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The Case Against Intervention in Kosovo | The Nation

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The Case Against Intervention in Kosovo

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What is most frightening about this economic rationale (which amounts to an imperialist argument) is its open-endedness. According to US policy-makers, the logic of global economic interdependence leads inevitably to a proliferation of US security commitments: Instability and aggression, virtually wherever they occur, are regarded as a threat to America, because they would disrupt the global stability upon which the United States purportedly depends for its prosperity. This thinking is, again, similar to the domino theory: Instability in even economically unimportant areas (like Kosovo) could "spill over" and infect other areas regarded as essential to global economic interdependence.

About the Author

Christopher Layne
Christopher Layne is a visiting scholar at the Center for International Studies at USC.
Benjamin Schwarz
Benjamin Schwarz, a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, is former executive editor of The World Policy Journal.

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The US action in Kosovo should give Americans considerable pause as they contemplate their nation's role in international politics. It is one thing to oppose, as the United States did in the Persian Gulf, an aggressive attack by one state against another. It is something else entirely to proclaim, as Washington has, that the United States now reserves the right to use military force to alter another state's internal political arrangements when Washington finds that these offend its ever-shifting political sensibilities. It indeed is quite fantastic to find the United States taking military action against a sovereign state in Europe that poses no threat to America's security or to its interests. If the United States is not the aggressor that Russia says it is, at the least it is displaying the arrogance of power common to imperial states.

We should know, of course, the trouble in which this arrogance of power can mire us. It is too early to tell if the Clinton Administration's policy will ultimately lead to the use of US ground troops in the Kosovo conflict. But there is ample reason to fear that this could happen.

Vietnam showed that once the decision to use military force has been made, policy-makers are under almost irresistible pressure to escalate to win--or to avoid failure. Anyone familiar with the history of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' step-by-step descent into the Vietnam quagmire must have been chilled in recent days by the statements of many members of Congress and foreign policy analysts. Even many of those, like Senator John McCain and Henry Kissinger, who were initially skeptical of intervention now contend that, once committed, the United States has no choice but to do whatever is necessary--including using ground forces--to prevail.

If any clear lesson emerges from Vietnam, it is that it makes no sense to compound a mistake by digging oneself more deeply into a strategic morass. The questions that policy-makers must ask now are: What does "victory" in Kosovo mean, and can victory be attained without incurring costs disproportionate to the US interests at stake? Astonishingly, an Administration led and staffed by opponents of the Vietnam War is now compelled by the same concerns that drove, and blind to the same obstacles that confounded, the architects of that conflict.

Representing one foreign policy tradition, John Quincy Adams admonished America to "go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy." The US intervention in Kosovo should prompt Americans to heed his warning. During the 1992 election campaign, Clinton said the United States should play a lofty global role; it would be "intolerable" for the United States to act as if it were "simply...another great power." But rather than have the United States pursue grandiose visions pleasing to its self-image, followers of Adams's tradition--like Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams on the left, as well as such thoughtful conservatives as George Kennan and Walter Lippmann--accept that there are not and need not be US solutions to the world's myriad problems. They understand that balancing costs and benefits, resources and commitments, is a moral as well as strategic imperative. States that fail to do so run the risk of political and economic ruin.

Instead of crediting Clinton's notions of the intolerable, post-cold war America should attend to Lippmann's sobering injunction: "A mature great power...will eschew the theory of a global and universal duty which not only commits it to unending wars of intervention but intoxicates its thinking with the illusion that it is a crusader for righteousness.... I am in favor of learning to behave like a great power, of getting rid of the globalism which would not only entangle us everywhere but is based on the totally vain notion that if we do not set the world in order, no matter what the price, we cannot live in the world safely.... We shall have to learn to live as a great power which defends itself and makes its way among other great powers.

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