Redefining National Interest
In Somalia, the US is ushering in an era when peacekeeping, not victory, will be the goal. A TASK OF THE NEXT CENTURY
NEW world order, new world disorder, call it what you will. Astonishingly, even in its waning hours the Bush administration has grasped the nettle to deal with Somalia, a country of "no interest" to the United States. The fact is the globe is now rushing headlong into a completely new international environment calling for new vision and new policies to cope with the post-cold-war world. We'd better get used to it.Skip to next paragraph
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Hard-headed "realists" may fret all they want about whether the Kurds, the Somalis, or the Bosnians really have anything to do with "real" American national interests. That, indeed, is part of what the debate is all about - in the halls of Washington, as well as in Europe, Moscow, and all over the third world.
In earlier years the case could be made that if an international crisis did not have direct and dramatic impact on the US, then it was regrettable but was outside our sphere of responsibility. The cold war confused all of that, of course, because there was no corner of the globe which could not in some way be integrated into the grand strategic map of East-West confrontation.
The realist school is, however, absolutely right in one sense: The US can handily survive - indeed can probably prosper - by not sacrificing national blood and treasure in a vain effort to "fix the world" in this new era of chaos.
But we had better face facts. The world is going to continue to come apart, involving places and peoples that are only ill-defined to most Americans. The struggle of peoples for national self-fulfillment, the desire to get out from under harsh and discriminatory regimes and oppressive political structures, are the hallmarks of the new environment. What is new is that ideals of human rights, democracy, and self-determination are now trickling down to nearly all levels of population all over the globe.
If the ideas are not new, the chance to do something about them is. People are voting with their feet to get out from under unacceptable circumstances in the hope of finding something better.
The irony of Somalia, of course, is that it does not involve warring ethnic and religious groups, but people of the same nationality, language, religion, and ethnic background. They just can't run a state in this stage of their history. As old orders based on oppression break down, people are thrust into new situations where even reestablishment of old-fashioned authoritarian regimes is much harder because the world is beginning to perceive certain limits to what regimes should be allowed to do to their own or other people - especially on television.
Can the US be the police officer of the world? No, we have neither the desire nor the resources. But the fact remains at this juncture that the US is the only power that thinks globally, has remained functional, possesses major resources, and has the experience to conduct large-scale international operations. There is no reason why the US will maintain a monopoly on these conditions - indeed, we should encourage other major states to develop some of these same capabilities.