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Making War to Keep Peace

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Making War to Keep Peace


  Jeane J. Kirkpatrick




  Freedom and democracy are now

  yours to honor and protect.



























  The end of the cold war, which began with the dramatic fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, freed the United States and Western Europe from a major military threat for the first time since Hitler marched into Poland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II. It was, as former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev described, “our common victory.”1 Freedom and democracy swept Eastern Europe, enabling Western Europe to concentrate on the construction of a united Europe, on other new alliances, and on the creation of new patterns of international politics, and that is what they have done.

  For a brief period, Americans found themselves deeply involved in the world at a time of relative peace, where no imminent catastrophe and no powerful enemy threatened our civilization. Or so we thought. This new era for Americans did not include a need for new foreign policy goals.

  At a fundamental level, however, U.S. foreign policy goals remained unaffected by the end of the cold war. Our commitment had always been to the spread of democracy in the world. We had been promoting development, peace, and prosperity worldwide all along. Contrary to popular impression, we had never really been consumed by the sole task of “containing” the former Soviet Union.

  Even during the cold war, in accordance with our fundamental goals and values, we had worked to foster peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors; sought to prevent dominance of the Persian Gulf by a hostile power; and supported the survival of Taiwan, the freedom of Afghanistan, and the end of apartheid in South Africa. We had concerned ourselves with rising living standards, expanding exports, promoting world trade, and discouraging human rights violations in China, Burma, North Korea, and elsewhere. We had labored to prevent aggression and proliferation of nuclear technology, to resolve regional conflicts, and to end wars. All of these were important goals of U.S. policy throughout the cold war.

  Dealing with the Soviet Union and communism had been our most urgent task because only the Soviet Union had the power and the will to dominate significant numbers of other nations. Communism had been an expanding imperial tyranny, and Marxism, the most powerful intellectual paradigm of the century, provided its justification. The United States and its NATO allies were seen by the Soviet Union as an obstacle to the achievement of Soviet goals. The urgent task of containing this national power was the focus of much attention, and most American goals in the post–cold war world are those we pursued during the cold war. But we never sought to conquer the world or the USSR itself. We never threatened to “bury” them. There never were two superpowers locked liked scorpions in a bottle in a twilight struggle to a bitter end.

  During and after the cold war, three goals and values have provided the foundation for U.S. policy. The first goal was, is, and, I think, should be to preserve our own freedom, independence, and well-being. This requires preserving the integrity of our institutions and maintaining a capacity to defend the United States itself from potential adversaries and the weapons of the era. That is why we badly need an effective defense against missiles.

  The second goal of U.S. policy was, is, and should be to help (in ways consistent with our resources) to preserve and to expand the number and vitality of democratic governments in the world, because they share our civilization, respect the rights of their own citizens and neighbors, and contribute to the sum of peace and well-being in the world.

  The third goal of American foreign policy was, is, and should be to prevent (or help to prevent) violent expansionist leaders from gaining control of the governments of major states.

  While geographic, economic, demographic, and historical factors influence the policies of governments, ultimately a nation’s foreign policy flows from the character of its regime, its culture, and the purposes of its political elite. Those purposes reflect the principles, beliefs, habits, values, and goals of its political class.

  We have had ample opportunity in this century of wars and revolutions to observe what happens when violent elites, who espouse coercive ideologies, gain access to the resources of states. They start with murder and denial of freedom in their own states, and move on to war, which may spill over to their neighbors and sometimes to genocide.

  Under Joseph Stalin’s dictatorship, the deadly purge period in the Soviet Union was directed first at his citizens; then his tyranny turned outward and spread to the Baltic and Eastern European states. The stateless Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda and its allied groups continue to kill and wreak havoc in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

  It is important to recall that each of the violent antidemocratic movements of the century came as a surprise: Bolshevism, Fascism, Nazism, Chinese Communism (especially its Cultural Revolution), the “killing fields” of Cambodia, and the fanatical ayatollahs. Each shocked an unsuspecting, disbelieving world with its explosive violence and aggressive policies. Each was led by “new men” unknown to the then dominant political class. No one knew where or when the next violent leader or movement might appear. Could the Federal Republic of Germany or any other country in Europe breed a group as violent, obsessive, and skilled in the achievement of power as the Nazis? I don’t think so. Could a transitional Russia prove the birthing room for a movement as violent and as skilled in uses of power as the Bolsheviks who abruptly terminated Russia’s transitional democracy of 1917? I don’t think so. Could an aggressive, expansionist, violent leader in Serbia unleash mass murder once again in the very heart of Europe? It has already happened. However, in this century, not all the surprises have been bloody or hopeless. Just as no one anticipated any of the previous disasters, no one anticipated the sudden abandonment of Marxism or turn to democracy and free markets in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere. As President Ronald Reagan articulated, “It is the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”2 Seven years after this statement, his words came true.

  We cannot protect ourselves or others against the resurgence of aggressive powers or the reoccurrence of evil unless we face the fact that tyranny and war have the same source—in persons who use force to expand their control of others. These individuals use force to gain power inside and outside their own countries. When would-be dictators manage by one means or another to get to the top of government, they seek to bend that government’s resources to their own purposes to malevolently maximize their own power. They destabilize existing institutions—often ruthlessly—and create wars. The evidence against these interlopers has been plentiful in this century. We have watched expansionist dictatorships make war in Europe and Asia. We have seen the ambitions of Sadd
am Hussein exposed in his wars against his people and his neighbors. We have the legacy of Slobodan Milošević’s ceaseless efforts to extend his own power by expanding Serb control over the whole of the former Yugoslavia. We continue to confront the Taliban in Afghanistan.

  Such men and policies, such wars and revolutions, unsettle the foundation of national stability, which relies on principles of legitimacy and patterns of politics. Ruptures of regimes and changing principles of legitimacy advance the ambitions of these violent elites, helping them impose themselves by force. This happened in the periods after World War I and after World War II, and it happened with the end of the cold war.

  After the cold war, the urge to conquest quickly reasserted itself across the world. New and legitimate political institutions were weakly rooted and often unable to cope with the resurgent ambition of former elites who remain rivals for power. In Africa, war and famine resulted. In Europe, Slobodan Milošević’s determined aggression pressed forward at the expense of smaller states on the new frontiers of Kosovo, Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Ethnic rivalries fed new fires on other borders in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. Sectarian violence continues to devastate post–Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, challenging the future of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s burgeoning government while the expanding reach of terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, and the states that sponsor them, continues to threaten the national sovereignty of Lebanon, its neighbors, and elsewhere.


  The end of the cold war marked the third time in a century that the United States was confronted with the need and the opportunity to try to control violence, aggression, and war to create peace in Europe and the world. And for the third time in a century, the U.S. government—starting with the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush—and those who helped shape its foreign policy chose to treat the situation as a fundamentally international challenge, one in which international organizations and alliances should be primary arbiters of policy. The first Bush administration envisioned what Bush himself called a “new world order,” in which an unprecedented number of problems were conceived as transcending national boundaries, their solutions requiring collective action and administration through the United Nations.

  This was the third time in the twentieth century that America had faced such a fundamentally new playing field in international relations, and the third time that our solution involved trying to control the outbreak of war through the use of contracts and peacekeepers—that is, to bring about a world without power. Influential Americans and Europeans imagined they might control or even eliminate war through international action and organization. As we shall see, none of these efforts has been successful.

  One main reason these initiatives failed is that they relied on the idea that war could be effectively restrained by juridical means. That idea is peculiar to our time, in part because collective international efforts have proved unable or unwilling to take the decisive action required to constrain the power of violent, aggressive, expansionist leaders and regimes. In 1907, the Hague Convention first imposed limitations on the right to wage war. In 1919, the Covenant of the League of Nations obligated members of the League to submit “any dispute likely to lead to a rupture to arbitration or to inquiry by the Council [and] in no case to resort to war until three months after the award by the arbitrators or the report of the Council.” In 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact stated that “the High contracting parties solemnly declare, in the name of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.”

  The creation of the League of Nations at the time had stimulated high hopes among persons of idealistic and internationalist bent around the world. Soon it proved necessary to face the truth that this organization was incapable of maintaining international peace. Treaties were violated and aggression went unpunished.

  The failure of the League of Nations has often been explained for reasons other than a lack of will to meet aggression with force. However, when Italy’s Benito Mussolini’s troops charged into Ethiopia in 1935 as part of his plan to expand Italy’s influence in Africa, neighboring League members sat idle while tens of thousands of defenseless Ethiopians perished. Despite watersheds in history such as this, when the failure of will among nations led to tragedies of epic proportion, the failure of the League of Nations is often blamed instead on the harsh terms of the Versailles Peace Treaty, which was said to have engendered a bitterness and desire for revenge, on the inadequate structure and powers of the League itself, and on the failure of great powers, especially the United States, to try hard enough to make the institutions work. But I believe the League failed when major European powers proved unable and/or unwilling to take the decisive action required to constrain the power of violent, aggressive, expansionist leaders and regimes in Russia, Italy, and Germany between 1917 and 1936.

  The crowning achievement of the effort to constrain war by juridical means was, of course, the establishment of the United Nations and the promulgation of its Charter. In its preamble, the Charter declares its determination “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” by requiring in Article Two that members act in accordance with the principles of respect for the sovereign equality of all states, the peaceful resolution of disputes, the nonuse or threat of force, and nonintervention in internal affairs of others.

  Yet the limits of such measures were demonstrated again in 1945, when the United Nations failed to protect the territorial integrity of Eastern Europe after Stalin demonstrated a will to conquest wholly incompatible with the provisions of the UN Charter.

  Lessons from History

  This book considers the United States’ third try at a new world order—at constructing a world without power. Woodrow Wilson had proposed such a world after World War I. Franklin Roosevelt after World War II.

  Roosevelt assured a joint session of the Congress on March 1, 1945, that the Yalta Conference spelled “the end of the system of unilateral action, exclusive alliances and spheres of influence, and balances of power and all the other expedients which have been tried for centuries and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all of these a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join.” Soon after, Roosevelt’s high hopes and earnest plans were interrupted by his death and betrayed by Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe.

  But, after forty-five years of cold war, there came to power in the United States other presidents and administrations ready to act on Roosevelt’s assumption and agenda. The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton also believed it should be possible to “end the system of unilateral action, exclusive alliances, and spheres of influence and rely on a universal organization to settle disputes among nations.” They achieved office at a time, moreover, when the international environment was more favorable to international cooperation and collective action than at any time since 1946. The world seemed ready to try again to build a new world order, and America, as we had earlier in this century, seemed ready and willing to take the lead.

  These two presidents’ approaches to international strategy were different. George H. W. Bush, who was constantly briefed and kept abreast of foreign affairs, seemed to govern more from his gut than from methodical and analytical decision making—a trait that appears to have resurfaced in the administration of his son, George W. Bush. Bill Clinton was less interested in foreign affairs than his predecessor or successor, yet he did analyze the situations with which he was presented—so much so that some critics charged his administration with inaction on matters of foreign affairs. We shall see how our former and current presidents’ different priorities, some noble, others perhaps naïve, have set the course for U.S. foreign policy and, inadvertently, guided us into some of the difficult challenges we face today.

  When President George H.
W. Bush spoke eloquently of a “new world order,” he sought to demonstrate how collective security could produce peace. Toward the end of the Gulf War, he explained why he believed it had become realistic to think of such a new order and what it might look like. Its principal characteristic would be a long period of peace. Conflicts would be few, and they would be managed by peacekeepers operating on the basis of collective security and multinational effort.

  No one expected that the end of the cold war would be a preface to something so far from this century-long dream. Americans expected global peace, but what did follow the fall of the Berlin Wall were multiple, small wars closely resembling the wars of the past, with the United States being drawn into military conflicts, sometimes unilaterally and other times in tandem with the United Nations, as it pursued its ends of peace again and again. This book reviews the process by which the U.S. government found itself embroiled in one conflict after another, confronting escalating costs in economic and human terms while examining our critical mistakes, our successes, and how they directly affect our future and our accountability to the world community.

  Twelve years after the Wall tumbled down, on September 11, 2001, a threat long simmering in the margins of global events violently thrust its fury on America’s soil and into the forefront of foreign policy. Again Americans were shaken out of the false sense that war as foreign policy had been retired because all strongmen had been defeated. Now we were confronted by yet another coercive ideology wearing yet another face. Today, more than ever, understanding the lessons learned and not learned from the past is crucial if we are to chart a wise foreign policy course for the future of our nation.

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