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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.1 (2000) 8-23

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Peace Operations--Crossing the Rubicon?
Pas Encore

William H. Lewis

In a remarkable address to ethnic Albanian Kosovar refugees while visiting Macedonia in June 1999, President Clinton sought to link the national interest of the United States with human rights policy on a global scale. The president assured his Kosovar audience that the United States would in the future be prepared to intervene, where required, with military force to end atrocities of the type experienced in Kosovo. Coming in the aftermath of the Milosevic government's capitulation to North Atlantic Treaty Organization demands for an end to ethnic cleansing and the withdrawal of Serbian forces, Clinton's speech may have been the result of presidential exuberance or rhetorical excess rather than careful consideration. However, no official retraction has since emerged from the White House.

Clearly, some measure of presidential restraint would have been warranted given the number of internal wars that have erupted during the 1990s. The threat of military intervention by U.S. forces to end gross human rights outrages at the hands of authoritarian regimes, however, seems open ended. In the president's words, "Whether you live in Africa or Central Europe or in any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background, or their religion and it is in our power to stop it, we will stop it."

If the president, indeed, pursues such a broad-based policy agenda, he will have stretched beyond recognition the traditional boundaries of international peacekeeping operations, given the fact that NATO's aerial campaign [End Page 8] against Serbia had been conducted without United Nations sanction or a U.S. declaration of war. A majority of UN member states were convinced that the bombardment of Serbian forces had no legal justification according to existing human rights norms and conventions and represented alliance intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign member state in clear violation of the UN Charter. The United States was singled out for opprobrious comment concerning the alliance's refusal to consult with the Security Council, having earned informal censure in the past for its unconstructive role in the debt payment issue.

The freshly minted, so-called Clinton Doctrine has generated widening debate in this country and elsewhere. It threatens, if or when applied, to place this country at odds with friends and allies in Europe and in Asia, for human rights alone cannot provide a serviceable foundation for the conduct of foreign policy either in the United States or in the foreign ministries of most other governments. Human rights must be weighed and balanced against the national interests of this and other governments, with due consideration also accorded ends-and-means factors. Armed intervention in civil wars is a particularly daunting venture where warring factions have irreconcilable differences. Any intervening power, or coalition of powers, cannot hope to confine its role to that of postconflict mediator; extralegal responsibilities are unavoidable. Quasi-protectorate status becomes a constant imperative, much as in the present case of Kosovo. 1

Defense Department Angst

Senior U.S. military commanders, already facing severe problems associated with force readiness and troop morale, are fearful that expanded responsibility for the conduct of peace operations will have adverse consequences for their plans and programs. Should the Clinton Doctrine become official diktat, the stresses will magnify. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, General Henry H. Shelton, offered a cautionary admonition with respect to contingency or peace operations several months prior to NATO's involvement [End Page 9] in the Kosovo conflict. While not expressing direct criticism of U.S. involvement in such operations, he observed, "While we have a unique role as a force for peace and stability throughout the world, fighting and winning the nation's wars can never take second place. With increasingly stretched forces, we must carefully examine each proposed requirement." In recognition of the strains that have arisen in recent years, the legislative branch has increased appropriations for force readiness...


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