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American Intervention in the Third World

Less Would be Better

Stephen Van Evera

 

I. INTRODUCTION

In Europe the Cold War is a fading memory, but the Bush administration is still grimly waging the Cold War in the Third World. A large chunk (roughly one-third) of the administration's defense budget for the current fiscal year is allocated for forces that are optimized for Third World intervention, including fifteen aircraft carriers and eight light Army and Marine divisions. The administration's proposed budget for the mid-1990s would impose only small cuts on these intervention forces.

Less expensive, but more important in human terms, are three gruesome wars that the Bush administration is waging by proxy against leftist Third World regimes and movements. In Cambodia the administration supports a coalition dominated by the Khmer Rouge, which seeks to oust the Vietnam-installed Hun Sen government. In Afghanistan it sustains a rebellion by seven mujahideen groups against the Soviet-installed Najibullah regime. In El Salvador it supports the right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA) government against the Marxist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). The rationale for these wars vanished with the Cold War, but the Bush administration still fuels all three, backing an array of thuggish clients. The administration has also stalled progress toward peace by adopting extreme positions in the peace talks that are now under way.

The administration should bring these proxy wars to a quick end. It should also drop the interventionist foreign policy they reflect. Extensive Third World intervention never made sense even at the height of the Cold War. It makes even less sense with that war's demise. Accordingly, the United States should cut its intervention forces, halt the proxy wars now under way, and avoid further interventions except in a narrow range of circumstances.


 

II. INTERVENTION FOR NATIONAL SECURITY?

During the Cold War, proponents of U.S. intervention made two principal claims: that Third World interventions protect American security by preserving the global balance of power, and that interventions promote democracy, thereby promoting human rights. Both arguments were false in the past, are false now, and would remain false even if the Soviet Union regained its strength and returned to an aggressive foreign policy.

The national security argument for intervention has rested on three main assumptions:

(1) The Soviet Union seeks an empire in the Third World.

(2) It could gain such an empire, either by direct intervention or by sponsoring the expansion of proxies, unless the United States intervenes to stop it.

(3) Such an empire would add significantly to Soviet military strength, ultimately tipping the world power balance in the USSR's favor, thus threatening American national security.

All three assumptions must be valid to uphold the security case for intervention. If any fails the global balance of power is not threatened, leaving no security problem for intervention to solve. In fact, however, all three assumptions are defective. The first assumption crumbled with the waning of Soviet expansionism under Mikhail Gorbachev. Soviet tolerance of the 1989 democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe signaled the ebbing of Soviet expansionism worldwide, and perhaps its total abandonment. Eastern Europe matters far more to the USSR than any Third World region; Soviet leaders who concede their empire in Eastern Europe cannot be planning to colonize much less valuable Third World areas. Soviet cooperation against Iraq-an erstwhile Soviet ally-during the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf crisis also illustrates the change in Soviet policy. In short, there is little Soviet imperial thrust left for American interventions to blunt.

The second assumption fails because the Soviet Union lacks the capacity to colonize the Third World. Today it can barely control its inner empire, as unrest in the Baltic republics, Transcaucasia, and Central Asia reveals. Overseas colonialism is unthinkable.

But even if the Soviets recovered their unity and their appetite for Third World empire, they could not seize it. Soviet military forces are designed primarily for land war in Europe and for intercontinental nuclear war with the United States, not for Third World intervention. This leaves the USSR with scant means to intervene directly. Nor can the USSR gain empire by promoting leftist revolution or expansion by Soviet "proxy" states, because the centrifugal force of nationalism tears the bonds between proxy and master. As a result, Third World leftists have been unruly proxies, seldom following Soviet dictates except when pushed into the Kremlin's arms by American bellicosity: witness the conflicts that often flared between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnam, Vietnam and China, China and the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union and Albania.

In addition, the USSR is evolving away from communism. This further discredits fears that the Soviets can organize a transnational communist empire, since the leaders of the empire are themselves discarding the ideology that would allegedly glue it together.

The third assumption fails because the Third World has little strategic importance, hence even large Soviet gains in the Third World would not shake the global balance of power. By the best measure of strategic importance-industrial power-the Third World ranks very low. All of Latin America has an aggregate gross national product (GNP) less than half that of Japan. All of Africa has an aggregate GNP below that of Italy or Britain. The aggregate GNP of the entire Third World is below that of Western Europe. Modern military power is distilled from industrial power. The Third World has little industrial power, hence it has little military potential, and correspondingly little strategic significance. As a result, Third World realignments have little impact on the global power balance.

Moreover, the nuclear revolution has further reduced the Third World's strategic importance to a level far below even what its industrial strength might indicate. Nuclear weapons make conquest among great powers almost impossible, since a victor now must destroy almost all of an opponent's nuclear arsenal-an enormous task, requiring massive technical and material superiority. As a result, the nuclear revolution has devalued the strategic importance of all conquered territory, including Third World territory, because even huge conquests would not provide the conqueror with enough technical or material assets to give it decisive nuclear superiority over another great power. Hence industrial regions that mattered greatly before the nuclear age now matter little, and Third World regions that formerly mattered little now matter even less.

Some interventionists assert that the Third World has strategic importance despite its lack of industrial power because the West allegedly depends on Third World raw materials, or because military bases in Third World areas allegedly have considerable strategic value. Both claims are much overdrawn. Oil is the only Third World material on which the West depends to any degree. The West imports many other materials from the Third World, but at modest additional cost all could be produced locally in the West, synthesized, replaced by substitutes, conserved and recycled, or acquired from alternative Third World sources if supplies from current producers were interrupted. Bases, too, can be replaced by longer-range forces, or moved to new locations, if a given country denies basing rights to the United States. Soviet bases in the Third World are vulnerable to Western blockade and destruction, since the West holds naval superiority. This leaves the Soviets unable to defend or resupply forces based overseas in wartime, hence Third World bases add little to Soviet military capability.

The failure of all three assumptions creates a redundant, and therefore a very strong, case against intervention. Moreover, the latter two assumptions were false before the Gorbachev revolution, and would remain false even if that revolution were reversed. Hence the security case for intervention was very weak before Gorbachev appeared, and would remain very weak even if the changes he instituted were swept away.

In short, no national security justification exists for U.S. commitment to Third World intervention.

 

III. INTERVENTION FOR DEMOCRACY?

During the 1980s proponents of intervention supplemented security arguments with claims that American interventions promote democracy. This argument fails on both logical and historical grounds.

Deductive logic indicates that the United States lacks the means to implant democracy by intervention. Democracy requires suitable social and economic preconditions: a fairly equal distribution of land, wealth, and income; high levels of literacy and economic development; cultural norms conducive to democracy, including traditions of tolerance, free speech, and due process of law; and few deep ethnic divisions. Most of the Third World lacks democracy because these preconditions are missing. Moreover, it would require vast social engineering, involving long and costly post-intervention American occupations, to introduce them. American taxpayers clearly would not support extravagant projects of this sort.

The historical record shows that past U.S. interventions have generally failed to bolster democracy. These interventions have more often left dictatorship than democracy in their wake. Moreover, Washington has often subverted elected governments that opposed its policies, and many U.S.-supported "democratic" governments.

and movements were not at all democratic. Overall, this record suggests that the U.S. lacks the will and the ability to foster democracy.

The legacy of American interventions and occupations is not wholly undemocratic: Germany, Japan, Italy, Austria, and Grenada are significant exceptions. But these were easy cases, since each country had some previous experience with democracy, and all but Grenada were economically developed. Elsewhere the American record is bleak.

The U.S. governed Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic in a generally undemocratic fashion during the intermittent occupations in the period 1898-1934, and then allowed brutal dictators to seize power after it left. South Korea has seen far more dictatorship than democracy since American forces arrived in 1945. Following the era of U.S. colonial rule (1899-1946) the Philippines experienced a corrupt and violent perversion of democracy and a long period of repression under Ferdinand Marcos's U.S.-supported dictatorship. Even in the post-Marcos era, violence has marred Philippine elections and the threat of a military coup has hung over the elected government. Iran and Guatemala have been ruled by cruel dictatorships ever since the CIA-sponsored coups of 1953 and 1954. Chile is only now emerging from years of harsh military dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet, who was installed by a U.S.supported coup in 1973.

Some would argue that the United States brought democracy to Panama in 1989 and Nicaragua in 1990, but the U.S. deserves less credit than appearance suggests. The legacy of the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama is still uncertain. The Bush administration's invasion deposed dictator Manuel Noriega and installed an elected government in his place. However, the administration also installed a sinister Noriega henchman, Col. Eduardo Herrera Hassan, as the commander of the new Public Force (PF), the successor to Noriega's corrupt Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF). Herrera staffed the PF almost exclusively with former PDF members, raising the risk that corrupt military cliques will continue to dominate the country's politics. Moreover, by invading, the United States merely sought to undo a mess of its own making. The U.S. created and trained the PDF; then, in 1968, the PDF destroyed Panamanian democracy, installing a junta that later gave rise to the Noriega dictatorship. Overall, U.S. policy toward Panama has not fostered democracy.

The 1990 Nicaraguan elections have apparently put Nicaragua on the road to democracy for the first time in its history. The U.S.-sponsored contra war and U.S. economic sanctions contributed by pressuring the Sandinistas to hold earlier and freer elections than they otherwise would have. However, the social conditions required for democracy were created by the Sandinista revolution, over American opposition. In 1979, when the Sandinistas took power, 50 percent of the adult population of Nicaragua was illiterate; land ownership was very mal-distributed (5 percent of the rural population owned 85 percent of the farmland, while 37 percent of the rural population was landless); and the country was terrorized by the Sornoza dictatorship's brutal National Guard. The Sandinistas reduced adult illiteracy to 13 percent, redistributed the land, and disbanded the National Guard.

Had the United States gotten its way, these changes never would have happened. As the Somoza regime crumbled in 1979, the Carter administration tried to forestall a Sandinista victory by replacing Somoza while preserving his National Guard in power. A Guard-dominated regime surely would have left intact the old oligarchic social and political order-an order in which widespread coercion, voter ignorance, and vote fraud made elections meaningless.

The United States also deserves poor reviews for its role in arranging the 1990 Nicaraguan elections. The Reagan administration preferred a military victory to any compromise solution, including one providing for elections. It therefore disrupted the 1984 Nicaraguan elections by persuading the opposition not to run. It also resisted the peace plan proposed by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias in 1987, which launched the process that led to the 1990 elections. This resistance ended only when the Bush administration took office. In short, the impetus for the Nicaraguan election process came from Central America against U.S. opposition, while the conditions for democracy were established by a social revolution that the U.S. sought to prevent. Hence U.S. claims of authorship for Nicaraguan democracy ring hollow.

The undemocratic effects of American policies result partly from their pronounced bias in favor of elites. The Carter administration's support for the Nicaraguan oligarchy was not unique; in many other Third World countries American policy has bolstered the power of local anti-democratic upperclass elements, who then blocked the social leveling that democratization requires. In South Korea, U.S. policies favored the rightist elite from the early days of the postwar occupation. In the Philippines the U.S. aligned itself with the upper class ilustrado elite after seizing the islands in 1898-99, and again when it recovered the Philippines from Japan in 1944-45. In Guatemala the CIA-sponsored Castillo Armas government (1954-1957) repealed universal suffrage and dispossessed peasant beneficiaries of earlier land reforms, leaving Guatemala among the most stratified societies in the world. Throughout Latin America the Alliance for Progress, founded partly to promote social equality, was co-opted by oligarchic governments that ran it for the benefit of wealthy elites. As a result, the Alliance in fact increased social stratification.

America's ambivalence toward Third World democracy is more starkly manifest in its recurrent subversion of elected Third World governments that pursued policies distasteful to the U.S. There have been eleven prominent instances since 1945 in which Third World democracies have elected nationalist or leftist regimes whose policies disturbed Washington. In nine of these cases-Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), British Guiana (1953-64), Indonesia (1957), Ecuador (196"3), Brazil (1964). the Dominican Republic (1965), Costa Rica (in the mid1950s), and Chile (1970-73)-the U.S. attempted to overthrow the elected government (or, in the Dominican case, to prevent its return to power), and in most cases succeeded. In the other two cases--Greece (1967) and Jamaica (1976-80)-evidence of American subversion is less clear-cut, but is nevertheless substantial.

In short, American leaders have favored democracy only when it produced governments that supported American policies. Otherwise they have sought to subvert democracy.

American ambivalence toward Third World democracy is also revealed by the thuggish character of many American Third World clients.

America's client regimes in Central America are illustrative. The U.S.-backed governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras hold regular elections, but none pass the first test of democracy-that those elected control government policy. Instead, the army and police effectively rule all three countries; the civilian governments are hood ornaments on military vehicles of state. Civilian officials who defied the military would promptly be removed by assassination or coup. Knowing this, they obey the military. Moreover, the preconditions for fair elections-free speech, a free press, and freedom to vote, organize, and run for office-are denied by government death squads that systematically murder critics of the government. The official terror has reached vast proportions in El Salvador, where the government has murdered 40,000 Salvadorans since 1979, and in Guatemala, where the government has murdered 140,000 since 1970. Fair elections are impossible amid such slaughter.

In sum, the U.S. lacks the means to institute democracy by intervention, and apparently lacks the will. There is little reason to expect more democratic results from future interventions. Accordingly, the advancement of democracy is an unpersuasive reason for intervention.

 

IV. THE CASE AGAINST BUSH'S WAR

These criticisms of the case for intervention apply directly to the Bush administration's ongoing proxy wars. The Bush administration did not create these wars; they were inherited from the Carter and Reagan administrations. Nor is the United States solely responsible for past fighting; it became directly involved only after all four wars began. However, U.S. responsibility for past fighting is sizable, and the U.S. now plays a key role in keeping the fighting going. These wars have taken a huge human toll: 65,000 killed in Cambodia since 1978, with more than half a million refugees; thousands killed in Afghanistan since the Soviets withdrew in 1989; and 75,000 killed in El Salvador since 1979. Such great violence requires a compelling justification, but the case for these wars is extremely thin.

Their main rationale vanished with the waning of Soviet expansionism. The Reagan administration claimed that these wars were required to blunt the Soviet Union's 'imperial thrust' in the Third World, in order to preserve the global balance of power. This rationale-dubious even during the Cold War, since there was little power in the Third World to add to either side of the balance, and little Soviet capacity to exert imperial control-wholly dissolved once the abatement of Soviet imperialism became clear, leaving these wars without strategic purpose.

Moreover, the administration's client groups are dominated by brutal elements who will rule by terror if they win on the battlefield. Democracy won't be helped, and human rights will be harmed, if the Bush policy succeeds.

In Cambodia the administration claims to oppose the return of the Khmer Rouge, while it also works to oust the Hun Sen government. But the Khmer Rouge are Hun Sen's only real competitors for power, and his most likely successors. In effect, then, the administration supports the Khmer Rouge's bid for power. These same Khmer Rouge killed over one million Cambodians when they held power during 1975-78. In contrast, Hun Sen leads a pluralist, fairly popular regime that is accepted as legitimate in most of Cambodia.

The Afghan mujahideen are a fractious group dominated by Moslem extremists and drug traffickers. The strongest mujahideen group, Hizbe-Islami, is led by Golbuddin Hekmatyar, an extreme fundamentalist described by some Afghan specialists as an "Afghan Khomeini." His fundamentalist cohorts have launched a reign of terror among Afghan exiles in Pakistan, murdering those who criticize their views. Hekmatyar has scornfully castigated the United States and its 'immoral' society, even while the U.S. lavished him with aid. He also joined the leaders of two other mujahideen groups in supporting Saddam Hussein against the U.S. in the Persian Gulf war. Another mujahideen leader, Nasim Akhunzada, was known until his death as the 'heroin king" because he controlled the Afghan heroin routes to Iran. In 1989 rebel-controlled Afghan areas exported 700 tons of opium, the raw material for heroin, making Afghanistan the world's second-largest opium producer, after Burma. These "founding fathers' are not the type to build democracy if they win power.

The Salvadoran government is dominated by ARENA party founder Major Roberto D'Aubuisson and his military colleagues. President Alfredo Cristiani is largely a figurehead who distracts the American Congress with moderate rhetoric while D'Aubuisson and the military run their savage war. D'Aubuisson is widely regarded as the mastermind of El Salvador's official death squads, and was personally implicated in the 1980 murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the 1981 murders of two American labor officials. He also authored a plot to assassinate the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Thomas Pickering, in October 1984. His death squads are still operating, committing nearly a dozen murders a month for the first half of 1990. Moreover, they still kill with impunity. Despite 40,000 death squad murders, including the killing of six prominent Jesuit priests in late 1989, no Salvadoran officer has ever been convicted of a human rights violation.

In short, victory by the administration's clients would lead to rule by violent elements who have committed gross human rights abuses and have shown no commitment to democracy.

Why does war continue? One would expect even an interventionist administration to cut off such odious groups once the wars they waged no longer served a strategic purpose. But the Bush administration presses on with its wars. Perhaps most striking, it has pressed on even after winning its main demands.

As the price for a settlement in Cambodia, the United States long demanded that Vietnam withdraw the occupation forces it left in Cambodia after it overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime in 1978-79. Vietnam finally agreed, and withdrew its forces in September 1989. But then the Bush administration upped its demands: first it insisted that Hun Sen include the Khmer Rouge in his government as coalition partners; later it demanded that Hun Sen's government step down under a complex and expensive scheme involving an interim UN administration-a solution that would raise the risk that the Khmer Rouge would return to power, since Hun Sen's regime is the main barrier in their way. Meanwhile, the Hun Sen government has been prepared since late 1989 to accept internationally supervised elections conducted with the incumbent regime in office, as was done in Nicaragua, Poland, East Germany, and Chile. These cases show that fair elections are feasible under such conditions. The administration has nevertheless rejected this solution, instead reiterating that Hun Sen must step down before elections. It also continued supplying the Khmer Rouge coalition armies, which forced Vietnam to counter by sending forces back to Cambodia in the fall of 1989-thereby defeating America's main declared aim.

The Bush administration could end this war by taking two simple steps. First, the administration should persuade Thailand to close the Khmer Rouge bases and supply lines on Thai territory. The Khmer Rouge depend on Thai bases, and would wither away without them. The Thai government would surely agree to close these bases if the administration conditioned Thai-American relations on the matter and offered U.S. aid as an inducement. And without the Khmer Rouge on the scene, a settlement would be far easier, since Hun Sen's main objection to past peace proposals has been that they did too little to contain the Khmer Rouge. Yet the administration has not raised the issue with the Thais, instead backing hard-line factions in Thailand. In short, the administration holds a key to peace in its hands, but hasn't used it. Second, the administration should accept Hun Sen's proposal to resolve the war through UNsupervised elections, held with the Hun Sen regime in office. Such a scheme successfully ended the civil wars in Nicaragua (the Arias plan) and Angola; it would cost less money than the interim UN administration plan; and it would entail less risk of a Khmer Rouge return to power. The administration rejects such a plan, on grounds that it would give the Hun Sen faction an unfair incumbent's advantage. This concern for democratic niceties is grotesque when it means continuing a vast and bloody war. It also seems insincere, given the administration's simultaneous indifference to democracy elsewhere-for instance, the Persian Gulf, where it defended autocrats in Saudi Arabia, reinstalled them in Kuwait, and did nothing to promote democracy in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, too, the Bush administration has fought on even after achieving its main goals. In exchange for an Afghan settlement, the U.S. asked the Soviet Union to withdraw the invasion force it sent to Afghanistan in 1979. The Soviets did so in February 1989, leaving behind an Afghan regime that offered moderate peace terms, including a broad coalition government and UN-supervised elections. Elections cannot bring real democracy in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan is a very poor country with a largely illiterate population, deeply divided along tribal lines; hence it lacks important preconditions for democracy. A peace based on powersharing that reflects the relative military strength of the parties would probably prove more durable. Whatever the shortcomings of an electoral solution, however, the administration has impeded even that road to peace by demanding that the Najibullah regime step down before elections are held--a solution that Najibullah, predictably, rejects.

The U.S. has said that it seeks to build a democratic political system in El Salvador. The FMLN has progressively softened its demands, and now agrees in principle with Washington's declared objective, pledging to lay down its arms if conditions for free elections are established. In fact, the FMLN now takes a more pro-democracy position than does the Cristiani government. The FMLN's main demands are the dismantling of the government death squads, and reforms to remove the army from domestic politics. These steps are necessary to allow the opposition to organize and campaign without fear, and to guarantee control of government policy by the elected government: without them democracy is impossible. The Salvadoran army continues to stonewall on these issues: it demands arrangements that would leave the death squads in place (although with different uniforms) and give the army control over its own purging and reformation. This means, in effect, that the army refuses to be reformed. The Bush administration has supinely accepted this army position, while arguing for continued aid to the Cristiani government and criticizing the FMLN's refusal to accept terms that would, in effect, allow a continued army dictatorship. The administration has also resisted congressional efforts to use the threat of an American aid cut to compel more moderate behavior from the Cristiani government; lastjune, after Cristiani's visit to Washington, it even released additional aid that Congress had previously withheld, despite the Cristiani government's obdurate attitude.

Instead, the administration should demand that the Cristiani government agree to dismantle the death squads and reform the army as the price for American aid. Indeed, the administration should go further, and announce that it will aid whatever forces in El Salvador adopt pro-democratic policies--even if this means aiding the FMLN against the government, as it logically would if both sides stick to their current positions. Such a policy is beyond the pale in a Washington dominated by old thinking, but it would give both sides maximum inducement to pursue a genuine democratic solution. El Salvador is a more fertile ground for democracy than Afghanistan or Cambodia, and a democratic outcome there is not impossible if the United States would use its power to press for one.

Why has the Bush administration waged these wars so stubbornly, while resisting sensible solutions? One theory holds that the administration has ceded control of Third World policy to the far right, in a bid to appease ultra-conservatives for their exclusion from arenas of foreign-policy decision-making in which the stakes are higher for the U.S., such as U.S.-Soviet relations. The far right favors a jihad against all Third World leftists, even if this means aiding barbarians or wrecking targeted societies. To win this jihad it will even use Marxist movements to destroy other Marxists if non-Marxist clients are not available hence its peculiar willingness to back the Marxist Khmer Rouge. The administration plays along, doing the far right's bidding to forestall a broader conservative challenge to administration policies.

The lassitude of the American "peace movement" is also responsible for these wars' continuance. The whales, the dolphins, and the spotted owls all have their advocates, but there is little effective public outcry for the Cambodians, Afghans, and Salvadorans. Where are the vigils and public demonstrations? Where is the campaign to publicize the plight of the amputees and other war victims? Answer: no one is bothering to organize them. The peace movement has not been wholly inert or ineffective: during the 1980s a largely church-organized grass-roots opposition helped end the contra war, and grassroots opposition has stirred some congressional resistance to administration policies toward El Salvador. However, there exists no concerted effort to raise questions about these wars in the national media. The problem is a complacent national peace movement leadership, fat from feeding on Brie and Chablis. They bestirred themselves for the Gulf war, with its media glitz and readymade national audience, but they have less energy for drab little wars that have not caught the public eye. Yet without organized public opposition the administration will have little reason--other than doing the right thing, a motive that rarely seems to animate this administration-to change course.

 

V. WHEN SHOULD THE U.S. INTERVENE? WHAT FORCES SHOULD IT MAINTAIN?

The United States should not forswear all use of force in the Third World. On some occasions the use of force may serve legitimate goals. For instance, if intervention would end massive human rights violations, like those in Cambodia during 1975-79 or in Kurdish Iraq after the Gulf War, ethical considerations may recommend intervention. If U.S. forces are used to deter aggression (as in Korea since 1953) this serves human rights by preventing war. Action to reverse aggression (as in Korea in 1950 and Kuwait in 1990-1991) also bolsters peace by deterring future aggression by others. If the United States owes moral debts, as to Israel, it may be compelled to repay in the currency of military commitment. If Third World states sponsor wanton terrorism, a forceful response may be appropriate, like the 1986 American bombing of Libya. Action against Third World states who would build and use weapons of mass destruction also may be appropriate, if other means to control proliferation fail.

However, such considerations recommend forceful intervention only when the problem faced is severe, other solutions are unavailable, and intervention can achieve American goals with high confidence and small cost. (Using these criteria the case for the 1990 Persian Gulf deployment seems strong, but the resort to war in 1991 seems unjustified.)

Moreover, the U.S. should cease intervening to 'protect national security' or to 'bolster Third World democracy,' since the results of intervention seldom serve either purpose. And force should be used on a large scale only very rarely, because the U.S. has few Third World interests that can justify paying large costs or taking large numbers of lives. For these reasons another Vietnam-sized intervention should be categorically excluded.

Such a policy would allow deep cuts in America's intervention forces and a quick end to the Bush administration's proxy wars. Some 34 percent of the current defense budget is allocated to forces optimized for intervention in the Third World. This expenditure supports a vast array of interventionary forces, of which only half were engaged in the Persian Gulf war. If the Gulf war is taken as the standard for measuring American intervention force requirements, roughly half America's current intervention forces could therefore be cut. This would allow a $34 billion cut in the Bush administration's projected defense budget for fiscal year 1995.

The wars in Cambodia, Afghanistan, and El Salvador should be ended for reasons that are less financial than moral. These wars cost very little: the administration's aid to all three proxies totals only some $550 million per year. Indeed, this is part of the problem: even morally dubious wars rouse little congressional attention or opposition if they are cost-free. But if moral considerations governed policy these wars would end in a jiffy. Each constitutes a large taking of human life for little or no purpose; as such, each violates the injunction that the use of force must serve an important or necessary purpose, or it becomes illegitimate. This gives the administration a responsibility to bring all three wars to a prompt conclusion, and others a duty to press the administration to accept this responsibility.

Originally published in the October 1991 issue of Boston Review



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