The Left Hook! Archive


Mon. Feb. 24, 2003


And What Ails 'Em

I tend to think interventions almost always do more harm than good, and if they are to do good they need to be multilateral, grounded in principles of human rights, and have a commitment to seeing the project through.

The problem is:

 a) Unintended consequences and long term costs are rarely considered in planning an intervention.[1]  It is an accepted fact of foreign policy decision making theory that military options always appear at least at first a better solution because they have a plan that appears objective and implementable, with a time table.  "Bad guy in power, is dangerous, we do X, Y, and Z, bad guy gone, then it will be easier to have a political solution."  The reality is usually that the problem is not caused by the "bad guy" or "bad regime" alone, nor does removing the leader necessarily improve conditions. Real answers require long term solutions and recognition that a lot of crap takes place in the world that we can't fix -- from third world malnourishment and poverty to dictatorial regimes.  These usually aren't military (and in fact militarism tends to reinforce the idea that violence solves problems, and increases rather than decreases reliance on such methods in countries involved), and sometimes require time and patience.

  b) The cost of seeing through interventions to the conclusion is too high, and the power needed to assure success over the long term too difficult to project.  The result is that Afghanistan appears "won," and then disappears from the front pages, but the situation there remains bad, and worsens.[2]

My view is that military interventions usually do more harm than good. The ones that have a chance to work share the cost (hence must be multilateral -- and not just with token forces), have legal/moral authority (rooted in human rights and the UN/International law), and a consensus to stay for the long haul.  Perhaps Bosnia in 1995 fulfills that. Kosovo is more iffy.  But as a general rule, I think that unless a country actually undertakes aggression or engages in mass atrocities, its better to work towards long term peaceful solutions.

--Scott Erb
Scott Erb is the author of the forthcoming
"German Foreign Policy: Navigating a New Era."

Editor's Notes:

[1] In a story that went virtually unreported in the corporate press, it was revealed this month that the Bush administration, after six months of uninterrupted belligerence with regard to Iraq, only opened an office of planning for post-invasion Iraq on January 20!

[2] It apparently disappeared from the minds of those in the administration as well--when they submitted their 2004 budget to congress, they forgot to pencil in a penny of aid for humanitarian and reconstruction purposes for their new puppet regime in Afghanistan. Embarassed congressional Republicans last week quietly penciled in $300 million, and the corporate press couldn't seem to care less about the story or the implications about the administration that scream forth from it.

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