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Gulf an Exception: Military Solution Won't Work Again

THE United States and its allies are currently fighting a just war against Iraq, one sanctioned by international law and supported by the United Nations. But the diplomatic conditions that paved the way for allied intervention are quite unique and unlikely to be replicated in the future. Consequently, the effort by some in Washington to resuscitate the cold war norm that force constitutes a viable policy tool is misguided. Vietnam, with its high casualties, allied dissension, and Soviet obstructionism, is the more probable model for future wars, not the Gulf war (I am assuming that the allied coalition will hold together and successfully expel Iraqi forces at what are considered acceptable costs).

The circumstances that allowed multinational intervention in the Gulf are quite extraordinary. The Soviets were preoccupied with their mounting economic and ethnic problems and could not afford to antagonize the West. But with the growing political ascendency of the Soviet military combined with Gorbachev's inability to extract economic concessions from the United States, the Russians are unlikely to sacrifice another military client for abstract ``new world order'' goals.

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Moreover, coalition bonds have been strengthened by the unusual cruelty of Saddam Hussein. No avuncular revolutionary like Fidel Castro here, but rather a mustachioed fifth horseman of the Apocalypse armed with chemical weapons. Saddam's atrocities have been complimented by one of the most inept displays of diplomacy in modern times. Parading beaten Western airmen before television cameras, poisoning the Persian Gulf, and other such tactics have cemented the somewhat tenuous coalition of Western and thi rd world states. And smaller Iraqi demands, such as a slice of oil-rich Kuwait instead of the whole pie, would have fractured the coalition right from the start of the crisis. It is unlikely that the United States will encounter such an incompetent adversary in the future, one whose blunders have left it politically isolated and without access to foreign arms suppliers in a time of war.

It is also significant that key players have used the Gulf war to carve up the multilateral carcass as their narrow interests warranted. The Japanese and Germans have remained politically distant from the war while the Turks, Egyptians, and Israelis have used the situation to extract more aid from Washington. The Soviets and Chinese, in turn, have sold their support for the liberation of Kuwait in return for the Bush administration's silence on human rights violations in those countries. Such self-inter ested behavior cannot provide a firm foundation for the kind of collective military security required in the post-Gulf war era.

Finally, if Americans will only support short, high-tech wars involving limited casualties, the United States can hardly be expected to play global policeman often. And growing popular opposition, from Bonn to Mexico City, to any US interventionist role further constrains American military options in the future.

The Gulf war is thus the exception that proves the rule. Only an unusual confluence of events will allow large-scale, multilateral intervention in the future. More likely is a deadlocked UN security council, a truculent Soviet Union, a pipeline of weapons to the potential adversary, and a reluctant European Community - all along the lines of Korea and Vietnam. Consequently, the maintenance of world order will require the astute application of other policy tools by the Western powers, such as technology denial and foreign aid, rather than the deployment of armed forces.