The Clinton Doctrine

The Clinton Doctrine

President Clinton’s decision to use military force against the Serbs was not simply a calculated response to Slobodan Milosevic’s intransigence.


President Clinton’s decision to use military force against the Serbs was not simply a calculated response to Slobodan Milosevic’s intransigence. A careful reading of recent Administration statements and Pentagon documents shows that the NATO bombing is part of a larger strategic vision.

That vision has three basic components. The first is an increasingly pessimistic appraisal of the global security environment. “In this last annual threat assessment of the twentieth century,” Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet testified on February 2, “I must tell you that US citizens and interests are threatened in many arenas and across a wide spectrum of issues.” Those perils range from regional conflict and insurgency to terrorism, criminal violence and ethnic unrest.

The second component is the assumption that as a global power with far-flung economic interests, the United States has a vested interest in maintaining international stability. Because no other power or group of powers can guarantee this stability, the United States must be able to act on its own or in conjunction with its most trusted allies (meaning NATO).

The third component is a conviction that to achieve global stability, the United States must maintain sufficient forces to conduct simultaneous military operations in widely separated areas of the world against multiple adversaries, and it must revise its existing security alliances–most of which, like NATO, are defensive in nature–so that they can better support US global expeditionary operations.

Combined, these three propositions constitute a new strategic template for the US military establishment. This template is evident, for example, in the $112 billion the President wants to add to the Defense Department budget over the next six years, which will be used to procure additional warships, cargo planes, assault vehicles and other equipment intended for “power projection” into distant combat zones.

Less public, but no less significant, is the US effort to convert NATO from a defensive alliance in Western Europe into a regional police force governed by Washington. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first unveiled this scheme this past December at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. Claiming that missile-armed “rogue states” pose as great a threat to Europe as the Warsaw Pact once did, Albright called on NATO to extend its operational zone into distant areas and to combat a wide range of emerging threats. “Common sense tells us,” she said, “that it is sometimes better to deal with instability when it is still at arm’s length than to wait until it is at our doorstep.”

Herein lies the essence of what might be termed the Clinton Doctrine–the proposition that the best way to maintain stability in the areas that truly matter to the United States (like Western Europe) is to combat instability in other areas, however insignificant it may seem, before it can intensify and spread. Perhaps the most explicit expression of this doctrine was Clinton’s February 26 speech in San Francisco–an important statement that clearly foreshadowed the decision to bomb Serbia:

It’s easy…to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so [emphasis added].

This is an extraordinary statement; not since the Vietnam era has a US President articulated such an ambitious and far-reaching policy. Moreover, as we have seen in the Balkans, Clinton has every intention of acting on its precepts. His decision to bomb Serbia is consistent with a clearly delineated strategic plan.

There is a growing debate over the wisdom of bombing Serbia. Certainly many people are concerned about the humanitarian dimensions of the Serbian actions in Kosovo. But in the course of this debate it is essential not to lose sight of the larger strategic doctrine behind the bombing. If the newly hatched Clinton Doctrine is not repudiated, the bombing of Yugoslavia may be only the first in a series of recurring overseas interventions–a prospect that should galvanize peace and disarmament groups across America.

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