Examining Interventionism Part 1: The Benefits
One of the most divisive topics among people with aligned beliefs on domestic issues is Interventionism. Foreign policy, particularly as it pertains to military involvement, is often the quintessential barrier which separates ‘paleo-conservatives’ and libertarians from so-called war-hawkish ‘neoconservatives’.
Unfortunately, the plethora of often-dubious arguments and rhetoric has obfuscated the empirical cost-benefit analysis of interventionism, and consequently left most people with an incomplete understanding of the issue. This piece -- divided into two parts to allow for minimal elucidation of each point -- will attempt to dissect and clearly articulate the predominant costs and benefits of interventionism.
However, it will not express a partiality to one side or the other, because the “right answer” to problems regarding interventionism is largely dependent on the arbitrating person’s biases, and what they view as acceptable losses.
Benefits of Interventionism
- Strategic Military Benefit. Active involvement in other countries and their reliance upon U.S. protection or influence has garnered the U.S. more international bases than any other country in history. This allows the U.S. to have a regionally effective and timely response to national security threats, or aggression against its allies. In addition, in the case of a regional or world war, interventionism saves tremendous resources in utilizing an already established base and logistical chain rather than creating one in the midst of war. Finally, a base within allied territories allows the U.S. to exercise greater influence over regional conflicts, and provides direct deterrence for U.S. allies against possible aggressors. During the Cold War, the U.S.’ international bases in Europe prevented encroachment and otherwise-likely invasion by the Soviet Union.
- Humanitarian Gains for Natives. When the U.S. commits to military intervention in other countries, it tends to build up the host country’s infrastructure and prevent sectarian clashes or crime waves from occurring. During the occupation of Iraq, particularly after the 2007 “Surge,” U.S. policy was geared towards winning the “hearts and minds” of the populace in order to eliminate tribal support for insurgency. The U.S. did this by building hospitals, schools, and policing areas that had been overrun by militia extortion and mass crime.
- Prevention of Genocide. Not only does the U.S. obviously not allow genocide to occur in countries it occupies, the threat of U.S. intervention has been used by the U.S. in the past to coerce dictators into stepping down or ceasing their crimes against humanity. More recently, the U.S. and NATO used this strategy to stop the Bosnian Genocide of Muslim Bosniaks and Croats at the hands of the Serbs after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Threat of U.S. intervention, economic sanctions, and two weeks of NATO bombing (in conjunction with a promise of an independent Serbian state) pressured the belligerents into accepting the Daytona Peace Treaty, thus ending the war and genocide. The United Nations is supposed to fill this role, but it more frequently quiesces to the demands of violent dictators than taking action against them. This failure was most apparent In 1991, when over 500,000 people were massacred in Rwanda while UN peacekeepers were present.
- National Security and in Service of Foreign Policy Goals. By constantly flexing hegemonial power and demonstrating its military superiority via frequent conflicts, the U.S. deters direct conventional attacks on its own territory. This constant show of force also greatly assists the U.S. in pressuring formerly belligerent states into adopting more passive or friendly stances. This was especially apparent after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when longtime “Mad Dog of the Middle East” Muammar Gaddafi suddenly became cooperative with U.N. inspectors and U.S. interests in the Middle East. The same year that the U.S. invaded Iraq, Gaddafi agreed to rollback his nuclear program and remove obstacles for U.N. inspectors. In addition to this, Iran began rolling back its blatant undermining of U.S. interests and aggressive support of terrorism. Both were afraid of the rumors that the U.S. wouldn’t stop with overthrow of Saddam Hussein and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and would continue to roll through all belligerent states (Libya and Iran were at the top of that list due to previous violation of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty). It is worth mentioning that a different possible reason for Iran’s rollback of antagonism was the election of a more moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, whom in the past had expressed desire to repair relations with the U.S.
- Economic and Trade Gains. The U.S.’ military presence in other nations provides economic/trade gains in two ways. The more contemporary method comes from influence and stability. It is no coincidence that the U.S. dollar became the world's reserve currency (replacing the British Pound) at the same time that the U.S. became a superpower. In 1944 at the Bretton Woods Conference, the International Monetary Fund was created and a proposal for the predecessor to the World Trade Organization (International Trade Organization) was introduced. Both organizations push for global free trade and adoption of neoliberal policies, and the U.S maintains the predominant influence on each of them. These policies greatly benefit the U.S. from a growth standpoint (or at least did at the time), because the U.S. was a massive exporter and manufacturer with an almost uncontested international market. With essentially all other military and economic competition in shambles because of World War II, the U.S. was able to influence dozens of countries into adopting low tariffs which would greatly benefit U.S. exporters.
The second method is known as Gunboat Diplomacy. It is much more coercive, and thus equally more frowned upon, from a moral perspective. A military superpower which other nations see as actively interventionist has the ability to force weaker nations into adopting any policy that suits it.
The U.S. famously used this tactic in 1853, when Commodore Perry forced an ultra-protectionist Imperial Japan to open two ports for trade. He did so by, among other things, sailing along the coast in gunboats, at one point firing blanks out of his cannons (which were aimed at Edo Bay), and sending missives threatening to invade if they did not open up for trade.
Interventionism, when looked at objectively, clearly does have its benefits—the most cited usually being moral gains for the world. Nevertheless, this does not mean that one must subscribe to the idea of the U.S. as a ‘world police’. In the second half of this article, the costs of Interventionism will be analyzed and articulated just as the benefits were in this first half. As stated at the start, the decision as to which strategy is better is often a matter of opinion and circumstance.
For this reason, and to maintain an objective analysis, I will not attempt to assert which is better or bloviate upon why I may believe one to be more necessary than the other.