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The US Must Adopt Non-Interventionism
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Ryan Dulaney

Dec 03, 2023

America needs to adopt the doctrine of non-interventionism. Since 1991 the United States has made 251 military interventions. If the US does not refrain from overreach, it will set an example other great powers will follow in the coming multipolarity of the 21st century.

Big Picture

What was it Mao said? “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” We don’t much like Mao in the U.S., and for good reason. But we seem to like this mantra of his quite a lot.
 
Non-interventionism is the foreign policy doctrine focused on refraining from military coercion and interference with the domestic affairs of another state. It is a central tenet of international law, intended to protect a state's right to sovereignty. But, while the United States poses as the arbiter of global freedom and self determination, it has long pursued “neoconservative kinetic diplomacy,” undermining legitimate democracies and flexing military dominance over smaller nations to secure its national interest. 

By refusing to abide by the international laws — which it helped to establish and claims to uphold — the US undermines its international credibility, and incentivizes congruent behavior by other capable powers. “Kinetic,” or coercive diplomacy is antithetical to the fabric of the American identity. It has also landed the US in several costly wars which have ended in humanitarian disasters and strategic failures.

By adopting the policy of non-interventionism, the US can refocus its resources on domestic economic revival, earn a position of international credibility and become an actual arbiter of national self-determination and democracy.

 

 

A chart, and map of countries where the United States has militarily intervened (Source: Congressional Research Service)

Operative Definitions

  1. Non-interventionism: The prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territory or political independence of another state. This includes interference in domestic affairs, such as elections. It is an essential principle of international law. Emer de Vattel is credited with the first formulation of the principle in his 1758 work, Droit des gens ou principes de la loi naturelle (Law of nations or principles of natural law). 
  2. Neoconservatism: A political ideology which focuses on both free-market capitalism and an interventionist foreign policy. Emerging in the 1970s amidst the Vietnam War, neoconservatism holds that the US national interest should be pursued by any means, including military force. This entails backing pro-American dictatorial regimes which openly oppose democratic values, progressive and conservative. 
  3. Hegemony: A nation that exerts power and or dominance over others via its military, economic political superiority. The term has its origin in the Greek word hēgemonia, meaning leader.
  4. BRICS: An acronym for the intergovernmental organization of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which along with its other member states composes 42% of the world's population and 27% of the globe’s land surface. This organization has political and economic ambitions of cooperating to circumvent traditional Western influence, aka American hegemony. One of the key ambitions is the de-dollarization of the world economy. 
  5. Multipolar/Bipolar: Refers to systems of international relations which include two or more great powers exerting influence outwards. The Geneva Convention was established under multipolar conditions in 19th century Europe. The UN and the system of international law were established in the bipolar aftermath of the Second World War. These systems force nations to accept a limited role in global politics and generally prevent one nation from overreach or expansionist ambition. 
  6. Unipolar: Refers to a system in which only one country possesses enough power to exert itself across the globe. This is what the United States has done since 1991, although this reality is quickly changing with the rise of China and obstinacy of the Russian Federation. Unipolarity explains the sharp increase in US military interventions immediately following the Soviet collapse. It led to failed nation building projects in the Middle East, and allows for clandestine intelligence and sabotage operations to be carried out with impunity. 
  7. Kinetic Diplomacy: When a state prioritizes military intervention above other means of statecraft to pursue its national interest. This term describes the United States approach to diplomacy, as it leans on its global influence and military superiority to achieve desired outcomes.

Important Facts and Statistics

  1. A report by the Congressional Research Service finds that the United States has launched 251 military interventions since 1991, the year the Soviet Union dissolved (surpassing the 218 interventions between 1789-1990).
  2. The twenty year Vietnam War ended in a Northern Vietnamese communist victory and 58,000 American soldiers dead. Adjusting for inflation, it cost around 1 trillion dollars.
  3. More than 7,000 US soldiers lost their lives in Iraq. 
  4. The political destabilization of Iraq resulted in between 600,000 to 1,000,000 civilian lives lost. 
  5. The combined cost of US intervention in Iraq and Syria cost an estimated 2.8 trillion dollars.
  6. The invasion of Iraq and intervention in Syria provided the environment of chaos which cultivated a real threat to national security, ISIS.
  7. Afghanistan is once again controlled by the Taliban, as it was before US intervention. The failure cost 2 trillion dollars and 2,402 Americans lives.
  8. Many US interventions are done through covert means, such as clandestine CIA operations or insertion of US Special Forces. 
  9. US ambassadors are active in one-third of nations on the globe. Meanwhile, US Special Operations operate in three-fourths of earth’s nations.
  10. The US spends more on defense than the next top 10 defense spending nations combined.

Three-Point Plan

(1) Reinforce or amend the War Powers Act, removing the presidential power to send troops into hostilities for up to 60 days independent of congress. This power generally forces Congress to support an already unfolding disaster. Executive overreach has allowed for entrance into the Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the interventions Libya, Syria and many more. Ideally, Congress should authorize when and where troops can be deployed by the commander-and-chief. This would democratize the war making process and require collaboration across the aisle. The president may send troops into conflict when national security is immanently threatened, but should not be able to pursue global hegemony with impunity. 

(2) Reduce the ability for covert operations to be carried out without the approval of the Congressional Armed Forces committee. There are countless examples, most recently in Libya and Syria, when the President has circumvented Congressional approval via covert operations. These are almost universally justified through national security concerns. There is obviously no officially confirmed number of covert operations, but there has certainly been a myriad across the globe since 1991. The lack of transparency combined with operational capacity of the CIA and US Special Forces effectively negates Congress’s intended role in war making. The Armed Forces committee should, behind closed doors, be able to authorize or veto clandestine interventions by the CIA and Armed Forces in foreign nations. 

(2) Remove the ability for defense companies and multinational corporations to lobby in Washington DC. These entities are responsible for billions of dollars in donations to both parties on a yearly basis. Politicians across the aisle rely on donors to fund reelection campaigns and to earn seats on Congressional committees. Both groups of lobbyists have motives to promote US interventions, be it arms sales or corporate interests, and their influence will continue to pollute decision making in DC. 

Why This Initiative is Important

The International Law based system cannot survive if the world's most powerful nation ignores it. Since the end of the Cold War and its ideological struggle for world dominance, the United States has ramped up military interventions. In response, organizations like BRICS foster a multipolar world order seeking to circumvent American hegemony. Meanwhile, the US has many domestic crises — like unaffordable housing, inefficient public education and inaccessible healthcare. Resources allocated by Congress for wars in the Middle East could have reinvigorated the fading middle class. These interventions are done on ‘behalf’ of the American people, with their tax dollars, yet erode the value of their dollars via excess spending. While the US needs a military to match its size and status in the world order, it should not prioritize global hegemony over domestic prosperity.

Sources

“Blood and Treasure: United States Budgetary Costs and Human Costs of 20 Years of War in Iraq and Syria, 2003-2023.” The Costs of War, watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/2023/IraqSyria20#:~:text=This%20paper%20examines%20the%20total,of%20veterans’%20care%20through%202050. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

“BRICS Information Portal.” BRICS, infobrics.org/. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Elving, Ron. “How Presidents Wage War without Congress.” NPR, NPR, 12 Jan. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/01/12/795661019/how-presidents-wage-war-without-congress.

Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2023, crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R42738. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

“Neoconservatism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., www.britannica.com/topic/neoconservatism. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

“Non-Intervention (Non-Interference in Domestic Affairs) | The Princeton Encyclopedia of Self-Determination.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, pesd.princeton.edu/node/551. Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

“U.S. Foreign Policy Increasingly Relies on Military Interventions.” Tufts Now, 16 Oct. 2023, now.tufts.edu/2023/10/16/us-foreign-policy-increasingly-relies-military-interventions.

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