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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War 3 Defining Moment: The Threat and Use of Force in American Foreign Policy Since 1989 Barry M.Blechman and Tamara Cofman Wittes The use of military force has been a difficult subject for American leaders for three decades. Ever since the failure of American policy and military power in Vietnam, it has been hard for U.S. policy makers to gain domestic support for the use of force as an instrument of statecraft. U.S. military power has been exercised throughout this 30-year period, but both threats of its use and the actual conduct of military operations have usually been controversial, turned to reluctantly, and marked by significant failures as well as successes. The American armed forces are large, superbly trained, fully prepared, and technologically advanced. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, U.S. forces are without question the most powerful, by far, on the face of the earth. Their competence, lethality, and global reach have been demonstrated time and again. Yet with rare exceptions, U.S. policy makers have found it difficult to achieve their objectives by threats alone. Often, they have had to use force, even if only in limited ways, to add strength to the words of diplomats. And, at more times than is desirable, the failures of threats and limited demonstrative uses of military power have confronted U.S. presidents with difficult choices between retreat and “all-out” military actions intended to achieve objectives by the force of arms alone. In the 1980s most U.S. military leaders and many politicians and policy makers drew a strong conclusion from the failure of U.S. policy in Vietnam. This viewpoint was spelled out most clearly by then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1984: force should only be used as a last resort, he stated, to protect vital American interests, and with a commitment to win. Threats of force should not be used as part of diplomacy.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War They should be used only when diplomacy fails and, even then, only when the objective is clear and attracts the support of the American public and the Congress.1 General Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was and remains a proponent of what was called the Weinberger doctrine. “Threats of military force will work,” he says, “only when U.S. leaders actually have decided that they are prepared to use force.” In the absence of such resolution, U.S. threats lack credibility because of the transparency of the American policy-making process. For this reason “the threat and use of force must be a last resort and must be used decisively.”2 Powell (1992a, 1992b) has argued that any use of force by the United States should accomplish U.S. objectives quickly while minimizing the risks to U.S. soldiers. Other U.S. policy makers have taken a more traditional geopolitical view, believing that the U.S. failure in Vietnam needs to be understood on its own terms. Regardless of what was or was not achieved in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States, they believe, can and should continue to threaten and to use limited military force in support of diplomacy, to achieve limited ends without resorting to all-out contests of arms. In the words of then Secretary of State George Shultz in December 1984, “Diplomacy not backed by strength will always be ineffectual at best, dangerous at worst” (Shultz, 1985). Moreover, Shultz insisted, a use of force need not enjoy public support when first announced; it will acquire that support if the action is consonant with America’s interests and moral values. In 1992 Les Aspin, then chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and later secretary of defense, branded the Weinberger doctrine an “all-or-nothing” approach. He asserted that the United States should be willing to use limited force for limited objectives and that it could pull back from such limited engagements without risk.3 From this perspective, force should be used earlier in a crisis, rather than later, and need not be displayed in decisive quantities. The “limited objectives” school describes the threat of force as an important and relatively inexpensive adjunct to American diplomatic suasion. As the Soviet Union disintegrated and the Cold War came to an end, this debate began to wane. U.S. policy makers began to wrestle with an array of problems that were individually less severe than the threat posed by the USSR but collectively no less vexing. The military situation changed drastically as well. U.S. military power reigned supreme, and the risk that a limited military intervention in a third nation could escalate into a global confrontation quickly faded. During both the Bush and first Clinton administrations, it became increasingly evident not only that there were many situations in which limited applications of force seemed help-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War ful but that in the complicated post-Cold War world, opportunities for the pure application of Secretary Weinberger’s maxims were rare. During this eight-year period, numerous challenges to American interests emerged that were too intractable for diplomatic solutions, that resisted cooperative multilateral approaches, and that were immune not only to sweet reason but to positive blandishments of any sort. Unencumbered by Cold War fears of sparking a confrontation with the powerful Soviet Union, American policy makers turned frequently to threats and the use of military power to deal with these situations, sometimes in ways that conformed to the Weinberger guidelines but more often suggesting that, rightly or wrongly, the press of world events drives policy makers inevitably toward Secretary Shultz’s prescriptions for limited uses of force in support of diplomacy. The United States sometimes succeeded in these ventures and sometimes failed. Success rarely came easily, however; more often, the United States had to go to great lengths to persuade adversaries to yield to its will. Even leaders of seemingly hapless nations, or of factions within devastated countries, proved surprisingly resistant to American threats. Often, U.S. leaders had to make good on threats by exercising U.S. military power. These further steps usually worked, but even when the United States conducted military operations in support of its post-Cold War policies the results were not always as clean and easy, or their consequences as far reaching, as decision makers had hoped. Given the overwhelming superiority of U.S. military power during this period, these results are hard to understand. Indeed, even the greatest military success of the U.S. armed forces in the post-Cold War period—the expulsion of the Iraqi occupation army from Kuwait in 1991—became necessary because U.S. diplomacy, including powerful threats of force, failed. Despite the most amazing demonstration of U.S. military capabilities and willingness to utilize force if necessary to expel the Iraqi military from Kuwait, despite the movement of one-half million U.S. soldiers, sailors, and air men and women to the region, the call-up of U.S. reserve forces, the forging of a global military alliance, even the conduct of a devastating air campaign against the Iraqi occupation army and against strategic targets throughout Iraq itself, Saddam Hussein refused to comply with U.S. demands and his troops had to be expelled by force of arms. The United States was not able to accomplish its goals through threats alone. The Iraqi leader either disbelieved the U.S. threats, discounted U.S. military capabilities, or was willing to withstand defeat in Kuwait in pursuit of grander designs. Why was this the case? Why has it been so difficult for the United States to realize its objectives through threats of using military force alone? Why have U.S. military threats not had greater impact in the post-Cold
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War War period, and why have limited uses of force, in support of diplomacy and in pursuit of political aims, not been able to accomplish U.S. goals more often? Is this situation changing as it becomes indisputably clear that the United States is the only remaining military superpower? Or have history and circumstance made U.S. military superiority an asset of only narrow utility in advancing the nation’s interests through diplomacy? To answer these questions, we examined all the cases during the Bush and first Clinton administrations in which the United States utilized its armed forces demonstratively in support of political objectives in specific situations. There are eight such cases, several of which include multiple uses of force. In two of the cases, Iraq and Bosnia, threats or uses of force became enduring elements in defining the limits of the relationship between the United States and its adversary. Actually, the U.S. armed forces have been used demonstratively in support of diplomatic objectives in literally more than a thousand incidents during this period, ranging from major humanitarian operations to joint exercises with the armed forces of friendly nations to minor logistical operations in support of the United Nations (UN) or other multinational or national organizations. Moreover, the deployment and operations of U.S. forces in Europe, and in Southwest and East Asia on a continuing basis throughout the period, are intended to support U.S. foreign policy by deterring foreign leaders from pursuing hostile aims and by reassuring friends and allies. In some cases the presence of these forces, combined with the words of American leaders, may have been sufficient to deter unwanted initiatives. The presence of U.S. troops in South Korea, for example, is believed to deter a North Korean attack. We did not look at such cases of continuing military support of diplomacy in which “dogs may not have barked.”4 Instead, we looked only at the handful of specific incidents in which U.S. armed forces were used deliberately and actively to threaten or to conduct limited military operations in support of American policy objectives in specific situations.5 We did not examine such military threats prior to the Bush administration because, as noted above, the Cold War placed significant constraints on U.S. uses of force. We believe that the demise of the USSR altered the global political and military environments so fundamentally as to make prior incidents irrelevant to understanding the effectiveness of contemporary military threats. The puzzle we seek to explain is the frequent inability of the United States to achieve its objectives through threats and limited uses of military power despite the political and military dominance it has enjoyed since 1989. We supplemented published information about the cases we considered with interviews with key U.S. policy makers during this period,
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War including individuals who served in high positions in the Pentagon and at the State Department. At times these individuals are quoted directly. More often, their perspectives provide background and detail in the accounts of the incidents.6 We have concluded that the U.S. experience in Vietnam and subsequent incidents during both the Carter and first Reagan administrations left a heavy burden on future American policy makers. There is a generation of political leaders throughout the world whose basic perception of U.S. military power and political will is one of weakness, who enter any situation with a fundamental belief that the United States can be defeated or driven away. This point of view was expressed explicitly and concisely by Mohamed Farah Aideed, leader of a key Somali faction, to Ambassador Robert Oakley, U.S. special envoy to Somalia, during the disastrous U.S. involvement there in 1993–1995: “We have studied Vietnam and Lebanon and know how to get rid of Americans, by killing them so that public opinion will put an end to things.”7 Aideed, of course, was proven to be correct. And the withdrawal from Mogadishu not only was a humiliating defeat for the United States but it also reinforced perceptions of America’s lack of resolve and further complicated U.S. efforts to achieve its goals through threats of force alone. This initial judgment, this basic “default setting” conditioning foreign leaders to believe that U.S. military power can be withstood, has made it extremely difficult for the United States to achieve its objectives without actually conducting military operations, despite its overwhelming military superiority. With the targets of U.S. diplomacy predisposed to disbelieve American threats, and to believe they can ride out any American military initiative and drive away American forces, it has been necessary for the United States in many incidents to go to great lengths to change these individuals’ minds. Reaching this defining moment, the point at which a foreign decision maker comes to the realization that, despite what may have happened in the past, in the current situation U.S. leaders are committed and, if necessary, will persevere in carrying out violent military actions, has become a difficult challenge in U.S. diplomacy. It also creates a large obstacle to resolving conflicts and protecting U.S. interests while avoiding military confrontation. HOW THREATS ARE EVALUATED There is a rich literature on the use of force in world affairs and a considerable body of writing on the particular problems of the use of American military power in the post-Cold War period. Some voices in this debate include Gacek (1995), George (1995; George and Simons, 1994), Jentleson (1997), Damrosch (1993), the Aspen Strategy Group (1995), and
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War Muravchik (1996). There is also a large body of memoirs and contemporary histories testifying to the perceptions of American decision makers in particular incidents. Some examples are Baker (1995), Powell with Persico (1995), Quayle (1994), Schwarzkopf with Petre (1992), Woodward (1991), and Bush and Scowcroft (1998). The authors of this literature have made any number of observations as to the conditions that facilitate the effective use of military threats. Typically, these conditions are not proposed as prerequisites for effective threats but merely as elements that make it more likely that threats will succeed. We therefore term these variables enabling conditions. The large number suggested in the literature, many of which differ from one another only in nuance, can be grouped into two broad categories. Most enabling conditions shape the credibility of the U.S. threat in the minds of the targeted foreign leaders; these include both conditions pertaining to the context in which the U.S. threat is made and to the character of the threat itself. Quite apart from the credibility of the U.S. threat, however, some demands are more difficult for foreign leaders to comply with than others, and some of the enabling conditions directly affect this perception of how costly it would be to comply with the demands. Together, the credibility of the threat and the degree of difficulty of the demands shape the targeted leader’s evaluation of the likely cost of complying, or of not complying, with U.S. demands. The balance between the cost of compliance and the cost of defiance represents the potency of the U.S. threat.8 These relationships are expressed in Figure 3.1 and are discussed further below. Enabling Conditions The context in which a threat is made and the character of the threat itself together shape the credibility of the threat. The degree of difficulty of a demand is evaluated through this credibility screen to determine the likely costs of compliance and noncompliance. Context of the Threat In previous work on this subject, Stephen Kaplan and Barry Blechman determined that coercive uses of military power by the United States were most likely to be successful when the United States acted in an appropriate historical context, when there was precedent for its demands and actions. This stands to reason. We know from experience that reaffirmations of long-standing positions are more likely to be taken seriously than declarations of new demands, particularly when the credibility of the traditional claim has already been tested through force of arms and found to be genuine. Targets of new claims of U.S. vital interests may
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War FIGURE 3.1 Evaluation of threats. quite naturally want to test the claimant’s seriousness. Such a challenge, when it occurs, means that the threat is ineffective, and the goals of the U.S. demands must be asserted through direct military action. Precedents may also have negative effects; as we shall see, the fact that U.S. military power was resisted successfully in Vietnam and elsewhere by weaker military powers seems to have adversely affected the credibility of U.S. military threats in recent years (Blechman and Kaplan, 1978; Jervis et al., 1985; Schelling, 1966).9 A second contextual factor believed to shape the credibility of U.S. military threats is the presence or absence of broad public support for military action and, particularly, whether or not there is wide support among members of Congress. Obviously, as in the case of Vietnam, domestic dissent raises the possibility either that the United States will not act on its threats if challenged or that, even if it does act, the force of public opinion will sooner or later, probably sooner, compel a retreat. This does not necessarily mean that any dissent negates a president’s threats; the effect of dissent presumably depends on the importance attributed to it by the intended target. Nonetheless, because since Vietnam there has only rarely been broad public support for U.S. initiatives involving the
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War threat or use of military force—at least prior to the actual and successful conduct of the operation—there is usually evidence that foreign leaders can cite in persuading themselves and their people that the Americans can be made to back down.10 The presence or absence of third-nation support for the U.S. position is a third contextual factor that seems to influence perceptions of the credibility of a U.S. threat. Allies’ protests can curtail the willingness of the United States to act on its threats or to persevere in any military action needed to respond to a challenge, for fear of incurring high costs in more important relationships. This factor has become increasingly important in assessments of threats or uses of force in recent years, as the United States has become increasingly reluctant to act without allies in the new types of situations that have emerged following the Cold War. As with all the enabling conditions, what matters is not the reality of allied support but the targeted leader’s perception of this factor. In explaining Saddam Hussein’s disbelief of American threats during the Persian Gulf conflict, for example, former Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney cited Hussein’s belief that the United States could never carry out military operations in Iraq itself because—in Hussein’s view—the Arab nations allied with the United States would make clear that in such circumstances they would have to leave the coalition.11 A final contextual factor often said to influence the credibility of U.S. threats is the reputation of the president and other high-level U.S. officials. The scholarly literature is mixed in its assessments of the importance of this factor, however, and the case studies examined for this project shed no light on the subject—no discernible difference could be seen in responses to threats by Presidents Bush or Clinton that would seem to pertain to the incumbent’s reputation. More basic attributes of U.S. credibility and of the situation itself seem to have been more important. Character of the Threat Other factors contributing importantly to the credibility of threats reflect the manner in which they are conveyed. A sense of urgency must be part of the threat or the targeted leader can believe that a strategy of delay and inaction will be effective in avoiding compliance. The establishment of deadlines appears to be particularly important (George and Simons, 1994). In 1989 Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega understood well that the United States would prefer to see him removed from power and democracy restored. But because the United States endorsed negotiations by the Organization of American States (OAS) with Noriega and never articulated an “either-or” threat of Noriega’s forcible removal, he apparently interpreted U.S. rhetoric as bluster and dismissed stepped-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War up American military exercises in the Panama Canal Zone as “mere posturing” (Grant, 1991; Kempe, 1990; Treaster, 1989). Verbal threats are also more effective when accompanied by tangible military actions—steps that indicate the seriousness of the U.S. undertaking. Not only can movements or other actions by military units demonstrate actual capabilities, thus lending verisimilitude to threats, but by demonstrating the U.S. president’s willingness to pay a price for the situation, they add credibility to his verbal demands. In this respect the greater the commitment demonstrated by the action, the more likely the threat is to be successful. Thus, Blechman and Kaplan (1978) found the deployment of forces on the ground in the potential theater of operations to be a more effective means of making threats credible than the movement of naval forces, as ground deployments demonstrate a willingness to pay the political price by putting U.S. soldiers, or air men and women, at risk. Similarly, the mobilization of military reserves has been an effective means of adding credibility to threats. Disrupting the lives of U.S. citizens by placing them on active duty, separating them from their families and workplaces, indicates indisputably the president’s willingness to pay a high political price to get his way. Difficulty of the Demand The context and character of a threat determine its credibility in the mind of the target. But whether a foreign leader chooses to comply with a U.S. demand is also conditioned by the degree of difficulty of the demand itself. To be effective, a demand must obviously be specific, clearly articulated, and put in terms that the target understands. There is no shortage of cases in which the targets of military threats simply did not understand what was being asked of them and therefore could not have acted to satisfy U.S. demands even if they had wanted to.12 In addition, a demand can be more or less onerous for the targeted leader to contemplate. In part this evaluation will depend on the demand’s specific content: What is, in fact, being demanded? At the extreme, some demands may not be satisfiable by the target. In some cases the United States (and other nations) have misread situations, demanding actions that the target of a threat was not capable of delivering. This may have been the case in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union over the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, where the United States threatened repeatedly but seems to have misjudged the Soviet Union’s ability to influence certain Arab nations and factions (Whetten, 1974). The inclusion of positive incentives in the overall U.S. diplomatic strategy is an important way of improving the targeted leader’s perception of a U.S. demand. Not only do positive incentives change perceptions of the
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War content of a demand itself, they also provide a political excuse for the target to do what it might have wanted to do anyway: back down and accept the U.S. demand. A targeted leader’s perception of the difficulty of a demand also will be affected by the degree of visibility of the retreat required. Regardless of substance, an act of compliance that can be taken invisibly is far easier to accept, as it may not convey additional political costs. A retreat that is visible and humiliating may often be perceived as something to be resisted at any cost.13 It has been demonstrated in many studies that threats or limited uses of force are more likely to be effective when the behavior demanded of a target requires only that the target not carry out some threatened or promised action. This is a subset of the visibility factor: deterrent threats are more likely to succeed than compellent threats; the latter require the target to carry out a positive and therefore usually visible action. In the case of deterrent threats, on the other hand, it is usually unknown, and unknowable, whether or not in the absence of U.S. threats the target would have carried out the action being deterred. Would the Soviet Union have attempted to seize West Berlin in the late 1950s or early 1960s if the United States had not threatened to contest such an initiative with military force? No one can say with certainty. Thus, deterrent threats may appear to be more successful because they are sometimes used to deter actions that would not be carried out in any event. Moreover, in those deterrent cases in which the initial threatened action would otherwise have been carried out, it is easier politically for the target to back down, as it need not be done in public; the target can always claim that, regardless of the U.S. threat, it would not have acted in any event. When the U.S. threat requires a positive act on the part of the target (e.g., withdrawal from Kuwait), the retreat is publicly evident and could have dire consequences in national or regional politics. Potency of the Threat All of these enabling conditions—context of the threat, character of the threat, and degree of difficulty of a demand—contribute to a targeted leader’s understanding of the cost of complying, or of not complying, with U.S. demands. In Alexander George’s phrase, an effective threat must be potent relative to the demand. This means that the target must perceive that the threat, if carried out, would result in a situation in which the target would be worse off than if it complied with the U.S. demand. If, for example, the demand is that a ruler give up the throne, the only potent threat is likely to be that otherwise the ruler will be killed (or that a situation would be created in which the ruler might be killed). Any threat
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War less potent would likely be seen—even if it were carried out—as resulting in a situation no worse, and possibly better, than that which would have resulted from satisfying the demand. This evaluation, of course, will be filtered through the target’s perception of the credibility of the threat— how likely it is that the anticipated punishment will be carried out. If the threat is perceived to be wholly incredible, the anticipated cost of noncompliance will be low. If the context and character of the threat add verisimilitude, however, the difficulty of the demand will be weighed carefully relative to the cost of noncompliance, and a sufficiently potent threat should produce compliance in a rational opponent. CASE STUDIES All these enabling conditions were examined for each of the eight major cases in which military force was threatened or used in limited ways in support of diplomacy during the Bush and first Clinton administrations. Although the authors examined each case extensively, only a brief summary of each can be presented in this paper; the summaries highlight the key findings. Panama (1989–1990)14 The Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was an agent of U.S. policy in Central America for many years. In the late 1980s, however, his value declined with settlement of the Nicaraguan insurgency, and he became increasingly and more openly involved with the Colombian drug cartels. After he was indicted in the United States in February 1988 for drug trafficking and money laundering, first the Reagan administration and then the Bush administration decided to seek his removal from office. As tensions grew between the two countries in 1988 and 1989, the Panamanian Defense Forces, one key source of Noriega’s power, began to harass U.S. military personnel in the country and in the Canal Zone, as well as to step up repression of the democratic opposition in Panama. Because of the upcoming presidential election, the U.S. government did not initiate serious pressures against Noriega until 1989. Beginning in April of that year, however, the United States tried to make clear that it considered Noriega an illegitimate ruler and that it wanted him to step down. It renewed economic sanctions against Panama, gave Panamanian opposition parties $10 million in covert assistance toward their effort in the scheduled May presidential elections, and provided election observers. After Noriega manipulated the elections, the United States initiated a variety of diplomatic actions, including recalling its ambassador. The Bush administration worked through the OAS to negotiate Noriega’s res-
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War Taiwan (1996)31 The final case is an odd one—more symbolic than real. In 1996 China staged a series of military exercises and missile tests near Taiwan as the latter moved toward an election in which opposition parties were campaigning on a platform that demanded independence from the mainland. The Chinese actions were apparently intended to intimidate the Taiwanese and to remind all other parties—particularly the United States—that China would not tolerate de facto Taiwanese independence indefinitely and especially would not tolerate overt steps toward a de jure sovereign status. In response, the United States sent an aircraft carrier task group through the straits that separate Taiwan from the mainland and later in the crisis deployed a second carrier near the island. The U.S. actions apparently were intended to remind China of the American interest in preventing Taiwan’s unification with the mainland by force. Both parties’ actions, of course, were shadowboxing. China was probably not seriously contemplating invading Taiwan. It does not have the means to accomplish that goal, and Taiwan could probably defend itself against an invasion without U.S. help. Moreover, the fallout from such an action would set back China’s economic development immensely, as well as antagonize neighboring states (especially Japan) and trigger massive armament programs on their parts—a counterproductive outcome from China’s perspective. But if China’s threat was not serious, neither was that of the United States. Despite a great deal of hype in the news media, both countries apparently understood that they were playing on a stage, making points for world opinion and for domestic audiences. Both Chinese and American statements explicitly discounted any risk of a U.S.-Chinese military confrontation and anticipated continued relations in the future (Burns, 1996). In this sense the U.S. threats were effective—the target, however, was not China but rather Taiwan and domestic U.S. audiences. CONCLUSION The results of the case studies discussed above are summarized in Table 3.1. The cases are arrayed in rows, moving chronologically from top to bottom. The outcomes of each case and a description of the enabling conditions constitute the columns. Overall, the use of military power by the United States clearly failed in only one of the cases—Somalia. U.S. threats to use military force clearly succeeded in three—Macedonia, North Korea, and Taiwan. In the four other cases—Panama, Iraq, Bosnia, and Haiti—the use of military power ultimately succeeded, but either success came only with great difficulty,
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War at considerable cost to other U.S. interests, or the United States was successful only in achieving its immediate objectives, not its longer-term strategic goals. In Panama, Bosnia, and Haiti, success came only after long periods of failure, with high costs for the administration domestically and internationally; in Iraq each individual use of military power was successful, but the strategic situation remains unchanged and unsatisfactory from an American perspective; in Bosnia and Haiti the underlying political conflicts remain unresolved and easily reversible. With respect to the enabling conditions, none alone appear to be a sufficient condition for success; nor can it be said for certain that any one condition—other than that the target indeed be able to fulfill the demand— is a prerequisite for success. Still, one noteworthy partial correlation can be seen between the difficulty of the demand and positive outcomes. In all seven successes (counting individual uses of force within cases as well as overall cases) but one, fulfillment of the U.S. objective demanded relatively little of the target. Typically, the actions required of the targets also tended to be less visible in these cases (with the exceptions of the action required of North Korea and of the Bosnian Serbs with respect to entering the Dayton negotiations). The U.S. posture in six of the seven successful uses of military power also included positive incentives, further reducing the difficulty of the demand as perceived by the target. Enabling conditions pertaining to the credibility of U.S. threats (as determined by the context and character) present a less consistent pattern. There was precedent for U.S. action in only half of the cases, and the results were mixed in those cases with precedents and those without. Third-nation support and whether or not a sense of urgency was conveyed present no clear pattern. Tangible military actions were taken in all cases and hence shed no light. The presence or absence of public support is more interesting. It was present in the three clear successes and absent in the one clear failure. The remaining four cases, which had mixed results, were also split with respect to public support. Public support for a threat evidently cannot guarantee its success, but an evident lack of public support apparently can make it difficult to make threats credibly. In Somalia and Haiti, as well as Bosnia for most of the conflict, the evident lack of public support in the United States for the policies being pursued by the administration—at least at the price level that potentially would be implied if the relevant threat had been carried out—seems to have given great comfort to the target of the U.S. action and encouraged him to attempt to stay the course. Evidence of public dissension was probably a factor encouraging Hussein to defy U.S. threats as well, and each of the former officials interviewed cited this factor as greatly complicating the use of military power by the United States.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War TABLE 3.1 Outcomes and Enabling Conditions Credibility Degree of Difficulty Case Precedent Public Support Third-Nation Support Urgency Tangible Military Actions Articulated Content Visibility Positive Incentive Potency Outcome I. Panama + + + − + − 3 – – – YB II. Iraq (Strategic Outcome) − + + + + + 2 − − − YB DS/DSa – + + + + + 2 – – – YB South no-fly – + – + + − 2 – – + YB Kurds – + – + + – 2 – + – YB Terror + + + + + + 1 + − + S VWb + + + + + + 1 + + + S III. Somalia − − − + + − 2 − − − F IV. Macedonia − + + + + + 1 + + + S
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War V. Bosnia (Strategic Outcome) – – + + + – 2 – + + YB Lift/no-fly – + + + + + 2 + + – YB Sanctions – – + – + + 2 + – – YB Safe/weaponsc – – + – + + 2 + – – F Dayton – – + + + + 2 – + + S IFOR + + + + + + 1 + + + S VI. Haiti + – + – + + 3 – + + YB VII. North Korea + + + + + + 1 – + + S VIII. Taiwan + + – – + + 1 + + + S aDesert Shield/Desert Storm. bValiant Warrior (1994). cSafe Havens/Weapons Exclusion Zones. Notes: The enabling conditions are generally labeled positive, meaning that they favored a successful outcome from the U.S. perspective, or negative, meaning the opposite. The one exception is the content of the demand made, which is ranked from 1 (least difficult for the target) to 3 (most difficult for the target). Outcomes are categorized as a success (S), failure (F), or “yes, but” (YB), meaning that the outcome eventually favored the United States but that getting there left a great deal to be desired. The Iraq and Bosnia cases are rated both for their strategic outcome and for specific uses of force within each case.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War Looking beyond the scoreboard of results to the cases themselves, the question of potency also appears to be especially important. Potent threats relative to the cost of noncompliance were made in each of the clearly successful cases (Macedonia, North Korea, and Taiwan) and were not made in the one clear failure (Somalia). In the case of Iraq, as in Panama and in all but the so-far-final stage of the Bosnian conflict, the unwillingness of the United States to make threats that would clearly offer the target the prospect of an unacceptable cost seems to have been an important reason for the failure of U.S. policy. The problem that the United States faces, therefore, is very clear. It is rare that it can both make potent threats and retain public support. Potent threats imply greater risks. And the American public’s aversion to risk, particularly the risk of suffering casualties, is well known; the legacy of Vietnam is real. This is particularly true in the types of conflict situations that have arisen since the end of the Cold War—where there is little precedent for American action, where American interests are more abstract than tangible, where the battle lines are uncertain, and where none of the contending parties wear a particularly friendly face. Recognizing this public aversion to casualties, or predicting such opposition in particular cases, American presidents have been reluctant to step as close to the plate as has been required to achieve U.S. objectives in many post-Cold War conflicts. They have made threats only reluctantly and usually have not made as clear or potent a threat as was called for by the situation. They have understood the need to act in the situation but have been unwilling or perceived themselves as being unable to lead the American people into the potential sacrifice necessary to secure the proper goal. As a result, they have attempted to satisfice—taking some action but not the most effective possible action to challenge the foreign leader threatening U.S. interests. They have sought to curtail the extent and potential cost of the confrontation by avoiding the most serious type of threat and therefore the most costly type of war if the threat were challenged. The American public’s sensitivity to the human and economic costs of military action is a clear legacy of the Vietnam experience. But it has been reinforced since then by sharp reactions—by the public and elected officials—to the suicide bombing of U.S. Marines in Beirut and to the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu. Both Presidents Bush and Clinton have been keenly cognizant of this sensitivity, and their attempts to threaten to use military power have been hesitant as a result. This syndrome would impair the effectiveness of U.S. coercive diplomacy under any circumstances, but its deleterious effects are magnified by the impact of those same historical events on foreign leaders. Vietnam syndrome is not solely an American disease—its symptoms are visible
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War abroad, when potential targets of U.S. threats see the American public’s sensitivity to casualties as a positive factor in their own reckoning of the risks and benefits of alternative courses of action. A review of the evidence reveals that Bosnian Serb leaders, Haitian paramilitary leaders, Saddam Hussein, and Somalia’s late warlord all banked on their ability to force a U.S. retreat by inflicting relatively small numbers of casualties on U.S. forces. That places American presidents attempting to accomplish goals through threats in a dilemma. Domestic opinion rarely supports forceful policies at the outset, but tentative policies only reinforce the prejudices of foreign leaders and induce them to stand firm. Vietnam’s legacy abroad pushes foreign leaders’ defining moments back, requiring greater demonstrations of will, greater urgency, more tangible actions by U.S. forces, and greater potency for threats to succeed. But Vietnam’s legacy at home makes it much harder for U.S. presidents to take such forceful actions without significant investments of political capital. As a result of this dilemma, American officials have often been unable to break through the preconceived notions of U.S. weakness held by foreign leaders to bring about a defining moment. Indeed, the cases in which decisive U.S. actions were taken only after long periods of indecision (especially Panama, Bosnia, and Haiti) may have only reinforced foreign leaders’ preconceptions about America’s lack of will. Until U.S. presidents show a greater ability to lead on this issue, or until the American people demonstrate a greater willingness to step up to the challenges of exercising military dominance on a global scale, foreign leaders in many situations will likely continue to see American threats more as signs of weakness than as potent expressions of America’s true military power. As a result, they will likely continue to be willing to withstand American threats—necessitating either recourse to force to achieve American goals or embarrassing retreats in the pursuit of American interests abroad. This suggests that American presidents have several options when considering potential uses of military power in support of diplomacy: They can pick their fights carefully, choosing to make public demands of other nations mainly in situations in which the actions they require will not be perceived by the target as excessively difficult, and when they can leaven their threats with positive incentives to encourage compliance, as in the cases of Taiwan and North Korea. They can seek to “demilitarize” U.S. policy somewhat. Strategies close to those used in the Korean case may be more appropriate, and more effective, than the quick recourse to military threats seen in most of the other cases. Threats and limited military force have a clear role but more as reinforcing elements in policies dominated by economic,
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War diplomatic, and political factors than as the primary policy instrument. In Haiti it was ultimately a skilled diplomatic team backed by force, not the force itself, that secured Cedras’s removal from power. Given domestic constraints on U.S. ability to use military power, in threats or in actuality, Presidents Bush and Clinton may have leaned too heavily on the armed forces to advance American interests in the immediate post-Cold War world. Policies that deemphasize the role of force may be more appropriate more often. When nonmilitary instruments of policy seem likely to be ineffectual but the U.S. president still perceives an imperative to act, and the foreign leader seems likely to perceive compliance with U.S. demands as onerous, the president must act decisively. In these situations the demand must be clear and urgent, the demonstration of military power incontrovertible, and the threat itself potent relative to the target’s alternatives. The ultimate achievement of U.S. objectives in Desert Storm and at the end of the Bosnian and Haitian scenarios demonstrates that presidential decisiveness can be effective, even at the later stages of a crisis. Most importantly, in Colin Powell’s words, “The president himself must begin the action prepared to see the course through to its end…. He can only persuade an opponent of his seriousness when, indeed, he is serious”32 NOTES A version of this article appeared in Political Science Quarterly (1999) 114:1–30. 1 Remarks by Secretary of Defense Caspar W.Weinberger to the National Press Club, November 28, 1984; published as Department of Defense News Release No. 609–84. 2 Interview by Barry Blechman with General Colin Powell, February 21, 1997. 3 Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, address to the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Washington, D.C., September 21, 1992. 4 A database listing all uses of the American armed forces since the end of the Cold War was prepared by DFI International for the U.S. Air Force. It is based largely on official unpublished documents prepared by the major U.S. Air Force commands and other official data. For additional information, please contact Oliver Fritz, DFI International, 11 Dupont Circle, NW, Washington, DC 20036, U.S.A. 5 In principle, there may also have been cases in which the United States achieved its ends through verbal threats alone, threats not backed by deliberate military activity. Some have suggested, for example, that President Bush was successful in preventing greater Serbian oppression in Kosovo through verbal warnings alone. In that specific case, however, President Bush’s warnings were given weight both by U.S. military activity in support of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and in enforcing the embargo on arms shipments to the region and by the deployment of U.S. troops to Macedonia. Overall, the authors could not identify any cases of verbal threats unaccompanied by military activity during this period, successful or unsuccessful, and would be grateful for any suggestion of such incidents.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War 6 The individuals interviewed include Richard Cheney (secretary of defense, 1989–1993); William Perry (secretary of defense, 1994–1997); Walter Slocombe (undersecretary of defense for policy, 1994–present); Colin Powell (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1989– 1993); Strobe Talbott (deputy secretary of state, 1994–present); James Steinberg (director of policy planning, Department of State, 1994–1996). 7 Letter from Robert Oakley to Barry Blechman, August 7, 1997. 8 This term was first suggested by Alexander George. See his discussion of credibility and of the magnitude of demands in George and Simons (1994). 9 Some scholars argue that forceful precedents are useful only when they reflect core U.S. interests; for example, see George and Smoke (1974). 10 For discussion of the role that public opinion plays in America’s ability to take effective military action abroad, see Jentleson (1997) and Holl (1995). 11 Interview by Barry Blechman with Richard Cheney, January 15, 1997. See also Stein (1992) and George and Simons (1994). 12 Lauren (1994) suggests that ultimatums are the most explicit and precise method of communicating demands and that they may lessen the chances of misperception or miscalculation by the opponent. 13 On the effect that degree of difficulty and “losing face” have on the effectiveness of threats, see George and Simons (1994). 14 Sources used for this case study include contemporaneous news reports, Powell with Persico (1995), Baker (1995), Grant (1991), Woodward (1991), and Kempe (1990). 15 President Bush even stated in a news conference on October 13, 1989, that using force in Panama was “a stupid argument that some very erudite people make” (transcript printed in New York Times, October 14, 1989). 16 Interview by Barry Blechman with General Colin Powell, February 21, 1997. 17 Sources used in this case study included for the Persian Gulf crisis, Freedman and Karsh (1993), BBC World Service (1991), Bengio (1992), Baker (1995), Woodward (1991), and Powell with Persico (1995). For the post-1991 incidents, sources included Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) transcripts of statements by Iraqi officials, statements by U.S. officials, and contemporaneous Western news reports. 18 Interview by Barry Blechman with Richard Cheney, January 15, 1997. 19 There have been some suggestions, however, that the United States made such a threat to deter the Iraqis from using chemical weapons. See James Baker’s comments on his Geneva meeting with Tariq Aziz in January 1991, in The Gulf War, a BBC/WGBH Frontline coproduction, written and produced by Eamonn Matthews (Seattle: PBS Video, 1996). 20 The consequences of this failure were seen throughout 1997 and early 1998. In late 1997 Hussein barred U.S. citizens from the UN teams inspecting Iraq for weapons of mass destruction in compliance with the agreements ending the war; he also refused to permit inspections of certain types of sites, such as presidential palaces. Although Hussein seemed to relent on the first issue, in January 1998 Iraqi officials refused to allow a particular inspection team, led by an American claimed to be a spy, to carry out its work. The United States and some of its allies threatened once again to carry out air strikes, and eventually the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, was able to negotiate an acceptable resolution of the conflict. 21 primary sources for this case study include FBIS transcripts of Radio Mogadishu broadcasts, contemporaneous news reports, Baker (1995), Powell with Persico (1995), and Blechman and Vaccaro (1995). 22 U.S. forces initially entered Somalia in December 1992 as part of a multilateral mission, UNITAF, intended to secure the delivery of food and other relief supplies that would end the famine and prepare the way for a broader UN force. Having accomplished this limited mission, in May 1993 UNITAF gave way to UNOSOM II, which included only 4,500
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War U.S. troops. UNOSOM II’s mission included disarming the various clan factions that were making the reestablishment of a central government impossible. U.S. forces and the entire UN peacekeeping mission had withdrawn from Somalia by March 1995. 23 This and the following case study on Bosnian policy are based on public statements by President Clinton and then Secretary of State Warren Christopher, news reports, and extensive FBIS transcripts of Croatian, Bosnian Serb, Serbian, and Bosnian TV and radio broadcasts containing statements by leaders of these groups. 24 There have been virtually no complaints from the Congress about the Macedonian deployment despite the fact that U.S. troops serve under UN command—a hot issue among conservatives. Of course, the support would probably disappear quickly if the troops in Macedonia appeared in danger of entering combat. 25 Interview by Barry Blechman with Walter Slocombe, January 27, 1996. 26 Interview by Barry Blechman with William Perry, January 21, 1997. 27 Sources for this case study included Powell with Persico (1995), contemporaneous U.S. news reports, and FBIS transcripts of Port-au-Prince Radio Metropole. 28 According to a wire service report (Downie, 1993a), Haitian paramilitaries demonstrating in Port-au-Prince chanted, “We’re going to make a second Somalia here!” and UN envoy Dante Caputo said that the Haitians were “trying to create an atmosphere where it would be a disaster, a blood bath, if foreign troops came.” 29 Sources for this case study included The Public Perspective (1994); statements by President Clinton, Secretary of Defense Perry, and other U.S. officials; and contemporaneous news reports. 30 Interview by Barry Blechman with Walter Slocombe, January 27, 1996. 31 Sources for this case study included public statements by President Clinton, Secretary of State Christopher, and Secretary of Defense Perry; transcripts of State Department press conferences; and Chinese Foreign Ministry statements, including press conferences by Foreign Minister Qian Qichen. 32 Interview by Barry Blechman with General Colin Powell, February 21, 1997. REFERENCES Agence France Presse 1996a US postpones visit by Chinese defense minister. Agence France Presse, March 22. 1996b No firm date for Christopher-Qian meeting. Agence France Presse, March 22. Aspen Strategy Group 1995 The United States and the Use of Force in the Post-Cold War Era. Queenstown, Md.: Aspen Institute. BBC World Service 1991 Gulf Crisis Chronology. Essex, U.K.: Longman Current Affairs. Baker, J.A. 1995 The Politics of Diplomacy. New York: Putnam. Bengio, O., ed. 1992 Saddam Speaks on the Gulf Crisis: A Collection of Documents. Tel Aviv, Israel: Moshe Dayan Center. Blechman, B.M., and S.S.Kaplan 1978 Force Without War. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution. Blechman B., and J.M.Vaccaro, eds. 1995 Towards an Operational Strategy of Peace Enforcement: Lessons from Interventions and Peace Operations. Washington, D.C.: DFI International. Buckley, K. 1991 Panama: The Whole Story. New York: Simon & Schuster.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War Burns, R. 1996 Fallout from Taiwan tensions: U.S. cancels China talks. The Record, March 23. Bush, G., and B.Scowcroft 1998 A World Transformed. New York: Alfred Knopf. Damrosch, L.F., ed. 1993 Enforcing Restraint: Collective Intervention in Internal Conflicts. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press. Downie, A. 1993a U.S. diplomats in Haiti threatened, ship delayed. Reuters, October 11. 1993b Tense standoff in Haiti over U.S. troopship. Reuters North American Wire, October 12. Freedman, L., and E.Karsh 1993 The Gulf Conflict, 1990–1991. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Gacek, C. 1995 The Logic of Force. New York: Columbia University Press. George, A.L. 1995 The role of force in diplomacy: A continuing dilemma for U.S. foreign policy. In Force and Statecraft, 3rd ed., G.Craig and A.L.George, eds. New York: Oxford University Press. George, A.L., and W.E.Simons, eds. 1994 The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy, 2nd ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview. George, A.L., and R.Smoke 1974 Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press. Grant, R.L. 1991 Operation Just Cause and the U.S. Policy Process. RAND Note N-3265-AF. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corp. Holl, J. 1995 We the people here don’t want no war. In The United States and the Use of Force in the Post-Cold War Era. Aspen Strategy Group. Queenstown, Md.: Aspen Institute. Jentleson, B. 1997 Who, why, what and how: Debates over post-Cold War military intervention. In Eagle Adrift: American Policy at the End of the Century, R.J.Lieber, ed. New York: Longman’s. Jervis, R., R.N.Lebow, and J.G.Stein 1985 Psychology and Deterrence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Kempe, F. 1990 Divorcing the Dictator: America’s Bungled Affair with Noriega. New York: Putnam. Lauren, P.G. 1994 Coercive diplomacy and ultimata: Theory and practice in history. In Limits of Coercive Diplomacy, 2nd ed., A.L.George and W.E.Simons, eds. Boulder, Colo.: Westview. Muravchik, J. 1996 The Imperative of American Leadership. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute . Powell, C.L. 1992a Why generals get nervous. New York Times, October 8:A35. 1992b U.S. force: Challenges ahead. Foreign Affairs, 72(Winter 1992–1993):32–45. Powell, C., with J.E.Persico 1995 My American Journey. New York: Random House.
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International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War The Public Perspective 1994 North Korea. The Public Perspective, 5(July/August):5. Quayle, D. 1994 Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir. New York: Harper Collins. Ribadeneira, D. 1994 Life as usual for Haiti troops: At military headquarters in capital, no signs of concern. The Boston Globe, May 15:9. Schelling, T. 1966 Arms and Influence. New Haven: Yale University Press. Schwarzkopf, H.N., with P.Petre 1992 It Doesn’t Take a Hero: General H.Norman Schwarzkopf, the Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books. Shultz, G. 1985 The Ethics of Power. Address given at the convocation of Yeshiva University, New York City, December 9, 1984. Department of State Bulletin, February:1–3. Stein, J.G. 1992 Deterrence and compellence in the Gulf, 1990–1991: A failed or impossible task? International Security, 17(Fall):2. Treaster, J.B. 1989 After Noriega: Noriega military command belittles general. New York Times, December 27:A14. Whetten, L.L. 1974 The Canal War: Four Power Conflict in the Middle East. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Woodward, B. 1991 The Commanders. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Representative terms from entire chapter: