Friday, August 27, 2004


From time to time I see a bumper sticker that reads, "If you love your freedom, thank a vet." I appreciate America's veterans, but the bumper sticker presents a simplistic (to the point of being false) relationship between the freedom we enjoy as Americans and the use of force--or, more specifically, the deployment of troops--by the United States. Interventions in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama, Cuba, Haiti, and elsewhere have rarely had anything to do with the freedom of the United States. Some American troop deployments have been justifiable as instances of humanitarian intervention while others potentially qualify as cases of "forward defense" of American freedom. The latter category, however, requires great caution since it can lead, in extremis, to an illegitimate strategy of preventive war as called for in the September 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States.

The international community does not look favorably upon intervention. Article 8 of the Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (Montevideo, 1933) says, "No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another." The closest neighbors of the United States, on forming the Organization of American States, felt it important to be particularly emphatic about the principle of non-intervention. Article 15 of the OAS Charter (Bogotá, 1948) states, "No state or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the state or against its political, economic and cultural elements."
Notwithstanding the legal--and moral (see Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars)--arguments against intervention, the United States intervenes--a lot. This site, using a Macromedia Flash presentation, documents 163 instances of American intervention abroad between 1801 and 2004. (Thanks to David Dillman for sending me the link.)