Argument

An expert's point of view on a current event.

Military Force: A User’s Guide

When should the world's only superpower intervene?

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

Few questions are debated more frequently and with greater passion than where and how the United States ought to intervene with mili­tary force. As the conflicts in Somalia and Bosnia make clear, it matters not whether Americans choose to intervene or stay aloof; the debate can be equally heated.

Despite some predictions to the contrary, the passing of the Cold War has made intervention decisions more commonplace and complex. The United States, liberated from the danger of military action leading to a confrontation with a rival superpower, is now freer to intervene. Moreover, only the United States possesses the means to intervene in many situations, particu­larly in those that are more demanding militari­ly. Yet American means are necessarily limited; there will always be more interests to protect than resources to protect them. Even if America can do anything, it cannot do every­thing. The need to choose remains inescapable.

Few questions are debated more frequently and with greater passion than where and how the United States ought to intervene with mili­tary force. As the conflicts in Somalia and Bosnia make clear, it matters not whether Americans choose to intervene or stay aloof; the debate can be equally heated.

Despite some predictions to the contrary, the passing of the Cold War has made intervention decisions more commonplace and complex. The United States, liberated from the danger of military action leading to a confrontation with a rival superpower, is now freer to intervene. Moreover, only the United States possesses the means to intervene in many situations, particu­larly in those that are more demanding militari­ly. Yet American means are necessarily limited; there will always be more interests to protect than resources to protect them. Even if America can do anything, it cannot do every­thing. The need to choose remains inescapable.

There exists an obvious danger in intervening too often, in indulging in wanton uses of force. Any government that did so would be irrespon­sible. Military intervention in any form is ex­pensive. Indiscriminate intervention would leave the United States ill-prepared to meet inevita­ble contingencies; it cannot act in too many places at once. There is the danger, too, that an intervention that fares poorly, particularly one that becomes a "quagmire," could sour Ameri­cans on their world role and trigger a renewed bout of isolationism at home, thereby leaving them unable to use force when they really should or need to.

At the same time, there are costs involved in setting too high a bar against intervention by defining interests too narrowly or prerequisites for employing force too broadly. However it comes about, an unwillingness to use force abroad would be tantamount to adopting a policy of isolationism. U.S. unwillingness to intervene could encourage mayhem overseas and accelerate arms proliferation, by both those who count on America and those who oppose it. The United States would forfeit opportuni­ties to affect world conditions and further U.S. interests. Also, an official unwillingness to act when it was warranted would prompt the American public to question the worth of main­taining a modem military establishment.

The obvious challenge is how to get it right. Every situation will pose a challenge; there will be no universal answer to the intervention question and few answers that satisfy everybody in specific instances. But complexity cannot lead to immobility; not using force becomes as much of a policy choice as acting — and carries consequences no less profound.

Two of the most demanding scenarios for the use of force by the United States in the fore­seeable future are also the most straightforward. One would be to respond to an imminent or actual North Korean invasion of South Korea. The other would be to respond to an imminent or actual attack, by Iran or Iraq upon Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, or several other Persian Gulf states. A third scenario for the potential use of force raises far more problems given the nature of the potential aggressor: a resurgent Russia bent on reclaiming parts of the former Soviet empire, especially in the Baltics, Eastern Eu­rope, Ukraine, or Central Asia.

Owing to Russia’s political evolution and the deterioration of its armed forces, a scenario involving either the Baltics or Eastern Europe appears to be less likely than either the Gulf or Korean contingencies, at least for the near future. But if that were to come to pass, a revitalized and expanded NATO (one that would have considerable time to prepare for such a mission) would have to deter it and, if need be, defend against it. If problems with Russia again arise, it is better that they appear on Russia’s borders than on Western Europe’s.

By contrast, a direct military response to a Russian use of force against Ukraine would probably not be advisable. Although the United States has a major stake in Ukraine’s emergence as a strategic counterweight to Russia, geogra­phy and other factors (including the presence of nuclear weapons on both sides) simply work against U.S. and Western ability to engage on attractive terms. As a result, American policy would best be served by making such Russian action less likely, something that could be done by promoting Ukraine’s viability, encouraging autonomy for and proper treatment of ethnic Russians in Crimea, and by making clear to Russia the price it would pay in its relations with the West if it acted irresponsibly. Much the same would apply to Central Asia, where U.S. interests are relatively modest and U.S. ability to intervene highly circumscribed, owing to distance and a lack of access to facilities.

What all of those possible scenarios have in common is their traditional, interstate charac­ter. At issue are specific interests as well as the basic organizing principle of international soci­ety: defending state sovereignty against external aggression. In all cases there are borders clearly dividing the territory of the attacking state from the attacked. There is a status quo ante that can be restored and maintained. Such conflicts can best be fought by decisively using massive force at the outset to destroy the adversary’s ability to project military power.

At the other end of the spectrum (in terms of scale) are potential interventions that promise to be clear in importance and purpose, but significantly limited in scope and duration. Under that heading might come hostage res­cues, punitive reprisals against terrorists or states supporting them, and interdiction on behalf of sanctions, narcotics policy, or for purposes of regulating immigration. Those are all potential military interventions that can be readily defined and carried out with high expec­tations of military success and both domestic and international support. Such interventions are more likely to prove successful if they are kept narrow in purpose, involve ample force, and are conducted as decisively as possible.

Far more difficult (yet easy to imagine) are possible calls for military intervention in circumstances sure to be as controversial as they are complex. One set of scenarios involves preventive strikes upon unconventional military capabilities. A second set of scenarios involves intervention in the internal affairs of others, he it for humanitarian or political purposes. Both have already been the object of considerable debate; both are likely to provide the United States with its most difficult foreign policy choices in the years to come.

Preventive Interventions

Preventive uses of force are reactive only in the sense of constituting a response to develop­ments perceived as threats, but they are "pro­active" in every other sense and are likely to be so viewed. The temptation to undertake pre­ventive attacks will grow as the threat becomes real and the likelihood of conflict grows. Pre­ventive attacks become more attractive if con­flict is seen as increasingly probable and on decreasingly favorable terms.

That said, preventive att2cks are easier con­templated than carried out. Preventive uses of force will be futile unless the attacker knows the location of sufficiently vulnerable targets that, in the case of unconventional weapons, also represent all or most of the capability that is of concern. Just as important, the attacker has to be prepared to manage any retaliation that might follow.

Preventive strikes against two types of targets seem most likely. The first is terrorist capabili­ties. The problem is that those are often "soft" and easily moved or re-created. The second and more likely target is a facility central to the development of unconventional weapons. Here the problems tend to stem from a lack of knowledge (as the United States learned with Iraq, what the attacker does not know can far exceed what it does) and from an inability to destroy a sheltered target. Also, preventive attacks can lead to larger conflicts — a limited attack on North Korean nuclear facilities could well trigger a major Korean conflict, including the use of unconventional capabilities not elimi­nated in the preventive strike.

There are also diplomatic problems to con­sider. The notion of preventive self-defense — "legitimate anticipation," in the words of political theorist Michael Walzer — is not uni­versally accepted in principle and, in any event, is difficult to apply in the specific. The interna­tional community has long embraced the norm of the right of self-defense and is coming around to recognizing a second norm of hu­manitarian intervention. It is a long way from accepting as a third norm preventive strikes to destroy the nascent unconventional weapons capabilities of certain states that some deem rogues.

The net result is that preventive uses of force do not look attractive except in special circum­stances. Defensive measures and punitive attacks against state sponsors of terrorism appear to offer a better response to terrorists, while pro­liferation concerns are normally better met by a mixture of denial strategies, deterrence, and defensive measures. But preventive attacks may be the best option against the emergence of a militarily significant unconventional capability if diplomacy fails to place an acceptable ceiling on the threat, if effective defense is not available, and if war seems more, not less, likely.

Many of those arguments are sure to be brought up in the context of North Korea. A preventive strike against fissile material, reac­tors, and/or reprocessing plants becomes a serious option if North Korea appears on the verge of developing a significant nuclear weap­ons capability. Gaining formal international au­thority for an attack would be impossible; more important would be gaining the support (or at least acquiescence) of those states most likely to be affected adversely by any North Korean re­sponse, namely Japan and South Korea. More­over, any preventive strike would have to be preceded by conventional military efforts de­signed to deter or defend against any retalia­tion. Also useful would be a message to the North that such a war would not be terminated until the peninsula was reunified. That might help deter retaliation; if not, the occupation could be carried out by South Koreans. China could be mollified by the promise of a non­-nuclear Korea with no U.S. military presence — and by the reality that Japan is much less likely to develop nuclear weapons under this scenario than one in which a nuclear North Korea is tolerated.

Internal Interventions

Direct military involvement in the internal affairs of another state tends to be for one of three purposes: humanitarian (providing pro­tection and other basic needs, often through the establishment of safe havens), nation-build­ing (recasting the institutions of the society), or "peacemaking" (tilting the military balance in favor of one or another contender). The ques­tion is when to opt for one of the above ap­proaches — as opposed to another or none.

Calls for humanitarian intervention are likely to be heard in the context of failed states, where weak central governments coupled with one or more armed gangs or militia leave large numbers of people vulnerable. Abusive govern­ments will stimulate similar calls to act. Unfor­tunately, the list of potential situations in which such interventions may be desired, be it by at least one protagonist to a conflict or by some external party, are almost unlimited.

Answering the question of whether to inter­vene will be extremely difficult. There will be a need for selectivity. The impossibility of univer­sal or consistent responses to such situations is not a rationale for inaction — just because we cannot intervene everywhere does not mean we should not intervene anywhere — but it does highlight the necessity of being able to explain and defend decisions to intervene or not to intervene, so that domestic and international support for such a policy can be garnered.

Making the humanitarian option more attrac­tive is the creation of armed zones (safe havens) to protect endangered peoples, much as has been done in northern Iraq and around selected Bosnian cities. The purpose is to keep people alive until the political situation changes-not to try to change the political situation directly, something that would prove too costly.

Three factors ought to shape the decision to act: the actual or potential scale of the problem, the existence of any non-humanitarian interests, and the availability of military options that provide relief at acceptable costs and that promise better results at no greater cost than alternative measures. A decision that ignores any of those factors risks serious military prob­lems at the site of the attack as well as political problems at home.

Similar questions need to be raised before any nation-building is undertaken. Nation­-building can be motivated by a state’s ill-treat­ment of its own people or its neighbors and by the desire to transform a belligerent country so that its behavior changes in fundamental ways. Nation-building is thus a far more ambitious enterprise than humanitarian intervention, which is limited in both means and ends. Na­tion-building requires replacing the existing political authority or creating one. It requires the defeat and disarmament of any local oppo­sition as well as the establishment of a political authority that enjoys a monopoly or near-mo­nopoly over the legitimate use of force.

Successful nation-building can involve going to war first, as with Japan and Germany. In both cases, nation-building required years of occupation and billions of dollars. At times, the task can involve nothing less than remaking a political culture. Nation-building is more de­manding in the near term than humanitarian efforts, but potentially less so over the long term. It is highly intrusive, as even the limited efforts in Panama, Grenada, and Somalia all demonstrate.

The question naturally arises: When should one choose to reconstruct a government, as opposed to doing nothing or limiting oneself to humanitarian intervention? It is a calculation that results from assessing four factors: cause (how damaging or threatening is the offending state, both to its own people and its neigh­bors?); opportunity (is it a society or culture that lends itself to remaking?); costs (what will it take and are others willing to share the bur­den?); and alternatives (what are other ways of either affecting the target entity or coping with it?). Humanitarian intervention (building safe havens) can be a useful response in countries torn by widespread ethnic conflict. By contrast, militarily removing the government, followed up by nation-building, can be the most appro­priate option when the government is the prin­cipal source of the problem. Either alternative provides a possible approach to failed states, with the decision of which to choose hinging on willingness to commit the greater resources necessary for nation-building and the judgment on whether the country is a good political and cultural candidate for a "remaking."

Clearly, opportunities for successful nation­-building will be  less common than those for humanitarian intervention. Few regimes are so dangerous, and even when they are, not many outsiders will want to pay the price. Also, it is impossible to be confident that the values we seek to promote will take root. North Korea appears to be a prime exception in light of its demonstrated aggression and the availability of South Koreans to undertake an occupation. Haiti is another candidate, although its cultural and political "ripeness" for nation-­building is uncertain, as is the prospect of en­listing other countries to participate in a long­-term occupation.

Opportunities for successful peacemaking are also likely to be rare. As we learned in Vietnam and Lebanon, peacemaking is extremely de­manding militarily and difficult to sustain politi­cally, both at home (because of the high costs and uncertain prospects for success) and in the target country (where one must contend with nationalist pressures, the difficulties of working with disorganized internal forces, and the need to act with great restraint so as not to alienate neutrals). Compellent actions — using limited amounts of force in a coercive manner to alter an adversary’s behavior — are easier to mount; the problem is what to do should they fail. The choice — as we have seen in Bosnia-then tends to be between escalation to peacemaking (and defeating one or more local protagonists), or backing away from direct military intervention and either doing nothing or providing military aid to one side.

What is the practical effect of raising such considerations? This year’s civil war in Rwanda is a case where the United States did not inter­vene, despite the enormous scale of the disaster, with hundreds of thousands of people losing their lives and many more fleeing their homes. Such a decision is understandable given the absence of non-humanitarian interests and the difficulty of accomplishing anything useful because of the speed with which the problem developed, its size, and the lack of ready coali­tion partners. Indeed, the same scale that ar­gues for intervention weighs against it by mak­ing the requirements for successful involvement so great. The only viable approach would have been a purely humanitarian undertaking — one in which Africans assumed the lion’s share of the burden over time — in which an armed humanitarian zone or safe haven would have been established to protect those whose lives were in danger. Such an action is akin to what France began in late June (not to be confused with the subsequent U.S. relief effort to assist Rwandan refugees in Zaire).

Haiti’s problem is considerably smaller than Rwanda’s, but the argument for U.S. interven­tion in Haiti is stronger. Why? First, the hu­manitarian situation, while not genocide, is still sufficiently bad to make intervention a legiti­mate option. Second, U.S. interests go beyond the humanitarian and include support for de­mocracy and ending a refugee flow into the United States. Third, given the weakness of the ruling military and the absence of any large­-scale civil strife, an intervention force could gain control of the country with relative ease; the major challenge would come in nation-­building, a task that could be shared with oth­ers. A key consideration thus becomes the willingness of others to assist in the reconstruc­tion of the state, a chore sure to be difficult and to take years.

A third such situation is Iraq, where the central government is gradually intensifying its war on the people of the south and could, with little warning, resume a major assault on the Kurds of the north. A humanitarian zone would appear to be the proper response to the south; if the zone in the north is challenged, an ap­propriate action would be massive air retaliation against military targets throughout the country, especially those of value in Baghdad.

A fourth would be Algeria, in the throes of an incipient civil war as radical Islamic forces battle a military government that took power in January 1992 after an initial round of elections revealed unexpected strength for the religious elements. Yet despite U.S. interest in the out­come, there is no appropriate role for military intervention. As was the case with Iran in the late 1970s, direct military intervention is virtu­ally irrelevant when it comes to affecting the course of internal politics once they reach revo­lution. Although Algeria is a situation with humanitarian consequences, it is not (yet) a situation calling for humanitarian intervention.

Such a situation could also arise in Egypt; if it did, the right response might be large-scale indirect aid for government forces coupled with selective strikes by U.S. and Egyptian forces against rebels. But the time to consider acting is when coups or insurrections are still in their early phases. If Egypt’s predicament deteriorat­ed into a revolution, options for direct military intervention would fade, vital U.S. interests notwithstanding.

Obviously, policy must and will differ from case to case. That selectivity or inconsistency will cause problems for some and frustration for everyone. But it is unavoidable — and prefer­able to applying some fixed set of rules about when and how to intervene. It is not simply that no two situations are alike in degree; it is also that no two situations are alike in their susceptibility to being resolved by outside mili­tary force.

Sharing the Burdens

A good deal of debate over intervention has focused on the choice between "unilateralism" and "multilateralism," between going it alone and acting with others. In reality, the choice is less stark, as the opportunities for purely unilat­eral action will be few. In most situations, in­terventions will be partly multilateral. The United States will need one or more forms of assistance from others: base or overflight rights, intelligence, combat forces, economic help, and political support. The questions worth asking, though, are in which situations will U.S. offi­cials want to marginalize or even eliminate the involvement of others and, in those situations where such involvement is deemed either nec­essary or desirable, what form it should take.

Those are hard questions to answer, for multilateralism brings with it both attractions and problems. On the positive side, multilater­alism is closely tied to international legitimacy. Foreign involvement also helps at home, where resentment at the United States’ bearing most or all of the burdens of a costly and extended intervention is all but certain to undermine support for that commitment. And the United States simply does not (nor will it) possess military forces that will be able to handle most (much less all) of the claims made on them.

But multilateralism is not cost-free. Such costs transcend the economic price of America’s assuming its share (nearly one-third, likely to decline to one-fourth) of U.N. operations. Keeping the Persian Gulf coalition intact neces­sitated going to the United Nations, which in turn slowed down the employment of force, most notably early in the crisis when interdict­ing ships in and out of Iraq was crucial. Multi­lateralism can translate into a loss of control over the situation on the ground. Somalia is a good example: There the United States en­countered problems over strategy and opera­tions that stemmed in part from the difficulties of coordinating with the U.N. and of sharing responsibility with the other countries contrib­uting troops. Bosnia is another example, as European governments cited ongoing humani­tarian operations to justify opposing the more aggressive policies suggested by the United States in early 1993. Bosnia also indicates the problems that can stem from a cumbersome chain of command.

Generalization is impossible. Instead, it is more useful to assess various approaches to multilateralism:

Concerned States. Gathering those coun­tries most affected by a situation, or those most inclined to do something, and acting with a degree of coordination is the least confining form of multilateralism. Here a model is the U.S.-French-British-Italian effort in Lebanon, undertaken in the fall of 1982 in the wake of the massacres of Palestinian civilians in refugee camps. The intervention failed, but not because of the way it was organized. The advantage of such an approach is that it includes only those disposed to act in parallel and avoids cumber­some political and military arrangements that can inhibit action and consumed even more time and money. The disadvantage is that it does not exist until after a crisis materializes and even once created is ad hoc and therefore sus­ceptible to poor planning and coordination. This approach also lacks the international legit­imacy of more formal regional or U.N.-sanctioned undertakings.

Informal Coalitions. The coalition or "posse" approach is one in which a single country, say the United States, becomes the de facto sheriff and enlists others to participate in one form or another to bring about a defined outcome. The classic example here is the Per­sian Gulf war, in which the United States took the lead and dozens of other countries contrib­uted military forces, overflight rights, bases, troops and equipment, or simply money to the central military effort or to an associated aspect, such as sanctions enforcement. The Gulf war model is important in another way, in that the U.S.-led coalition acted pursuant to various Security Council resolutions, something that cast the U.N. in the role of legitimizer.

The attraction of the "sheriff-and-posse" approach is that it complements more than constrains U.S. leadership. Like the concerned­ states approach, it avoids standing bureaucracies and those who are uninterested or opposed, but unlike such an approach, it is more coordinated and clearly has a leader. The drawbacks are the time it takes to put together such an effort and the often tenuous ties that bind the partici­pants, things that can constrain action. This approach also places most of the burden on the sheriff — most likely the United States. Also, such an approach may not be legitimate in the eyes of many people if it lacks the blessing of the U.N. or the relevant regional organization.

Regional Organizations. Standing regional entities can take the lead in a crisis, as NATO has done (or at times failed to do) in Bosnia. At least in principle, one could imagine various regional organizations — the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organization of African Unity (OAU) — undertaking peacekeep­ing, selective peacemaking, and nation-building operations. The obvious advantages would include proximity, knowledge of language and culture, a stake in success if only to avoid refu­gee flows and a wider war, a sharing of bur­dens, and increased political legitimacy for the intervention.

The disadvantage is simply that regional organizations lack the military capability and the political consensus to intervene in most situations. Regional organizations are likely to prove undependable. That is especially true for the OAU and OAS, which lack means and rarely enjoy consensus. NATO has the means, but gaining support from all 16 members, especially in a timely manner, is often nearly impossible, especially when it involves matters where na­tional interests outweigh collective, alliance­-wide concerns — something sure to become more frequent in the post-Cold War world.

U.N. as Organizer. In the Gulf crisis, the United Nations provided the U.S.-led coalition substantial political support, something that meant a great deal to several of the participants as well as to the U.S. Congress and the Ameri­can people. But throughout the Gulf crisis, the role was political, not military. A very different role can be envisioned in which mem­bers would make forces available to the U.N., which would then assume operational control or authorize one country to take on that role.

The advantage of such an approach is that it provides a pool of potential forces that could be trained and equipped and then tapped in a range of scenarios-but that would otherwise remain available to (and the responsibility of) host governments. At least in principle, such an objective seems desirable: It would provide resources that could undertake a broad range of military-related tasks, especially those that are personnel-intensive, thereby reducing the bur­den on the United States. Pre-designation of selected units or force levels should not be confused with pre-commitment of their avail­ability, something that needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The disadvantage comes with committing such forces to enforcement actions, which by definition are militarily demanding. A U.N.­organized force would prove slow to assemble and of uneven ability once it were in place — if it ever got that far, given that no state can be required to make any particular level of forces available. Moreover, a U.N. Security Council in which Russia and China enjoy vetoes may not support interventions Americans consider desir­able. Trying to build consensus not only takes time, but makes it more difficult for the United States to act in the event of diplomatic failure. Indeed, strengthening the norm that interven­tion must be approved, much less conducted, by the Security Council is much more likely to affect Americans than to affect others who are less concerned about public opinion and inter­national law. It might be more realistic to pro­ceed by designating a pool of forces that would be available in principle for traditional, consen­sual U.N. Chapter VI peacekeeping missions rather than anything more demanding, such as those enforcement actions taken pursuant to Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

U.N. Standing Army.This last approach differs from both the U.N. as legitimizer, where it provides only political cover for the actions of individual States or groups of states, and the U.N. as organizer, where it brings together and leads the forces of contributors in peacekeeping or in enforcement actions under Article 43. The U.N. legion concept would have the organization establish a standing force — say, on the order of several brigades — that would report to the secretary — general and be available for whatever mission the Security Council supported or directed. Troops could be volunteers. Command would be in the hands of the U.N.

The advantage of such a standing force is its availability. At least in principle, it could be useful for missions of tactical deterrence; that is, to deploy to some border area or enclave where clashes appeared imminent. It could also take on small peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. The drawbacks, however, are consid­erable. Beyond matters of expense (salaries, training, logistics, and so on) are questions about availability — far from ensured, given Security Council politics — and military capabili­ty. It is easy to see how such a small force would be overwhelmed. Member states, and in particular the United States, would then come under pressure to act, not simply to deal with the situation at hand, but to save the credibility of the U.N. There is another danger, too, in that a U.N. force would likely be seen as an alternative to U.S. forces — and a competitor for resources — even though the potential of the U.N. force to take on the same tasks would be negligible in most instances.

Comprehensive Approach

How then does the United States choose? How does it exploit the advantages of multilateralism and unilateralism while minimizing their drawbacks? The best approach would draw upon unilateralism and even more upon modest forms of multilateralism, namely, con­cerned states and informal coalitions. In prin­ciple, the larger the U.S. stake and the larger (and more demanding) the S.S. contribution, the more the United States ought to limit the formal multilateral dimension of an undertak­ing. Strengthening regional organizations ought to be a goal, but one that at best will take a good many years to achieve. The United Na­tions appears most attractive as a legitimizer for war and as a major organizer of peacekeeping. It is also possible that we may want to turn to a strengthened U.N. to organize selective peacemaking or nation-building efforts.

The United States needs to maintain a uni­lateral military option. It cannot plan its forces on the assumption that others, including the United Nations, will be willing or able to bear the burdens of major military undertakings. Nor does the United States want to give others a veto on those occasions when it determines to intervene with force. Indeed, in some cases, such as large-scale combat or war, any multi­lateralism will be mostly in support of U.S. actions. In other cases, particularly preventive and punitive actions, rescue efforts, or interven­tion in places where there are special U.S. in­terests or a special U.S. role (such as Panama, the Philippines, or the Middle East), Washing­ton may want or need to act alone.

The United States should largely stay outside or minimize its role in situations requiring peacemaking and nation-building. (For lesser tasks, notably peacekeeping, there is little rea­son for U.S. involvement unless it is expressly sought by the protagonists, as is often the case in the Middle East, or where political arrange­ments are durable, as seems unlikely in Bosnia.) Those missions do not exploit the unique capa­bilities of U.S. forces for high-intensity combat. They are time-consuming and tie down U.S. troops that could be used elsewhere. Where appropriate, the United States would be wise to advocate — and participate in, at least initially — armed humanitarian zones as an alternative. If, however, peacemaking or nation-building is deemed desirable and feasible, such missions should almost always be undertaken by coali­tions, be they formal regional organizations or something along the lines of a posse or group of concerned states. In return for its support, the United States should insist that the mission be designed with an adequate appreciation of the risks and costs.

U.S. participation in multinational peacemak­ing and nation-building raises additional ques­tions. Lebanon, Somalia, and Haiti all suggest that direct U.S. involvement can be counter­productive: It can stimulate opposition and aggressive action against the effort, given the political value in many settings of taking on the United States and demonstrating an ability to kill or capture soldiers of the world’s only su­perpower. The most important U.S. contribu­tion in many such situations might be in the realms where it enjoys comparative advantages, such as intelligence, transportation, and logisti­cal support. Still, the United States might find it difficult to lead if it is unwilling to share the risks; as a result, in those situations that meet criteria, some combat participation (air, if not always ground) may be required if others are to be persuaded to join in.

Some would claim that the mix presented here — unilateralism and less formal forms of multilateralism — lacks legitimacy. Instead, such critics would require some regional or U.N. Security Council mandate under which the United States would act. Morton Halperin, now on the Clinton National Security Council, argued earlier that "the United States should explicitly surrender the right to intervene uni­laterally in the internal affairs of other countries by overt military means or by covert opera­tions." But that approach is overly legal in principle and impractical in practice. It would require frequent recourse to organizations that might well prove unable or unwilling to provide timely and unconditional approval. It would also prove unacceptable if the interests at stake were more vital than promoting democracy or human rights. In the final analysis, legitimacy must reside in the policy itself and derive from the ends and means of the intervention, not from some external organization or internation­al court of law.

Multilateralism can be a useful military or political element of U.S. intervention; at the same time, it can prove to be cumbersome. But multilateralism is most likely to be effective (or at least not an obstacle) if the United States makes the case for a collective response and contributes to it. The precise form and compo­sition of the effort may vary, but what will not change is political reality. No international response involving the use of force will just happen. Effective multilateralism is not an alternative to U.S. leadership; it will be a consequence. The question is whether the world’s only superpower will choose to behave like one.

<p> Richard N. Haas was special assistant to United States President George H. W. Bush and National Security Council Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs from 1989 to 1993. He has also served in various posts in the State Department. </p>

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