A New Post-Cold Wat Strategy

December 17, 1993|By EDWARD A. OLSEN

As the post-cold-war world evolves, the United States faces pressures to use its enormous geopolitical clout in pursuit of humanitarian world peace and stability.

Americans are frequently admonished that their country's ''sole superpower'' status generates international obligations that Washington cannot fail to meet. We are told that our power requires Americans to lead because if we do not, who will?

Cumulatively these pressures have led to humanitarian peacekeeping or peacemaking exercises in Somalia and Haiti, with another mission looming in Bosnia. Americans are wise to have profound reservations about these enterprises.

Popular concern has focused on whether the U.S. is being led astray by its commitments to the United Nations and regional multilateral security organizations. One important part of that concern focuses on the question of placing U.S. forces under United Nations command. This irritates American sovereign sensibilities and provokes opposition.

Similarly, the United States' core role as the only country capable of providing sustained forward-deployed logistics and reliable intelligence threatens to entangle American forces in support of an endless succession of U.N. missions.

There is ample reason to question why the possession of enormous international power should necessarily translate into a mandate to use that power toward ends not required by U.S. fTC national interests. Just because we can do something does not mean we must or should do it.

When it comes to applying U.S. military power in the post-cold-war era, U.S armed forces should be tasked only with the defense of the U.S. and any vital interests it proclaims that are amenable to military resolution. Other uses of such power are extraneous.

In particular, U.S. armed forces should have no role in humanitarian missions. Two buzzwords of recent U.S. strategic adaptations to post-cold-war circumstances -- ''peacekeeping force'' and ''humanitarian force'' -- are perverse oxymorons. Not one of those missions is best accomplished with force.

Using U.S. armed forces in these capacities dilutes and confuses their prime function -- to deter and (if necessary) wage war against those who endanger the U.S.

Having expensive military forces deliver aid or help to develop infrastructure in troubled lands is a terribly inefficient use of such national resources. Money spent on such matters through the Pentagon will rarely, if ever, be cost effective, given that institution's management track record.

If Americans are stricken by their collective conscience after watching foreign calamities on CNN, the most cost-effective and least geopolitically risky way to assuage their concern is to have Washington write a check on the Treasury to appropriate private relief agencies.

These are excellent instances where checkbook diplomacy might work, would be cheaper, and would make Americans feel better. There are many ways the U.S. can and should pursue humanitarian agendas when confronted by horrendous situations abroad that arouse American moral indignation -- but those means are all civilian in nature.

Alternatively, the U.S. could foot part of the bill for other countries' armed forces to staff global policing functions through the U.N., NATO, or regional organizations such as the Organization of American States or Organization of African Unity.

At all costs, Americans should avoid humanitarian or peace missions that entail the use of U.S. armed forces. Abstention from such tasks is essential so that the U.S. can avoid messy foreign entanglements and preclude any chance that our ''face'' or prestige will be at stake over a gratuitous issue.

Even the softest of U.S. military options in humanitarian activities (i.e., providing logistics support for other countries) that

superficially appear to be safe missions could draw the U.S. into quagmires. We need to assure ourselves that we know how to get out before we go in.

The easiest way to avoid all those problems associated with the concept of an ''exit strategy'' is to avoid all ''entrance strategies.'' That is the clearest way to avoid the disastrous consequences of inadvertent military buildup or of becoming the focus of the frustrations felt by recipients of American assistance.

Americans must accept the fact that the U.S. cannot, and should not try to, save other countries from their baser instincts. We need to deal with more pressing concerns at home. The last thing the US needs to do is to fritter away its energies by misguided efforts to dispatch American-armed forces to an endless supply of troubled countries in a forlorn attempt to use quasi-colonial means to fulfill humanitarian goals.

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