein's gaining increased control over the price of oil, and that Saudi Arabia could still be protected.

Fifth, adherence to Weinberger's criteria ignores the ubiquitous role of hedging against unforeseeable risks in foreign policymaking. A nation with global interests must remain engaged and will always be overstretched if one measures elasticity in terms of where the country would be successful if the global environment disintegrated rapidly. Yet the task of statesmen is to balance risks, make the most of available resources, and plan prudently for the future. In doing so, they may rationally, though unintentionally, become engaged in foreign policy swamps while seeking to prevent a wider, more costly conflagration.[19]

This, rather than a violation of some preferred notion of strict criteria, explains U.S. involvement in Bosnia. The U.S. guarantee of safe passage for redeploying European troops was necessary to secure the continent's involvement. This was important not only for Bosnia, but for the broadly accepted U.S. national interest of promoting a European security identity. Later, the implications of this guarantee meant that U.S. troops would be on the ground if the Western position in Bosnia disintegrated. Since U.S. combat troops would be on the ground in any case, their role was expanded to become part of a larger political framework.[20]

A final set of criticisms revolves around the question of how force should be used. The issue here is whether the Weinberger Doctrine is essentially a foreign policy or a defense policy. Weinberger's second, third, and fourth points (win, have clear goals, send sufficient forces) severely circumscribe both the use of limited force and the use of greater amounts of force for limited objectives. His definition of "winning" is particularly constraining. Railing against the Vietnam experience, he focused on the type of goals that are clearly achievable through conventional military means.

Many contemporary threats are not conducive to the "no more Vietnams" perspective, however. Allowing a likely enemy to develop a chemical or biological capability could eventually preclude the effective lodgment of American or allied troops at a point of entry, or the enemy could kill enough troops to have devastating effects on public support. Preventing or defeating such threats may require a forceful, though not overwhelming or decisive, U.S. attack. In this scenario, saving the military only for major wars may make fighting a major war more costly in the long run. Moreover, one of the major explanations for the pervasiveness of limited war in the 20th century is the danger of escalation.

The United States did not fail in Vietnam because it did not know how to win, but because a winning strategy might have provoked a larger war, perhaps even a spiral toward a thermonuclear exchange. As more states acquire nuclear weapons in coming decades, decisive force will be ever more dangerous. Military force must serve policy, and policy requires more options than those offered by the Weinberger Doctrine.

The doctrine also raises the issues of the analytical level and time period for which a political objective is defined. Strict criteria tend to validate only those operations that are sure to achieve a concrete objective in the near term. For example, Weinberger was unhappy with the deployment of Marines to Lebanon because their military mission was unclear and the political aims fuzzy and unattainable. Powell says he held a similar view.[21]

Secretary of State George Shultz and the NSC, on the other hand, believed U.S. support for the Multinational Force in Lebanon was a valid use of American power and prestige for critical national security goals.
Success would have been of immense strategic value to us. A stable Lebanon could be a bridge country in the Middle East; a Lebanon dominated by Syria and the Soviet Union would contribute to tension and constitute a site for threats against Israel. Lebanon had taken the brunt of turmoil from Middle East problems. Peace in Lebanon could contribut to peace elsewhere.[22]
Failure resulted from a variety of tactical maneuvers and mistakes by Israeli political and military leaders, U.S. decision-makers, and short-sighted terrorists, in this view.[23]

Leaving aside the possibility that Shultz was guilty of wishful thinking, he had the clear political objective of furthering peace in a leap-frogging way, of using a present crisis to change dramatically the picture of the Middle East in 5 or 10 years' time. His conceptual level of analysis was regional stability and, beyond that, the balance of superpower influence in a pivotal region. Shultz could not, however, identify the more operational and short-term political objectives that Weinberger demanded. For Weinberger and the strict criteria school, having clear political goals really means having goals that are achievable in the near term and explicable in limited geographical, even territorial, terms. They doubt that small demonstrations of force will have larger payoffs in the realm of intangibles such as prestige and leadership.

This perspective is unacceptable from the Clausewitzian perspective that war should serve policy, and that the only true point of view from which to observe international challenges, as Clausewitz put it, is provided by the political realm.[24] Force does not serve policy only when it is used in an overwhelming way, or when casualties are below a certain level—although these qualifications are completely understandable from the war-fighter's perspective. Injecting into political deliberations the potential costs of ignoring basic principles of warfare is also legitimate. But it cannot determine policy or the foreign policy goals that will be sought after in the first place.

Finally, there is the quandary of using force only as a last resort. The strict criteria school holds that U.S. lives should not be risked unless absolutely necessary, and the nation's military power as a whole should be conserved for more vital challenges. There are two problems with this approach. One, offered by Shultz and later seconded by Bush, is that holding force as a final policy option makes it more likely that force will eventually be necessary: the early use of force may head off bigger problems down the road.

Thus U.S. demonstrations of power may have saved the democratic movement in the Philippines during the Marcos-Aquino transition, for example. By contrast, their absence, as in Europe in the 1930s, Korea in early 1950s, or Bosnia in 1993-95, may prove more costly by orders of magnitude than would have an earlier use of force.[25] "[T]he capability and will to use force as a first resort," Richard Nixon wrote, "reduces the possibility of having to use force as a last resort when the risk of casualties would be far greater."[26] Furthermore, the instinct to rely first on nonmilitary options may "almost certainly cede the initial military initiative and advantage to the enemy," in the words of the Army After Next Project.[27]

Recent critiques of the Clinton administration's 1998 bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan are germane. Far from demonstrating our will to root out terrorism, they may have demonstrated the administration's unwillingness to accept any casualties in that fight.

The second problem with the last resort clause is that when presidents consider using the instruments of national power, they appear not to do so in sequential terms, with diplomacy at the beginning and force at the end of a chain of possibilities. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, and Bush considered force an early and proper response to problems in Lebanon, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, and Panama. President Carter, and perhaps Johnson on Vietnam, are the exceptions, avoiding higher levels of force in Desert One and in Vietnam until they became so costly as to be nearly irrelevant. Using force early may simply be the most effective response to a threat, turning that threat into an opportunity.

More importantly, this appears to reflect presidents' thinking. The system within which such decisions are made, therefore, would do well to respect this common presidential attribute.

In sum, the Weinberger Doctrine is instructive in the lessons of using adequate power to accomplish one's aims and against needlessly risking life and reputation. The remaining propositions, however, require that one accept the doctrine's foundation that force should only be used for vital national interests7#151indeed, that that category remains useful for policymakers. If one questions this assumption, which seems reasonable in the contemporary security environment, then one must also question the doctrine's pillars of overwhelming force defined in military terms, last resort, and assured public support.

Download full document for complete content of document, including:
  • Foreward (by Douglas C. Lovelace, Jr., Director, Strategic Studies Institute)
  • The Shultz-Albright Approach: Intuitive Interventionism
  • Unsatisfactory Compromise: Criteria Overload and the Proliferation of Interests during the Clinton Years
  • The Powell Doctrine vs. the Powell-Bush Argument: Foundations for an Approach
  • Summary of the Four Approaches, and Why Retrenchment Is Not an Option
  • Some Principles for a U.S. Intervention Policy
  • Institutionalizing Better Judgment: Informational, Organizational and Intellectual Renewal
    - Intellectual Adjustments
    - Organizational Changes at the Top
    - Expertise: Growing Civil and Military Strategists
    - Search for Bipartisanship on Intervention Policy
    - Conclusion and Implications for the Army

[1] For a wide-ranging discussion of the many attitudes towards interventionism that I have here grouped into two main camps, see "American Power—For What? A Symposium," in Commentary, January 2000. Other summaries of the debate are found in Richard N. Haass, Intervention: The Use of Military Force in the Post-Cold War World, Rev. Ed., Brookings Institution, 1999, Chapter 1; Michael O'Hanlon, Saving Lives with Force: Military Criteria for Humanitarian Intervention, Brookings Institution, 1997; Forum in The National Interest, Winter 1999/2000. See also, "Why and When to Go In," Economist, January 6, 2001; Michael Ignatieff, "The Next President's Duty to Intervene," New York Times, February 13, 2000, p. 17; "What in the World?" U.S. News and World Report, April 24, 2000, p. 18; Charles B. Shotwell and Kimberly Thachuk, "Humanitarian Intervention: The Case for Legitimacy," Washington, DC: National Defense University Institute for National Security Studies, July 1999; Alexander Haig, Jr., "The Question of Humanitarian Intervention," Foreign Policy Research Institute, February 2001; The Commission on America's National Interests, America's National Interests, July 2000.

[2] Speech by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger at National Press Club, November 28, 1984, in Department of Defense News Release No. 609-84, also reprinted in The Baltimore Sun, December 3, 1984.

[3] Caspar Weinberger, Fighting for Peace: Seven Critical Years in the Pentagon, Warner Books, 1990, p. 159.

[4] Report of the Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to the Congress, Washington, DC, February 1, 1984, Executive Summary, p. 7.

[5] John Hillen, "American Military Intervention: A User's Guide," The Backgrounder, Heritage Foundation, May 2, 1996, p. 4; David Fromkin, "Don't Send in the Marines," New York Times Magazine, February 27, 1994, pp. 36-37; Ronald Steel, "Beware the Superpower Syndrome," New York Times, April 25, 1994, p. A15; Richard N. Haass, "Paradigm Lost," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 1, January/February 1995, pp. 43-58, 56; Anthony Cordesman, interview in Defense News, February 28-March 6, 1994, p. 30.

[6] Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994, p. 833.

[7] Hillen, n.5, pp. 4-5.

[8] Ambassador David Abshire, Opening Remarks, "Presidential Decisionmaking and the Use of Force," George Bush Presidential Library, College Station, TX, October 24, 1999.

[9] See David Fromkin, "Don't Send in the Marines," New York Times Magazine, February 27, 1994, pp. 36-37; Ronald Steel, "Beware the Superpower Syndrome," New York Times, April 25, 1994, p. A15; Richard K. Betts, "The Delusion of Impartial Intervention," Foreign Affairs, November/December 1994, pp. 20-33.

[10] Report of the Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to the Congress, Washington, DC, February 5, 1986, p. 81.

[11] Kissinger, p. 658.

[12] Ibid., p. 632.

[13] Stephen Ambrose writes that Eisenhower "set about building the support he would need to withstand the strident demands for intervention that he knew would come when Dien Bien Phu fell. He did so by putting conditions on American involvement. They were deliberately created to be impossible of fulfillment..." Ambrose, Eisenhower the President, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 177.

[14] Report of the Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to the Congress, Washington, DC, February 1, 1984, pp. 17-26.

[15] Caspar W. Weinberger, "U.S. Defense Strategy," Foreign Affairs, Vol. LXIV, Spring 1986, pp. 676-690.

[16] George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State, New York: Scribner's, 1993, p. 329.

[17] John Mueller, War, Presidents, and Public Opinion, New York: Wiley, 1973.

[18] See Ladenese Epistle: Declaration of War," Washington Post Online

[19] For a discussion of rational risk aversion that can lead to suboptimal results, see Douglas J. Macdonald, "Falling Dominoes and System Dynamics: A Risk Aversion Perspective," Security Studies, Vol. 3, Winter 1993/1994, pp. 225-258. See also Dominoes and Bandwagons: Strategic Beliefs and Great Power Competition in the Eurasian Rimland, Robert Jervis and Jack Snyder, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

[20] Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, New York: Random House, 1998, pp. 65-68.

[21] Powell's "translation" of the state notion of using the Marines as an "interpositional force" was that "the Marines were to remain between two powder kegs, the Lebanese army and Syrian backed Shiite units fighting it out in the Shouf Mountains." Colin L. Powell with Joseph E. Persico, My American Journey, New York: Random House, 1995, p. 291.

[22] Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, n. 16, p. 232.

[23] One was Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon's unwise attempt to negotiate an accord with a weak president-to-be, Amin Gemayel, and without the knowledge of the United States. Another was what Shultz called a "missed moment," in which the United States failed to force Israeli and Syrian withdrawal just after the massacres at Sabra and Shatila. A third was the terrorist bombing. Shultz also claims that "our military arm was tied behind our back, by our own leaders. Beginning with the first deployment of the multinational force (MNF)—the Pentagon restricted our Marines to a passive, tentative, and dangerously inward-looking role in Beirut. Assad and others in the region could see that." Shultz concluded that the U.S. pullout signaled to the world that terrorism worked. He wanted to threaten and, if necessary, use force against terrorists where they trained. "But Cap Weinberger and the Joint Chiefs raised question after question. They would not move. And the President would not move without them." Vice President Bush agreed. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph, pp. 233, 648.

[24] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds. and trans., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989, especially p. 606.

[25] On the Bosnian case, see James Gow, Triumph of the Lack of Will: International Diplomacy and the Yugoslav War, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

[26] Richard Nixon, No More Vietnams, NewYork: Avon Books, 1985, p. 224.

[27] Second Annual Report of the Army After Next Project, Headquarters, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, VA, December 7, 1998, p. 5.


Comments pertaining to this report are invited and should be forwarded to:
Director, Strategic Studies Institute
U.S. Army War College
122 Forbes Ave.
Carlisle, PA 17013-5244

Copies of this report may be obtained from the Publications Office by calling (717) 245-4133, fax (717) 245-3820, or by contacting Ms. Rita Rummel at Rita.Rummel@carlisle.army.mil
John Garofano is Senior Fellow at the International Security Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, while working on a book on civil-military relations and U.S. decisions on the use of force. His areas of publication include military intervention, ASEAN and Asian security issues, and the making of U.S. foreign policy. Dr. Garofano has taught at the U.S. Army War College, Mount Holyoke and the Five Colleges, and the University of Southern California, and was a member of the U.S. Army War Collegeís Strategic Studies Institute during 1999-2000. He is a Founding Member of the Council on Emerging National Security Affairs (CENSA), a think tank dedicated coordinating the efforts of experts from all fields relating to national security and to mentoring the next generation of national security leaders. Dr. Garofano received his Ph.D. from Cornell University.

The author would like to thank the Smith Richardson Foundation for its generous support; and Ivan Arreguin-Toft, David Edelstein, Steven Metz, and Douglas Stuart for comments on earlier drafts.

Article copyright © Dr. John Garofano; Strategic Studies Institute; all rights reserved
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