Disputations: Bosnian Intervention and Foreign Entanglements

Now that President Clinton has agreed to send American troops to Bosnia as part of a NATO peacekeeping force, the fireworks in the Congress have been ignited. Senator Phil Gramm and Pat Buchanan have led the parade of naysayers. But they are certainly not alone. There are those who contend the mission is unclear. There are the visceral isolationists opposed to American intervention abroad. And there are the legatees of the Vietnam War who contend we will get caught up in the morass of Balkan antipathies.

The backdrop for this decision is the nature of American foreign policy. If intervention in the Balkans is not warranted when it is clear only American involvement can staunch the flow of blood, when is U.S. intervention warranted? Moreover, in the post-cold war world will Republican sympathies, which were largely internationalist in the last half of the century, revert to a traditional isolationist view or some variant of this theme?

For four years France, England, and Germany attempted to reach an accord in Bosnia without success. As several European leaders have reluctantly admitted, were it not for U.S. intervention the peace agreement—precarious as it may be—would not exist. It is also evident that NATO, to the extent it is the only counterweight to aggression and terror on the European continent and therefore in U.S.

interests to preserve, is virtually meaningless without active U.S. participation. Some will argue that after fifty years and without a Soviet threat, NATO has outlived its utility. And even if that isn’t true, others will contend that Europe with an aggregate GDP one and a half times greater than that of the U.S. should be capable of defending its own interests without U.S. participation.

While these arguments are somewhat compelling in themselves, they ignore European reality. The European powers in their recognition of Bosnia as an independent state after

the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, exacerbated tensions in the Balkans. Attempts to draft boundaries in Bosnia that would satisfy Serb, Muslim, and Croatian interests have foundered. And until the U.S. launched tactical air assaults on Serb artillery locations and radar stations and the Croats invaded key areas in Bosnia, Serbian “ethnic cleansing” continued unabated.

It is something of a bromide to contend the United States should not be the world’s policeman. This is true by circumstance and attitude. But it is also true that the culmination of the cold war has put the U.S. in the position of being the only world power, assuredly the only world power whose intervention in various global hot spots can change the course of events. It is ironic that at the very moment of American hegemony, the nation may not be able to mobilize the will to act when that action could have a salutary effect in an area where our interests are at stake.

  • Herbert London

    Herbert London is former John M. Olin Professor of Humanities at New York University and was the President of Hudson Institute from 1997 until 2011.

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