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Problems With Current U.S. Policy.

In the aftermath of the Kosovo War, U.S. administration officials have articulated a Clinton doctrine that proclaims that the United States will forcefully intervene to prevent human rights abuses when it can do so without suffering substantial casualties. This doctrine rhetorically suggests a new, assertive U. S. approach to promoting and defending human rights abroad.

However, the Clinton doctrine is highly selective, as indicated by Washington's decision to intervene in Kosovo--where, over the preceding year, an estimated two thousand had been killed--though ignoring the 1994 Rwandan genocide of over one million civilians within the span of a few weeks. Although the U.S. failed to act in Rwanda, a country of little strategic or economic importance, in other instances the Clinton administration has chosen not to intervene to defend human rights precisely because the U.S. has strong strategic or trade interests in a country. For instance, though the State Department recognizes that Turkey, a close ally, has committed flagrant human rights violations against its Kurdish minority, the administration not only fails to intervene to protect the Kurds but actually continues to export arms to Turkey. During his October 1999 visit to Turkey, Clinton went so far as to praise Turkey's progress on establishing democracy and to promote its entry into the European Union. If human rights were of serious concern to the U.S., Washington would at least stop selling guns and helicopters to Turkey.

Another close U.S. ally, Indonesia, which invaded and annexed East Timor, causing the death of over 200,000 Timorese, is one of the world's worst human rights violators. Yet, throughout the incursions into East Timor, the U.S. continued to arm and train the Indonesian military. When, in 1999, East Timor voted peacefully and overwhelmingly for independence, the U.S. opposed the rapid creation of an armed UN peacekeeping force that could have stopped the forced exile of hundreds of thousands and the slaughter of Timorese civilians by Indonesian-controlled paramilitaries. Today, the U.S. is giving only limited support to the Australian/UN force; it refuses to supply combat troops but is giving some logistical help and a few helicopters.

By acting selectively, the U.S. not only undermines the authority of the United Nations and the rule of international law but belies the claim that it is acting to protect human rights when it does intervene. President Clinton has attempted to explain the obvious inconsistencies in U.S. policy by contending that America cannot be the world's policeman. Yet the United States has failed to promote UN-sanctioned international responses. Experts say that the genocide in Rwanda, for instance, could have been stopped with a few thousand soldiers. The killings in East Timor could have been curbed with even fewer--perhaps merely by the withdrawal of World Bank and International Monetary Fund credits to Indonesia. In Turkey, Washington (and other NATO countries) could still exert pressure to stop human rights abuses by halting U.S. arms flows. That Washington has not done so suggests not a lack of capacity but an unwillingness to raise human rights concerns in countries viewed as important strategic allies.

The Clinton doctrine of humanitarian intervention is simply the latest in a series of pretexts employed by the United States to justify unilateral military intervention. In recent decades, the U.S. has launched military actions under the rubric of overthrowing totalitarian governments and bringing democracy to people (Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Chile, Grenada), preventing terrorism (Sudan and Afghanistan), and stopping drug trafficking (Panama).

For over a year, the U.S., acting virtually alone and supported only by a token British military presence, has bombed the so-called no-fly zone in northern Iraq, which was established ostensibly to protect the Kurdish population. Unlike the war to oust Iraq from Kuwait, which had Security Council approval, Washington is currently bombing without UN backing. U.S. motives in continuing this bombing are related not to protecting the Kurds but to Washington's dispute with Iraq over weapons inspectors. With the end of the cold war and the struggle against communism, humanitarian intervention to prevent human rights abuses is providing a rationale for selective U.S. or U.S.-led military interventions, outside the framework of the United Nations.

Key Problems

* The Clinton doctrine of forceful military intervention to prevent a nation from committing human rights abuses has been highly selective.

* In practice, the U.S. continues to provide arms to repressive regimes and has refused to intervene to stop human rights abuses committed by key allies or occurring where it has strategic or trade interests. Meanwhile, Washington tends to ignore genocide in countries considered of little importance.

* Human rights is but one of the rationales that, along with stopping the drug trade, terrorism, or communism, the United States has used to justify intervention in the internal affairs of other countries.
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Article Details
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Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Humanitarian Military Intervention.
Next Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.

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