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Is a noninterventionist policy viable for the US?

  1. Jun 8, 2015 #1

    This WSJ article suggests there's increasing public support for a non-interventionist foreign policy. It's not always clear what a poll really means since "noninterventionist" can mean different things to different people. I take it mean a return to the US's historic position from 1788 to 1917 and again from 1920 to 1945. I use 1945 instead of 1941 because the US was attacked and going to war in that case was not what is usually undertood to be interventionist.

    For this post, interventionist is the use of military force against a state or non state actor that has not violently attacked the US. It may be pre-emptive or outright aggression. In 1898 the US went to war with Spain to gain territory and waged a nasty war against Filipino resistance to keep that territory. One could also characterize the war with Mexico in 1845-46 as an "imperialist" war. The US is hardly alone in this regard. Every European colonial power engaged in imperialist wars in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was more or less the norm.

    Since WWII the US has engaged in several major interventions. They were arguably pre-emptive wars, but how successful were they? I'll offer ratings, but you're free to draw your own conclusions but give reasons if you post.. +2 success.; +1 a qualified success; 0 neutral (restored status quo but the "enemy" remained in power) -1 a qualified failure; -2 a failure .

    Korean War: (1950-1953) rating 0 North Korea is as nasty and dangerous as ever

    Vietnam War (1964-1973) rating -2 'nuff said.

    First Persian Gulf War (1991-1992) rating +1. Bush senior was correct in not going to Bagdad. The regime was weakened and more than half the country was effectively demilitarized by air power.

    Afghanistan (2001-? ) rating -1. Started off well enough with the expulsion of the Taliban from the country, but they came back. Because we intervened after an attack on US soil by a non-state actor, largely based in Afghanistan, this might not qualify as an intervention by my definition, but after 14 years it's a qualified failure at best, whatever it is.

    Second Persian Gulf War (2002-2014) rating -2 'nuff said.

    In short, post WWII major interventions have a mean rating of -0.8

    On balance these interventions were very expensive and not cost effective. We saved South Korea and Kuwait for which I'm sure they are eternally grateful, or not.

    Most Americans do not want "boots on the ground" in the Mideast. Many of the people who should be fighting ISIS aren't. In Europe, Russia has re-emerged as a threat to European security, although I'm not sure that's fully appreciated by many Europeans. Germany's defense budget is 1.2% or 1.1% of GDP while the US is 3.5%. Angela Merkel heads a Grand Coaltion including leftist parties who see the US, not Russia as the problem.

    If the US were to leave NATO tomorrow, the Europeans, whose collective GDP greatly dwarfs Russia's, would likely seek an accommodation with Russia. The most likely worst case longer term result would be a re-constitution of the former territory of the Soviet Union under Russian sovereignty. If Europe could live with that, why shouldn't the US?

    I invite well thought out responses either for or against a non-interventionist policy by the US, meaning in particular, we don't intervene militarily for pre-emptive reasons, especially when the threatened parties seem to care less than (some of us) appear to. Please back up your facts that are not already well known. No screeds or links to the Washington Times, Fox News or other ideologically driven sources. My case is made on the basis of costs and effectiveness
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
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  3. Jun 8, 2015 #2
    A correction to the preceding post. The Second Persian Gulf (Iraq) War ended in 2011, not 2014. However, this war was revealed to be a failure with the fall of Mosul in 2014 and the general collapse of Iraqi resistance in the face of the ISIS offensive.
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2015
  4. Jun 8, 2015 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    How would you characterize the US role in the Boxer Rebellion? The Banana Wars? The US role in the Mexican revolution? The US intervention in the Russian Revolution? Grenada? Panama? Somalia? Yugoslavia? Kosovo?
  5. Jun 8, 2015 #4
    You're just scratching the surface. Here's a more comprehensive list for interventions since since 1890. The list includes use of the US military within the US. I only chose to discuss what I believe were the major foreign interventions since 1945.


    Being the world's policeman is hard work.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
  6. Jun 9, 2015 #5


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    Sorry it I don't meet your standard and it's okay with me if you want to report this and have a mentor to delete it, as there's no way I could intellectually compete. But I'm old and this was in my face at a very young age. So I'm going to link it anyway.

    "Speak Softly But Carry a Big Stick"
  7. Jun 9, 2015 #6
    Theodore Roosevelt was a man of his time. He was an imperialist when it was fashionable to be one. He waged a brutal war against Filapino insurgents early in his presidency, but he was also a major domestic reformer and no friend of the big trusts that dominated the economy. He was an avid conservationist and a peacemaker, winning the Nobel Peace prize for ending the Russo-Japanese conflict. He achieved greatness without being associated with a major US war.
  8. Jun 9, 2015 #7
    [QUOTE="SW VandeCarr]If the US were to leave NATO tomorrow, the Europeans, whose collective GDP greatly dwarfs Russia's, would likely seek an accommodation with Russia. The most likely worst case longer term result would be a re-constitution of the former territory of the Soviet Union under Russian sovereignty. If Europe could live with that, why shouldn't the US?[/quote] But you find in your clashes against Muslim terrorists countries, for which Muslim treat is a hypothetical danger.

    Let's think as example about my country - Poland. Do we find any threat in nuke armed Iran? Not at all, the only potential place that I can accommodate Iran within Polish foreign policy (if it was not adjusted to take in to account USA interests) would be as a gas supplier, to keep dependency on Russia lower.
    (of course if you also would like to sacrifice Israel/Saudis in your foreign policy, then of course that's not a problem)

    Game theories are good enough for you or still consider them as seriously ideological biased?

    If OK, then, let's start with:

    Why haven't you put on the list Cuba Crisis, Berlin Crisis, Taiwan Strait Crises, etc?

    Because there was no /not much fight? So why wasn't there much fight - the other side did not have any army? No?

    So let's imagine conflict under imperfect information. A player can:
    a) asses its strength as too low and back down;
    b) asses its strength as good enough to accept a challenge and try to beat the US.

    So effectively you neglect any case "a", and only take in to account "b". And when a player though that it can beat the US, from time to time it was right...

    So you are comparing an unrepresentative sample of conflicts and proudly demand from other people to use objective sources, right?
  9. Jun 9, 2015 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    I surely am. But many of these are in your non-interventionist period. I think your need to better define your position, and explain why Afghanistan counts but Kosovo does not. That will make it easier to discuss.
  10. Jun 9, 2015 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    Oh, and I would argue with your scoring of the Korean War. The aim of the Korean War was not to eliminate North Korea, but to prevent North Korea from conquering South Korea. That was successful.
  11. Jun 9, 2015 #10
    EDIT: OK, you post them down on the longer list.

    So how would you grade defending ex. West Berlin - losses (a few crashed pilots) to result?

    And how would you grade winning the cold war through minor conflicts and arms race that made the SU bankrupt?
  12. Jun 9, 2015 #11
    It was successful in that respect, but the rating system was scaled with +2 being an all out victory as in WWII. Korea was considered a failure at the time by an American public that was used to winning. The Korean War was a stalemate that ended with a truce, not a treaty. The two Koreas are still at technically at war. I stand by my rating. I gave the First Persian Gulf War a +1 because Sadaam was significantly weakened and, as I said, much of Iraq was effectively demilitarized by US and British air power. That didn't happen with Korea.

    I also don't agree that our aim just to save South Korea. In fact our troops overran almost all of North Korea before being thrown back by invading Chinese forces. The Chinese advance was checked in the general area of the 38th parallel and a two year stalemate followed. If we were initially willing to settle for a stalemate, we could have saved two years of fighting and saved lives,

    We avoided the kind of foreign entantanglements that George Washington warned about. That doesn't mean we didn't have foreign wars. There was War of 1812, The Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and the Boxer Rebellion before WWI. Other than the Boxer Rebellion, these were declared wars between two nation states. They were not pre-emptive interventions that were part of some grand stategy, such as containing "communism". We never allied ourselves with the various European factions of the 19th century. In terms of US losses, Kosovo does not rank with Afghanistan. The latter has now 14 years and counting, Ask any young American on the street about Kosovo and you'll probably get a blank stare, or maybe a "Haven't heard them, man. Are they in town?"
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
  13. Jun 9, 2015 #12
    The Cold War was not a war as such, but a sustained period of antagonism between the "East" and "West" marked by contained wars generally calculated to avoid a nuclear confrontation. Cuba was more of a miscalculation by the USSR that came very close to a nuclear war. As such, I confined my rating system to the major US interventional wars to make my point. Only two of the five conflicts I rated were Cold War conflicts. My overall point was to show how little we got from those costly (in lives as well as money) wars with only one being rated a qualified success. I see Vanadium's point about Korea, but it was a stalemate,not a loss which gets a negative rating but not success in that the enemy remained a continuing unmitigated threat.

    The Soviet Union collapsed because of an inefficient and currupt bureaucratic system. Regan's military build up in the 1980's also but pressure on a system that could no longer compete. At least, that's my view.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
  14. Jun 9, 2015 #13
    You haven't clearly addressed the issue that I mentioned - that you count cases where there was a war (which could be victorious or not), while neglect cases where US won (or achieved not bad outcome at minuscule cost) by explicitly or implicitly using threat of war. And whether the US would still have those later successes if all its adversaries knew that it adopted non-interventionist policy.

    Yeah, signalling theory...
  15. Jun 9, 2015 #14
    If these were small actions, than the costs would be low, regardless of outcome. Perhaps you could list all the actions you're talking about.
  16. Jun 9, 2015 #15
    Not specially - let's think about ex. Berlin crisis. Cost of full blown war would be rather high. What would Stalin do if he knew that Americans would back down there and he can act with total impunity? Would he just stop or want to have another easy success next month?

    It would be actually impossible to list most those conflict. They did not happen because American were willing to contain Soviets.
  17. Jun 9, 2015 #16
    Now you're getting to the heart of the matter. Should we be the world's policeman? Our long sustained efforts to contain "communism' have generally been denounced by the world. Now we learn that the Vietnamese were always really "capitalists" and today we are making nice. We learn that the USSR was not really bent on world domination. After all, it was the US fighting all these wars all over the world. The USSR only fought a few wars in on its borders: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, mostly to ward off American intrigues. We learn that the US fought all these wars for American corporations because "communism" was very bad for business. I remember going into a bookstore in the 1970's and being confronted by a wall of anti-American titles in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    It's really irrelevant now whether the US deserved all this hate or whether or not it's actions really did "save the world". What's relevant now is the direct theats posed by Russia and China to nearby nations, and the instability in the Mideast. Should the US take on the burden of dealing with all this pretty much by itself? My answer is no.
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2015
  18. Jun 9, 2015 #17
    Should the answer be black or white without any shades of grey?
    I for example consider unmentioned here intervention in Iran in 1953 as total moral disaster and moderate long run political disaster. Or in case of Vietnam I think that you should have gave up, see Saigon collapse and have fun watching Vietnam vs. China war.

    As a citizen of country which was under Soviet occupation I think I perceive the problem differently.

    Was not bent on or was unable?
    Anyway, speaking Vietnam I somehow think that earlier also involvement of French. Or their war in Algeria...
    Which intrigues???
    Are you somewhat forgetting Soviet proxy wars?

    Good job of Soviet fellow travellers, don't you think?

    On its own - not. But by building coalitions - yes.
  19. Jun 9, 2015 #18
    Ahh! Coalitions you say? With who? Europe? Japan? Saudi Arabia? Maybe Iraq. They can only get better! How about Mexico? I don't think we've ever asked them. If the world can't rely on the US to come charging to the rescue, maybe some of the other richer nations might just have to do it themselves. The only actors in the Mideast that I respect are the Kurds. I would give them all the weapons they need. But the current US administration will only go through Baghdad. They don't want to make the Iraqi "government" angry.
  20. Jun 11, 2015 #19
    I find some irony that you are disappointed by Iraqi gov that you installed ;)

    You expect Europeans to make a coordinated action, while you consider USA doing a coordinated action with Mexico as a joke? Aren't that double standards?

    Depends where - for example in case of Ukraine-Russian conflict USA played reasonably - simply backed up EU with similar sanctions, that already EU implemented thus making a coordinated result. Same approach in Libya allowed also to achieve limited goals.

    In Midleeast there is no good answer.

    Japan may be useful in games against China (and possibly Russia).

    You want something working - so maybe you should lead creation of something UN like, but for democracies only? And with real power?
  21. Jun 11, 2015 #20
    .I don't expect Europe to do anything in the Mideast.

    .Yes, an interventionist US installed the current Iraq government. That's part of my point.

    .We've never asked Mexico to join any coalitions. Maybe we should out of courtesy, but I wouldn't expect a positive response.

    .Lead in the creation of something UN like? We led in the creation of the UN. As a peacemaking organization, it's an obvious failure. If it's "UN like", why would you expect it to succeed?
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2015
  22. Jun 11, 2015 #21
    So in this case Swedes and Germans exceeded your expectations:

    -Democracies only (when the SU boycotting UN, it was possible to pass a resolution to send troops to Korea)
    -Be more serious about it (when you did not join League of Nations then it indeed fail)
  23. Jun 11, 2015 #22
    Maybe. I'm surprised they are dealing directly with the Kurds. Baghdad usually doesn't like that.

    I am serious. The US has been a member for 70 years. It doesn't seem to have made a big difference. Yes, the Soviets made a mistake in 1950. Do you think the UN has been successful in preventing wars or aggression?
  24. Jun 11, 2015 #23
    UN not much, NATO yes. I also see from my country how we're coordinating 28 member states. We're not doing it great, but in many economic areas it more or less work.

    Hypothetical rules:
    -all members are obligated to defend other;
    -there is a promised level of contributions based on GDP (if a country can't deliver guns because of some lefties inside it has to provide humanitarian aid / R&D for ex. tropical diseases for ex. 200% of the amount); (and its not a vague promise but a country can be sued)
    -there are obligatory democracy / good governance practices for all;
    -HQ that can deploy units in case of military conflict / natural disaster.

    You may sweeten for French / German with some high level cooperation/harmonization tax treaty against multinationals, you'd just buy them.
  25. Jun 11, 2015 #24
    I could go into some detail about how Europe was unable to deal with the Balkan situation in early 1990's. The US had to bring European representatives to Dayton, Ohio, US to get a strategy set. It was eventually more or less successful despite the accidental bombing of a Chinese embassy by the US airforce, and a few other mishaps, However the disaster at Srebrenica was black mark on the European contribution. I won't describe in detail the desertion of Dutch UN peacekeepers who surrendered withour fireing a shot at the advancing Bosnian Serbs, leaving a UN designated "Safe Haven"open to the resulting atrocity.

    The EU is the world's largest economy. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the best single measure of a political entity's potential power. Note Russia's position on this list:



    The EU members, particularly in the west, choose to devote their ample resources to providing the "good life" for their people. I would like for the US to provide more of the "good life" or at least a decent life to more of the American people. As long as we are willing to be the world's policeman, Europe will not make the investment to assure its own security . Note that even now, after the obvious violations of the UN Charter by Russia (Crimea and almost certainly in eastern Ukraine), Europe cannot cohere around an opinion that Russia is a danger to European security or that if is, it's OK because the US will intervene.

    EDIT: Here's an interesting and rather disturbing piece from Bloomberg.

    Last edited: Jun 11, 2015
  26. Jun 12, 2015 #25
    Know Srebrenica. I'd even add you one more case - toppling of Quadaffi. It was intended as mostly European operation, while it ended up with asking Americans for some more intelligent bombs, because European powers run out if them.

    Have seen that Pew Research study, guess how much storm it caused in Poland.

    That's the reason why I said that western EU powers can be instead asked to contribute money for peaceful projects. The point is to pool enough countries and resources. In result there could be that Americans paid for weapons and sent troops, while the core of EU provided cash for economic aid.
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