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Week of: April 15, 2001

Intervention Must Be Just and Prudent

by F.R. Duplantier

"The American people will not support humanitarian intervention as a formula to impose American values on the rest of the world, but they will also not support a realpolitik that does nothing about genocide."

"Today, humanitarian intervention has come to mean the use of military force to rescue people at risk from political causes, such as the actions of dictators, even if the American national interest does not appear to be meaningfully at stake," observes former NATO Commander Alexander Haig. "It thus appears to fall in that sensitive area where our humane values and our sense of geopolitics -- what we believe to be right and what we judge to be prudent -- rub uneasily together. And, as such," he notes, "it often leaves us divided about the course of action and wary of the precedents that may be set."

In a speech delivered to the Foreign Policy Research Institute and published in a recent issue of the group's monthly newsletter, General Haig affirms that "the American people will not support a policy that tends to intervene everywhere. Nor will they support its opposite, a policy that abstains altogether. A balance must be found that comports with both our ideals and our sense of reality." Concluding that "humanitarian intervention as we have known it over the past decade has been neither just nor practical," he rejects "a policy that does not act until after a human catastrophe and then assigns to our troops objectives they cannot achieve." Haig recommends "an alternative. We can work to prevent the problems that give rise to such interventions," he counsels, "and, if that fails, we can guide our interventions with commonsense criteria and reasonable objectives."

Haig emphasizes that "the American national interest, properly conceived, encompasses not only ideals but also reality, not only the world as we would like it to be but the world as it is. On balance," he advises, "humanitarian intervention can be just but it must be leavened by prudence. We should seek to prevent massacres and genocide through diplomacy, and other actions, including the use of the bayonet if necessary. But this should never be a crusade and should never be undertaken in the absence of careful calculations that include costs and benefits."

Haig insists that "a foreign policy that pursued ideals while ignoring power would offend America's sense of reality and probably would fail. Equally," he adds, "a foreign policy that pursued power while ignoring ideals would offend America's sense of right and in the long run would also fail. Only a balance between the two would merit public support," Haig concludes. "Every generation of American statesmen has to decide the balance to be struck," he affirms. "Our is no exception."

General Haig recommends restoring "strategic balance to our foreign policy" and focusing on "prevention at the earliest stage when creative diplomacy can work best." He cautions that interventions -- or "small wars," as he calls them -- should be engaged in "with an eye to the larger more important mission of deterrence -- the prevention of big wars -- so that we do not fritter away our strength."


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