Nation building

September 30, 1994|By RICHARD N. HAASS

WITH SOME 15,000 American soldiers now occupying Haiti, the question of whether we ought to have intervened is moot. The question now is how to carry out the intervention in a manner that will accomplish the objectives but limit costs. The problem for the Clinton administration is that efforts to keep modest the human and financial costs endanger the success of the operation, which will, in any event, take years.

The purpose of the occupation is not annexation or exploitation, but stabilization. The goal is to make Haiti a viable country. The reasons are in part humanitarian: to see Haiti become a society where human rights are not violated wholesale and where democracy and pluralism reign. In part they are self-interest: Many Americans prefer not to have Haitians come in large numbers to our shores.

Occupation is necessary as a means to an end. It is meant to establish order so that political and economic rebuilding can take place. To succeed, the occupying army must monopolize )) force until local units can be created and trained to assume this responsibility with professionalism.

Nation-building is what the United States did on a large scale in Germany and Japan after World War II and on a much smaller scale in Grenada and Panama more recently. Nation-building also is not what the United States chose to do in Iraq after liberating Kuwait. The concerns at the time were that such an effort would take years, hundreds of thousands of troops, billions of dollars -- and would provoke fierce nationalist resentment in Iraq and throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. There was little confidence that democracy would take hold in a country that had known little but despotism. It was calculated that more Americans would lose their lives patrolling the streets of Baghdad than in the entire gulf war up to that point.

Some of these concerns were borne out in Somalia. Nation-building was tried there after an initial humanitarian effort was expanded into something more ambitious. But nation-building was quickly abandoned when it proved too costly in American lives. Indeed, nation-building is so unpopular a term that it is rarely used by the administration.

But this is what we are doing all the same. The question is obvious: Are we right to try something so ambitious in Haiti? We have little choice if our goal is to avoid future refugee pressures and to transform that country's society and economy. We have crossed the Rubicon with our "invasion" and the pact negotiated by former President Carter.

The critical question thus becomes how we should shape the occupation. Alas, there will be no quick or easy results. Despite congressional desire for a quick exit, nation-building will take time (measured in years, not months) and great effort -- and even then might not work, given Haiti's traditions and divisions. It also will require dismantling the existing police and military institutions, vetting them to oust those opposed to the legal government or with a record of human rights abuses, retraining those allowed to remain and bringing in new people.

Until this process is complete, a form of martial law is essential. Haitians with guns should not be allowed on the streets. Maintaining law and order needs to become the job of U.S. forces and as many other countries as can be persuaded to participate. Otherwise, there will be many more incidents such as happened last Saturday night, although with the chance that the next time we will not be so fortunate in protecting American lives.

The Clinton administration understandably wants to avoid such exposure and involvement in Haiti, given the bad memories of Somalia and the relative weakness of support for the Haitian intervention. But there is no way to do so. Indeed, if we try to do a limited occupation, if we continue to work with rather than against the very people and institutions that helped bring Haiti to its current miserable state, we increase the chances that the security situation will deteriorate, possibly while U.S. forces are still there in some number.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as doing just a little bit of occupation. Occupation lite will not work; there is no getting around the reality that nation-building is an imperial undertaking. The invasion took place without a shot in part because the United States marshaled overwhelming force and the Haitian leadership backed down. The best way to ensure that the occupation takes place with a minimum of shooting is to act in no less dominant a fashion. It can be carried out successfully by one democracy to restore another, but only if done decisively.

Richard N. Haass is the author of the forthcoming "Intervention: The Use of American Military Force in the Post-Cold War World." He wrote this for Newsday.

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