Peace Among Nations?

An essay over non-interventionism principle

By Roberto Carnier


The recent senator Ron Paul’s Book: “Sword into plowshares: A life in Wartime and a Future of Peace and Prosperity” really caught my attention recently. I have just finished reading his book and I believe it is the first time I have seen an american politican so energetic in condemning war and the way american foreign policy is conducted today.

A libertarian, Ron Paul’s opinions over american foreign policy, during the vast majority of the 20th century is enfatic: Wars that were fought by america abroad caused trouble for americans, unnecessary lives lost, huge economic debt and anti-american sentiment internationally. He also adds that the vast majority of DC politicians do not understand the consequences of unncesseray wars, the principle of intervention and blowback consequences. The main results, he adds, of american interventionism in the Middle East , were total instability in the region, the rise of ISIS and many other local problems. Concluding, he complements that congressmen violate the American constituion promoting wars when in fact money spent in military should have been reverted for american needs, such as health, education and homeland security. Overall he propagates non-interventionism

Stephen Walt, a prominent Neo-Realist scholar of International Relations made some interesting inputs where Ron Paul may actually have something right in his statements. In terms, Paul is a International Anarchist, where he sees that the US should mind his own business, stay out of war, get out of the UN and NATO and that every country in the world should follow a noninterventiost policy, condemning war at all means and propagating what he calls as the “peaceful revolution”. His ideas made me think over many questions, such as : How does non-interventionism works in today’s world? What are the pros and cons? Are there justifiable wars? What can we learn from Ron Paul’s noninterventionist ideas?

These and many other questions are part of this article, which I will try to answer using historical analogies and International Relations theories and its methodologies. First I will try to explain what is interventionism, non-interventionism pros and cons, concluding with an analysis if war is justifiable under specific circumstances.

First of all, let’s understand what Interventionism is.

Understanding Interventionism

U.S marines and Iraqis are seen on April 9, 2003, as the statue of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is toppled at Firdos Square in Baghdad, Iraq.

According to Ron Paul’s statements, he is enfatic that everytime the US engages on war it causes more anti-war sentiment, region unbalancing and problems for the US abroad and internally. According to his own words:

I see our militaristic foreign policy as immoral. It hurts our national security, profits special interests and costs too much. It causes greater hatred toward and blowback on the american people. I see no upside to our “perpetual wars for perpetual peace”.

Analyzing the definition of Interventionism, we have the following:

The political government of a state decide actions of foreign intervention and foreign policy. Political interventionism can include methods such as sanctions on a foreign economy or international trade with similar results to protectionism, or other international sanctions throughinternational cooperation decisions guarding international law or global justice. Political support or political capital, such as nationalism orethnic conflict also decide foreign intervention actions such as occupation, nation-building and national security policies. — Wikipedia

Let’s get Iraq intervention for instance. The Bush Doctrine of preemptive war was stated explicitly in the National Security Council text “National Security Strategy of the United States,” published 20 September 2002: “We must deter and defend against the threat before it is unleashed … even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. … The United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

If we put in perspective Neorealistic theory of Balance of Threats, we may see some flaws regarding this notion of threat by the US . According to Stephen Walt, the proponent of idea that States tend do balance with each other against a proeminent threat or bandwagon — ally with the threat — , depending on the situation, he states the following in a recent article from Foreing

For starters, neoconservatives think balance-of-power politics doesn’t really work in international affairs and that states are strongly inclined to “bandwagon” instead. In other words, they think weaker states are easy to bully and never stand up to powerful adversaries. Their faulty logic follows that other states will do whatever Washington dictates provided we demonstrate how strong and tough we are. This belief led them to conclude that toppling Saddam would send a powerful message and cause other states in the Middle East to kowtow to us. If we kept up the pressure, our vast military power would quickly transform the region into a sea of docile pro-American democracies.
What happened, alas, was that the various states we were threatening didn’t jump on our bandwagon. Instead, they balanced and then took steps to make sure we faced significant and growing resistance. In particular, Syria and Iran (the next two states on the neocons’ target list), cooperated even further with each other and helped aid the anti-American insurgency in Iraq itself. Neocons were outraged by this behavior, but it shouldn’t have surprised anyone who understood Realism 101. At the same time, long-standing U.S. allies were upset by our actions and distanced themselves from us or else they took advantage of our excesses and free-rode at our expense. In short, the neoconservatives’ belief that the United States could browbeat and intimidate others into doing our bidding was dead wrong.

So far, Ron Paul seems right over the problems that US interventionism has caused to the US and it sounds applicable to the Balance of Threats Theory. Paul’s mentions the Blowback as a consequence over states balancing against the US due to its nature of hard power policies, however, he applies his principle more directly to different actors against the US, such as terrorists organizations and the figures of dictators.

According to Paul, the Blowblack is considered an unintended consequence of aggresion. When Amercian Foreign policy against states are wrongly done it’s called blowback. As examples, he cites

  • The overthrow of the Iranian Shah in 1979, occured after the radicalization of some Islamists whose anger had been building since the US and Britain in 1953 overthrew the democratically elected Iranian leader Mohammad Mosaddegh. The hatred, according to Paul, and hostility between United States and Iranian Government has continued since.
  • The 9/11 attack on America is a consequence of US policy in the Middle East. Osama bin Laden was quite pleased with the attack, Paul adds. Wheter he was the chief planner or not, bin Laden explained there were three reasons for the 9/11 terrorist attack. First: the constant bombing of Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of children that died as a consequence of our actions on that country. Second: placing troops on the Arabian Peninsula, a place considered holy land by Muslims. And third: the apparent bias he saw agains palestinians and in favor of Israel by the US.

Concluding, Paul mentions that the longer the resentment smolders due to US presence, interference and domination in a foreign land, the greater the rage becomes against America. The risk of a blowback incident grows the longer such intervention continues.

In an overall sense, interventionism perpretaded by the US so far does not follow a sensical mindset using political science methodologies. Barack Obama foreign policy, for instance, is no different when concerning acts of aggression against other nations. Despite Obama use of the Smart Power approach, using diplomacy rather than military force, the use of Drones in foreign land and other unjustifiable interventions still are in place. According to Paul, even military sanctions and any other sort of way are acts of aggression.

If interventionism is not a good idea these days, how non-interventionism can help world be a better place?

Understanding Non Interventionism

Thomas Jefferson, the founding father that proposed the principle of non-interventionism
A noninterventionist policy is a particular policy of political or military noninvolvement in foreign relations or in other countries’ internal affairs. The United States has sometimes followed a short-term policy of nonintervention, more accurately termed “neutrality.” This began with George Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793, which remained in force until naval hostilities broke out between the United States and Revolutionary France a few years later.
Modern advocates of so-called noninterventionism, however, often go far beyond a specific policy of nonintervention or neutrality and instead advocate an isolationist doctrine of strict noninterventionism, which prescribes that America should remain militarily uninvolved abroad except when there is a clear and imminent threat to U.S. territory. — SMITH, Marion

Ron Paul is the advocate of the US non intervening in external affairs and entanglement alliances. He goes a little more deeper and asks that the US quit participation in the United Nations and also NATO. As I will try to analyze the main cons over this concept, we need to verify the main benefits of non-interventionist policies.

Benefits of Non-Interventionism

First, Ron Paul was attacked by GOP representatives over his notion that if the US does not impose its power over “terrorist nations that threatens US security” a new Hitler shall born. Sen John McCain mistakenly compared this kind of attitude to Isolationism.

There are two misconsceptions here, the first is that isolationism is a complete and coherent grand strategy — is composed of economic protectionism, military noninvolvement, and cultural seclusion. By this definition, the best examples of isolationist foreign policies are offered by 17th century China, 18th century Japan, 19th century Korea, or 20th century North Korea — I have written about Isolatinist Japan and the Use of Coertion and Capital to maintain its empire under this article;

The second is that the reason that Hitler proclaimed WW2 had many factors, one of them includes the Treaty of Versailles and its vast sanctions that actually forbid Germany to became a new power again. — If you want to understand the outcomes of WW2 you can check many articles that I have written about inter-war period. Specifically the treaty of versailles, here

The main benefits of non-interventionism that Dr. Paul states in his book must be adhered by any kind of politician and states abroad. If every nation in the world starts analyzing that acts of aggression against another perpretates economic, social and political problems in short and long terms, the world would be a better place. Evidently, this kind of mindset may sound very utopic and idealistic, however it must be followed. Hard Power must be used only when the national security of a nation is de facto threatened. In short terms, war must be last resort of a nation to resolve impasses.

In terms, nations must follow multilateral relations, seeking economical and friendship alliances, rather than military. According to Ron Paul, this must be followed without the use of International Organizations, promoting a healty foreign policy.

However, we must make a reality check on how things work in fact and some generalizations that we may find in Dr. Paul assertions.

Flaws of Non-Interventionism

According to Ron Paul,

The tendency of multinational agreements and organizations to advance war, even if their stated purposes involve promoting peace, arises from the nature of government. By their very nature governments are opposed to peaceful resolution. Their goal is strictly to solidify power and gain economic advantage. Governments have always been in the business of war. They will not deliver peace. Most people believe that governments intend to promote pace, liberty and security. It’s more accurate to say governments use force, including war, to secure power and wealth for a privileged class at the expense of the rest of the people.

The main question here goes against the Neo-Liberal principle that nations, through international organizations, must seek mutual wins through cooperation. The United States is part of the National Security Council and is also a member of the NATO, and there are no predicitions that the United States shall quit these organizations soon and I believe it will never will in the next hundred years. Even though states act by themselves, these international organizations are still important. But why?

I have been very energetic in many of my articles that the United Nations must suffer strong reforms urgently, which is a statement that even Stephen Walt agrees, one example is the security council.

We all know why the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China are permanent members with veto rights on the Security Council: The first four won World War II (well, France helped) and China has nearly a quarter of the world’s population. But the present structure is one of the world’s great anachronisms: Germany is now more important than either Britain or France and states such as India, Brazil, Japan, or South Africa (and some others) would be plausible contenders for “permanent” status too. Plenty of people — including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — have tried to do something about this obvious absurdity, but efforts at reform are repeatedly stymied by a collective inability to agree on how the Security Council should be altered and by the P5’s disinterest in diluting their own special status. But make no mistake: The present structure makes no sense.

The United Nations created the norm Right to Protect (known as R2P) where all nations signed a referendum that that in cases of Ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes commited by any nation or a dictator, allied nations shall react against it. However, many nations do not see legitimacy over this norm and act indepently to resolve their foreign problems.

Even with all this reality check using Neo-Realist theories, the United Nations is still an important organization that give voice to nations to coordinate international issues around the globe and resolve them with the concept of Smart Power (Diplomacy and Force when is the last resort). The anarchic principle that every nation should act independently, should not intervene and care his own business that Ron Paul proposes sounds sometimes a little too extreme in my point of view. Nations must react in some manner, through international organizations, to impede that international slaughtering or violation of international laws by so told dictators or states occurs. Unfortunately, when these scenarios happen, force may be used as the last resort, only by a consensus, inside an international organization. Where the Security Council is efficient in this aspect this is another matter.

Apart from the United States, other 190 nations still have inner problems and face threats from other nations. Some of them are in chaotic scenarios, unstable situations and have present civil wars. In these cases, the R2P norm may be used and this is where International Organizations are vital, giving visibility, voice and mutual defense for these nations. Again, R2P with force must be the last measure. Even though nations still seek their own interests and balance against threats, I still believe that International organizations are vital for discussion in an open way for every nation in the world.

As a lesson, war is the last measure to resolve an issue, that`s when intelligent non-interventionism proposed by Dr. paul comes, against the idea of “war first, diplomacy later” used often by neocons abroad.

John Stuart Mill Principles of Intervention

Extracted from Foreign Affairs article, By John Doyle

If you believe that there is a humanitarian commitment to save the lives of people around the world, you are likely an interventionist. If you assume that there is a right to national self-determination and sovereignty, you are likely to be a noninterventionist. And, if you regard national security as a responsibility that no government can fully cede to an international organization, you will want to intervene when it is necessary for your own national security, but not otherwise.

But what if you think that all three of these approaches should influence a decision to intervene? Then you are in the very good company of the great, nineteenth century philosopher, John Stuart Mill, who made a landmark attempt to reconcile these values with his 1859 essay, “A Few Words on Nonintervention.”

Non Intenvention Stance

The first puzzle is reconciling human rights and democracy with nonintervention, which Mill argues should be the default norm. Why not enforce basic human rights, democratic government, and beneficent administration abroad?

Mill’s view of mankind regards humans as sentient beings who are fundamentally similar, capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, and recognizing good and bad. Compassion should thus drive us in making decisions that maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

This philosophy leads, in turn, to two guiding principles when it comes to governance. The first is to maximize equal liberty: Permit all individuals to live without coercion and develop their potential freely, as long as they do not interfere with the rights of others. Second, support representative government: Collective decisions should indirectly reflect the will of the majority through elected representatives.

One might think that these principles, when applied to an international framework, would resemble a global version of the U.S. Constitution’s “Guarantee Clause,” which promises a representative, republican form of government to all states.

Instead, Mill believes that forcefully imposing a free democratic government upon another country violates the very principles of liberty and representative government. Authentic freedom means we, and our neighbors, choose how that freedom is defined. For example, consider the United Kingdom and the United States, two card-carrying liberal democracies. The former has retained its monarchy and recognizes an established church; the latter has an elected president and prohibits the establishment of a state religion.

Moreover, Mill rejects the idea of intervention to impose liberty or democracy, writing that “to go to war for an idea, if the war is aggressive, not defensive, is as criminal as to go to war for territory or revenue.” He goes on to say that nonintervention is counterproductive in promoting freedom and democracy: Intervention will not do any real good and the war that accompanies intervention always does harm.

It is only through what Mill calls an “arduous struggle” (or in the extreme, a violent revolution), do a people come to define their freedom, and in the process, develop the capacity to exercise self-government — obey laws, fight for their country, and pay taxes.

In fact, a “knapsack regime,” one established through foreign armed intervention, is likely to be harmful and often brings about three undesired outcomes. The first is that the knapsack regime will collapse as soon as the interveners leave since the liberals ruling the regime have not earned political support from the population. The result then is another civil war. A second scenario is that the knapsack liberals, given their thin domestic support, turn to despotism in order to hold on to power. The third outcome is that the interveners never leave. They stay in power in order to prop up the knapsack regime, which becomes, in a sense, a client that loses state self-determination.

I, along with Camille Strauss-Kahn, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, evaluated the soundness of Mill’s intuitions by looking at historical data. We examined every intervention since 1815, limiting our analysis to overt armed interventions by foreign troops that come between a government and its people. We found that of the 334 interventions, 221 were militarily successful. Of those, 56 led to new or renewed civil war; 68 produced deeper autocracy; and 146 led to imperial rule. (These bad outcomes total more than 221 because some unfortunate countries experienced multiple harms.) Only 26 interventions — or 12 percent — produced a free, independent, more rights respecting or participatory government.

Intervention Stance

The second puzzle is then, why, if Mill is so committed to nonintervention, he argues that it is sometimes permissible to intervene? Here, Mill offers a number of cases where external humanitarian concerns or national security needs can overridethe right to self-determination or where countries can have their rights to national self-determination disregarded because they are not effective and unified nation states.

Mill, unfortunately and unconvincingly, argues that benign imperialism, a form of paternal authority, is acceptable in India and other countries that he shortsightedly portrayed as incapable of ruling themselves.

Mill is more persuasive, however, when he draws readers’ attention to national liberation or secessionist movements, in which the oppressed minority makes an “arduous struggle” against an oppressor that cannot be defeated. He argues that indigenous struggles often need help in lifting the oppressive (and often foreign) yoke. For example, Britain would have been justified in assisting Hungary break from Austria from 1848–49. But Britain chose not to intervene. Even here, Mill’s theory is incomplete. National liberation for every ethnic group is a recipe for permanent rebellion. We need to develop principles of and procedures for self-administration that are designed to satisfy, where they can, demands for legitimate autonomy.

Mill offers a number of other examples where it is acceptable to override the principle of nonintervention, such as when national security is under imminent threat or when, following a war of self-defense, the victorious defender need not stop at the border, but can intervene in order to eliminate a “standing menace” to peace. Mill had in mind the exile of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. Modern examples would include the post World War II occupations of Germany and Japan. Mill also discusses the humanitarian crises that result from protracted civil wars. Waiting for the “arduous struggle” to determine a legitimate sovereign can be a prescription for unending massacre. Sometimes external mediation can produce a coalition regime capable of ruling the country on a stable and more legitimate basis. Mill’s example, Spain and the United Kingdom’s 1846 intervention in Portugal, is relevant when considering modern debates about peacekeeping.

With the advantage of a hundred plus years of hindsight, we now know that humanitarian interventions were frequently exploited to further imperial projects. The British and the French decried barbarism in Africa and Asia, as Mill did in India, and then imposed imperial rule. In 1898, the United States rescued Cubans and Filipinos from Spanish oppression, but stayed on, indirectly or directly controlling domestic politics for half a century. So how can this be curbed?

Today, we have the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) doctrine, adopted unanimously by the United Nations in 2005 to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. It also has bipartisan support from the United States and was implemented in Libya in 2011 by NATO members and the administration of President Barack Obama — but with very mixed results. RtoP is not law, but it is a revolutionary international commitment. It sets a new norm for legitimate action that is designed to provide humanitarian protection while preventing imperial exploitation.

The lessons of the 2011 intervention in Libya are that we need more responsibility while protecting: a better understanding of the facts on the ground as strategy is developed, more accountability in the implementation of Security Council mandates, and more attention to responsible state building in the aftermath of intervention.

Even with these reforms, we need to uphold the strong presumption against intervention, as Mill argued. We should keep two essential lessons firmly in mind: First, don’t intervene unless there are very strong reasons to override or disregard nonintervention. Today, this requires RtoP authorization from the Security Council whenever possible. Second, if one does intervene, it must result in a self-sustaining peace. This means a peacebuilding strategy that involves building the capacity for sovereign rule — or else the intervener will be morally responsible for the resulting civil war, despotism, or empire.

The complexities of Syria today defy easy prescriptions. At the same time, we see an international air war waged by France, the United States, and Russia against a non-state actor (ISIS); a messy civil war in Syria (between Assad and the various rebels) but with unilateral interventions by multiple outside powers; a UN-endorsed convention against chemical weapons; and ongoing civilian atrocities (perpetrated primarily by Assad’s regime and ISIS). In 2011, a “Mill-ian” would have kept the outside players at bay and left the struggle to the Syrians. In 2015, the best and least that should be done is to assist the displaced and refugees, defeat ISIS, and put concerted international pressure on Assad and the Syrian rebels to lay down their weapons and build a Syrian future. Admittedly, all easier said than done.

Just War Exists?

In one of his many interviews, Paul states that the only war he sought that was justifiable was ww2. According to him:

That was the only one that was justified because we were attacked viciously, and then Germany declared war against us. But if you look at the overall policy, it could have been prevented by us having a wiser foreign policy earlier on.

The notion that War is the last resort to resolve issues and the concept of real threat to the country national security are very important. Ron Paul is absolutely right in one thing: Today`s conflicts were caused by bad judgement of Hard Power and bad foreign policies by countries around the world. War causes more war, in short and long terms.

Nowadays engaging war has become a natural thing and countries each day intend to legimitize it’s use to defend its national security, when in fact the “enemy” is 1000 miles away, does not have offensive power and aggregate power to threaten it. Everytime, in any country of the world,if you see that a politician of some sort uses “Our national security” as an excuse to start a military invasion, see how many enemy troops are stationed in the border of your country and what are his intentions to trespass your borders.

Roberto Carnier — Owner and writer of Contemporaneum Blog about History and Geopolitcs. Roberto is a post-graduate in International Relations for FAAP, with a specialization on Geopolitical Warfare and Alliances.