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US military support for troubled states: a dangerous doctrine returns

To prevent terrorist attacks emanating from failed states, Defense Secretary Robert Gates urges US support for militaries of troubled nations. But that argument can lead to an embrace of repressive regimes and endless foreign adventures – and it ignores the crucial link between democracy and stability.

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While ambassador to the United Nations during the Reagan administration, Jeane Kirkpatrick often argued that the United States should befriend authoritarian governments if they supported Washington’s policies. Because America was in the midst of fighting the cold war, her advice was often followed. While getting into bed with dictators did nothing to help win the war, it certainly made a mockery of American claims of respect for human rights and democracy.

Today an argument is being made that the United States, in effect, has to employ an undated version of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine to win the so-called war on terrorism. In a recent article in the journal “Foreign Affairs,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asserted that a terrorist attack emanating from a failed state is the biggest security challenge the United States faces. He proposed responding to such a threat by strengthening the militaries of countries that are in danger of failing so they can prevent their territory from being used for that purpose.

That cannot be done without the US once again embracing repressive regimes and leaving the rest of the world with the impression that it jettisons its values the moment it perceives a threat to its security. That will not just damage America’s image abroad. It will encourage new recruits and additional support for terrorist organizations. And American intervention will often weaken the regime that is supposed to be helped by unifying and motivating its enemies.

The link between democracy and stability

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