The post-September 11 global campaign against terrorism has given greater urgency to the unresolved challenge that has bedeviled the United States since the end of the Cold War: how best to wield American power and when, why, how and by whom is military intervention legitimate and likely to be effective. The power of the United States is unrivaled, but is not limitless. The United States can seek to do almost anything it wants but it can be assured neither that it will achieve its objectives nor that it will be supported internationally or domestically. Even when confronted with evidence of an unambiguous threat – even after September 11 – the challenge remains of how the United States can and should use its power. The purpose of the Duke -TISS “Wielding American Power” project is to respond to this challenge.
The research is organized around two simple but profound questions: What are the scope and limits on the use of American power? And what scope and limits ought there to be? Three crucial dilemmas are manifested in these questions: normative dilemmas concerning the legitimacy of intervention, especially military, with regard to competing conceptions of sovereignty, self-determination, and laws and norms of warfare; policy dilemmas concerning which strategies of intervention, conf1ict prevention and conf1ict resolution actually deliver as promised; and political dilemmas imposed by the necessity of mobilizing and sustaining the necessary political will for effective international action.
These questions were hard enough to resolve in the 1990s when they were posed with regard to the ethnic and related conflicts that defined the immediate post-Cold War international agenda. In the context of the ongoing war on terrorists and a war with Iraq, they are even more complex and challenging. We now face an international agenda that must tackle both the unresolved issues about military and other forms of intervention geared to ethnic and related conf1icts and the issues posed by the war on terrorists. Either set of issues, on its own, would be complex and controversial. Both together make for an especially demanding agenda.
While these issues of intervention and sovereignty clearly involve a range of international actors, the Duke-TISS focus is on the United States for two principal reasons. First, the United States is the preeminent global actor. There are few cases of intervention in which U.S. policy is not a major factor. The United States may choose to limit its role ( e.g . Rwanda , East Timor) but that too has significant impact on policy options and often policy outcomes. Yet questions involving the uses of American power suffer from too much rhetoric and posturing and too little research and analysis. The issues are too often framed as a series of pitched Manichaean debates: isolationism versus engagement, or unilateral versus multilateral engagement, or is versus ought considerations. The real issues are far more complex.
Second, this is an area in which our research group has particular expertise. The overall project is being led by Peter Feaver, Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS) and Professor of Political Science at Duke, and Bruce Jentleson, Director of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy and Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke. The proposed project harnesses the considerable resources of Duke University and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, which links Duke with the research communities of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and the broader Research Triangle. From this broader community, Feaver and Jentleson have recruited a half dozen of the nation’s leading scholars – Allen Buchanan, Christopher Gelpi, Ole Holsti, Jeffrey Holzgrefe, Robert Keohane, and Steven Wilkinson to serve as team leaders for three individual research studies investigating key questions along the normative, political and policy dimensions that address the scope and limits of American power.
As we discuss in greater detail below, the Buchanan-Keohane-Holtzgrefe project focuses on key normative issues of legitimacy raised by preventive war strategies; the Feaver-Gelpi and Holsti studies address the crucial U.S. domestic political dilemma of public opinion on use of force issues, especially with regard to casualty sensitivity; and the Wilkinson project takes on the important yet under-researched policy question of whether economic liberalization, the dominant development strategy, may have counterproductive effects on ethnic conflict; and the Jentelson-led project draws on the Duke project team and a broader working group, in conjunction with Steve del Rosso, for a comprehensive “findings of the findings” review of the policy relevance of Carnegie’s International Peace and Security “Self-Determination” grants program..
We see this three-pronged research strategy built on the norms-politics-policy framework as providing the depth of analysis for each component to make its own intellectual and policy contributions as well as the breadth of analysis necessary to encompass the key dimensions of intervention questions. Individual projects will lead to publications for both academic peer review and policy constituencies. Additionally two of the projects (Feaver-Gelpi, Wilkinson) involve significant new data collection and development of empirical data sets of value both to and beyond these particular projects. As co-PIs Feaver and Jentleson will provide overall project management ensuring that interconnectedness is maintained and synergies developed. In addition, building on their experience in both the academic and policy worlds. they will take the lead in policy outreach and dissemination, including briefings in Washington and New York and op-ed and other media publication and dissemination.
In short, the project is designed to be of value to both the academic and policy communities, and to demonstrate the value of efforts to bridge the gap between the academic and policy worlds.
Our research initiative begins with the recognition that the question of identifying the proper scope and limits on American power has already sparked considerable debate, but that debate has often been superficial and lacking an adequate grounding in reliable empirical research. Consider the dividing lines most prominent in the popular discourse: isolationism versus engagement, unilateral versus multilateral, is versus ought.
Many critics of American foreign policy are tilting at windmills. Virtually no responsible observer advocates true isolationism; the United States is irrevocably engaged in global affairs and the real debate ought to be over the scope and limits of American engagement – how extensively, through what institutions, and with what mix of diplomatic, military, and economic tools.
Likewise, judging by to historical standards of great power politics, there has never been a country with power advantage enjoyed by the United States that was as supportive of multilateral institutions nor one as vigorous in assembling coalitions and harnessing its foreign policy to those of allies. Even the current administration, for all its allegedly unilateralist tendencies is, by historical standards, remarkably multilateralist. Under President Bush administration, the United States has been less multilateralist than under his immediate predecessors, but it has still been but far more multilateralist than other great powers that have occupied hegemonic positions. The real debate is over American exceptionalism – what unique burdens must the United States shoulder and what does that distinctive role imply for how the United States treats other countries and global institutions, and how it should be treated by them in return? Put another way, the real challenge is managing the cross-cutting multilateral linkages through which U.S. foreign policy inevitably is played out and doing so while reconciling the tension between the norm of equal treatment under international law and the reality that the United States occupies an exceptional position.
Similarly, the is/ought dichotomy obscures the fact that the real challenge is managing both considerations at the same time. Even in its unique position as the sole superpower, the United States faces very real constraints on its freedom to maneuver. Some of the constraints are inherent in foreign policy generally- for example, some policy tools are less effective than others – while some of the constraints reflect the United States’ distinctive political system, such as constitutional checks and balances played before the court of domestic public opinion. Still other constraints reflect the countervailing pressure from friends and allies, pressure which the United States can only ignore at serious cost. Yet the test for American foreign policy is not merely to manage or overcome these constraints, but also to identify those limits which ought to be more constraining than they currently are. In other words, the challenge is simultaneously to overcome some constraints that are powerful but harmful while also submitting to others that may be beneficial but weak.
This challenge preoccupied the foreign policy community even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland – Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Macedonia, Liberia, and East Timor being cases in point. Now the global campaign against terrorists promises to be a long series of political-military interventions stretching out into the foreseeable future. This new interventionism elevates the importance of properly managing the limits on American power. As a result, it is more important than ever to get at the fundamental normative, policy, and political issues and to do so in a comprehensive, integrated, and policy relevant manner .
The campaign against terrorists has already resulted in an abrupt escalation of U.S. interventionism and the adoption of controversial approaches to traditional conceptions of sovereignty. We have witnessed a reversal of the hands-off policy in the Afghanistan civil war: U.S. ground forces now seem likely to remain in Central Asia for years to come and President Bush is talking about a Marshall Plan for rebuilding Afghanistan. We have seen the deployment of special forces on the ground to assist in counter-separatist actions in Philippines and the Horn of Africa. At the same time, the United States has increased its commitment to the civil war in Colombia; is paying renewed attention to separatist movements in Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere. At the time this research project was initiated, the United States was giving serious consideration to the idea of initiating a preventive war against Iraq, whether under a UN mandate or with a narrow coalition of willing states. In short, the campaign involves sweeping military, economic, diplomatic, and cultural initiatives effectively touching every corner of the globe.
For a period, after September 11, the war on terrorists was virtually the entire international agenda. This was understandable at a number of levels – strategic, political, and psychological. But over time, the “September 10” agenda – those issues pressing for attention before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – has been reasserted. At the top of that agenda is the intervention-sovereignty debate over ethnic and other largely civil and intra-state conflicts. For all that was proclaimed during the 1990s about the importance of preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian intervention, the policy reality fell well short. The 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) helped to reassert this agenda and advance important ideas. It now needs to be more fully engaged, and in a manner that connects to, rather than stands separate from, the related debates on the war on terrorists.
Success or failure in both the September 11 th and the September 10 th agendas does not exclusively depend on the United States. But U.S. policy is and will continue to be the most crucial factor. And its success, in turn, will hinge in part on how effectively U.S. leaders deal with the key normative, policy and political issues that shape the scope and limits of American power: What features will make U.S. policy more or less legitimate in the eyes of our allies? Will the American public accept the demands this sustained engagement imposes? How effective have our principal tools of diplomatic engagement been in managing the cross-cutting forces of self-determination and sovereignty claims?
In sum, September 11 has challenged the United States to translate its power and purpose into influence and direction — to conduct a long series of interventions with prudence, resolve and restraint – and to do so in the face of a distinctive interplay between domestic and international politics. The test is to resolve the tensions between international legitimacy and national security; to conduct politics without compromising victory, and to sustain public support for the sacrifices of blood, treasure, and foregone opportunities the new era will demand.