What we have left behind are the certitudes and simplifications of the past --
and that's not necessarily a bad thing. During the cold war, policymakers could
justify every act with one word: containment. We got the big things right --
containment was the right policy and it succeeded and we won the cold war and
we are all far, far better for it. But even the best policy can become the
worst straitjacket if it is pursued too rigidly and reflexively -- as we saw in
Now, we have the opportunity to think anew about the best ways to promote
America's interests and ideals. Our tools of first resort remain diplomacy and
the power of our example. But sometimes, we have to rely on the example of our
power. We face no more important questions than when and how to use it. From
our experience in countering traditional aggression -- as in the Persian Gulf
-- and contending with more novel crises -- as in Haiti and Bosnia -- there are
some principles on the use of force that I would like to discuss with you.
First, let me cite one underlying and enduring principle: We will always be
ready to use force to defend our national interests. Until human nature
changes, power and force will remain at the heart of international relations.
This begs the question of just what those interests are that we will defend. I
would cite seven circumstances, which, taken in some combination or even alone,
may call for the use of force or our military forces:
1. To defend against direct attacks on the United States, its citizens, and its
allies; 2. To counter aggression; 3. To defend our key economic interests,
which is where most Americans see their most immediate stake in our
international engagement; 4. To preserve, promote and defend democracy, which
enhances our security and the spread of our values; 5. To prevent the spread of
weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, international crime and drug
trafficking; 6. To maintain our reliability, because when our partnerships are
strong and confidence in our leadership is high, it is easier to get others to
work with us, and to share the burdens of leadership. 7. And for humanitarian
purposes, to combat famines, natural disasters and gross abuses of human rights
with, occasionally, our military forces.
Not one of these interests by itself -- with the obvious exception of an attack
on our nation, people and allies -- should automatically lead to the use of
force. But the greater the number and the weight of the interests in play, the
greater the likelihood that we will use force -- once all peaceful means have
been tried and failed and once we have measured a mission's benefits against
its costs, in both human and financial terms.
In Haiti, when we saw democracy stolen from its people, a reign of brutality
take hold in our hemisphere, a flood of refugees to our shores, international
agreements consistently violated and efforts to resolve the impasse through
negotiations and sanctions fail, the case for intervention was compelling. In
Bosnia, the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II -- a dangerous fire
at the very heart of the continent -- our commitments to our NATO allies and a
peace agreement the parties were calling on us to secure required us to act,
and the President decided to do so.
But more than the "when" of using force, Haiti, Bosnia and some other recent
interventions highlight principles that get at a harder question, perhaps, and
that is the "how" we should use force.
First, threatening to use force can achieve the same results as actually using
it -- but only if you're prepared to carry through on that threat. The
best-trained, best-equipped and best-prepared fighting force in the world has
a unique ability to concentrate the minds of our adversaries without firing a
shot. In Haiti, when the military regime learned that the 82nd Airborne
literally was on the way, those leaders got out of the way. In the Persian
Gulf, as soon as President Clinton moved American forces into the region, Iraq
moved its troops away from Kuwait. And by backing diplomacy with the presence
of U.S. military forces to deter attack on the South, we convinced North Korea
to freeze its dangerous nuclear weapons program.
A second principle is that the selective but substantial use of force is
sometimes more appropriate than its massive use -- provided that the force is
adequate to the task, and then some. President Clinton refused to engage our
troops in a ground war in Bosnia because he knew that no outside power could
force peace on the parties. To do so would have risked a Vietnam-like quagmire.
But this summer, the combination of NATO's heavy and continuous air strikes,
Bosnian and Croat gains on the ground, and our determined diplomacy convinced
the Bosnian Serbs to stop making war and start making peace. Now, our troops
are in Bosnia not to fight a war through a massive intervention, but to secure
a peace they produced through the deliberate, calibrated use of force.
A final principle is this: Before we send our troops into a foreign country, we
should know how and when we're going to get them out. Sounds simple, even
obvious. But it is not an uncontroversial point. But carefully defined exit
strategies for foreign interventions have not been a hallmark of our foreign
policy in recent decades. Now they are -- and that makes sense for America, for
America's military and for the people we're trying to help.
I don't want to be doctrinaire in asserting an exit strategy doctrine. When it
comes to deterring external aggression -- as in the Persian Gulf or the Korean
Peninsula -- or fighting wars in defense of our most vital security interests,
a more open-ended commitment is necessary. But increasingly, our interests
require that our military keep peace in the wake of internal conflicts. For
these operations to succeed, tightly tailored military missions and sharp
withdrawal deadlines must be the norm.
The logic is this: The first step is to give our Armed Forces a clear mission
with achievable military -- I repeat, military -- goals, as President Clinton
did in both Haiti and Bosnia. In Haiti, we asked our Armed Forces to return the
elected government to power and restore a secure climate so that civilians
could train a police force, hold elections and begin reconciliation. In Bosnia,
our soldiers are overseeing the implementation of the military side of the
Dayton accords -- separating the armies, maintaining the cease-fire, securing
transferred territory -- while civilian authorities help the Bosnian people
rebuild their lives and their land. In both places, our troops are highly
trained and heavily armed, with very clear rules of engagement. And the
Executive Branch and Congress are united in their commitment to our military's
goals and success, as they were in Operation Desert Storm.
Contrast these operations with Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. There, clear and
achievable missions for our military were not defined. In Vietnam, our society
blamed our soldiers for a defeat that was not theirs. Because we neglected to
ask the right questions and establish clear military goals from the start, our
fighting men and women paid a terrible price, both in Vietnam and on their
return home. We must never put them in that position again. Never. It just
mustn't happen. The next step, then having defined clear military missions, is
to set deadlines for withdrawal based on the accomplishment of those missions.
In Haiti, our military leaders informed the President that our troops could
complete their military tasks in about a year and a half and in Bosnia in about
one year -- and they will.
Here's why setting deadlines is so important:
Neither we nor the international community has either the responsibility or the
means to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to rebuild nations. There
are many reasons for this.
First, providing a security blanket for an indefinite period without making
clear it's on loan -- and not for keeps -- only gives those we are trying to
help the comfort to believe that they can evade their own responsibilities for
the future of their own societies. It creates unreasonable expectations that
the hard work will be done for them not by them.
Second, assuming too much responsibility for a nation's future tends to
undercut the very government you are trying to help. In Vietnam, the more we
assumed responsibility for a weak Saigon administration, the more dependent it
became -- and the more open to charges it was a puppet regime beholden to
foreigners. Unless you make clear that your mission is limited in scope and
duration, you risk de-legitimating a government in the eyes of its own people
and you will lose a conflict that is, at its heart, political, and not
Third, overstaying one's welcome ultimately breeds resentment of our presence
and provides an easy target for blame when things go wrong. And believe me,
that target will be us.
By carefully defining the mission and clearly setting a deadline, we serve
notice that our only goal is to give governments and people the breathing room
they must have to tackle their own problems. This "tough love" policy may sound
harsh to some. It may strike others as a gamble. But consider the alternative:
self-defeating efforts to take on responsibilities that are not ours -- to
create unsustainable dependencies instead of giving nations a chance to act
independently. It is a dangerous hubris to believe we can build other nations.
But where our own interests are engaged, we can help nations build themselves
-- and give them time to make a start at it.
I believe we can see the benefits of our exit strategy doctrine in Haiti and
Given the chance, the Haitian people quickly focused on the ballot, not the
bullet; on trade, not terror; on hope, not despair. In just a year and a half,
with our civilian help, they have completed presidential, parliamentary and
local government elections; trained a police force, that is as yet imperfect,
but showing great progress. They have dramatically, despite problems, improved
the human rights situation and begun to reverse the economic decline of the
coup years. Haiti remains the poorest nation in the Americas. There is no
guarantee democracy will take hold or the economy will prosper. But its people
now have a real chance to build a better future for themselves and their
children -- and for the U.S. forces who have acted in Haiti with such strength
and with such skill are leaving when we promised they would, we can say
The same logic applies in Bosnia and the same opportunity lies before the
people of Bosnia. Its people understand they have a window of opportunity that
our military opened and will hold open for the remainder of this year to decide
their future in peace: to freely choose their own leaders in elections later
this summer; to begin to rebuild their roads and schools, their factories and
their hospitals; to reunite children with their parents and families with their
homes. At the end of this year, when our troops leave, we can reasonably hope
that the people of Bosnia will have developed a greater stake in peace than war
-- that peace will have taken on a life and logic of its own. That is all that
can be asked of us.
But let me make one point absolutely clear -- the breathing room our military
is providing in Haiti and Bosnia must be filled with the oxygen of economic
reconstruction assistance. What we call civilian implementation is the vital
and necessary companion to any peacekeeping operation. Our allies agree. That's
why they are providing about 80 percent of the civilian assistance for Haiti
and for Bosnia. The sooner people in conflicted countries recover the blessings
of a normal life, the surer the chances our troops will leave behind them a
legacy of peace and hope as they are doing in Haiti.
smith & holbrooke +
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