WAS the Clinton administration wrong in seeking United Nations Security Council approval for possible military action in Haiti? The approval for ``all necessary measures'' in a resolution July 31 has sparked criticism on the basis that the US needs no international approval for actions it may take in this hemisphere. Two issues are present in this debate: United States prerogatives in the Western Hemisphere and US obligations toward the international community.
The Monroe Doctrine is often cited in discussing Washington's policies toward Latin America and the Caribbean, including Haiti. Does that doctrine provide the basis for the US to act as it wishes in its own ``backyard''? The Monroe Doctrine was triggered in 1823 by a proposal to President Monroe from the British to cooperate in barring France from intervening in South America. The president rejected the British proposal in his annual message of Dec. 2, 1823, declaring that ``The American continents ... are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.'' The doctrine was specifically directed against European intervention in this hemisphere, an issue not present in the current Haitian problem.
Two other historic US declarations are more relevant. In 1895, when Britain claimed a portion of Venezuela and refused to submit to arbitration, a note to London from Secretary of State Richard Olney declared, ``Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent.'' Theodore Roosevelt went a step further and, in his annual message in 1904, added a ``corollary'' to the Monroe Doctrine: ``Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society ... may force the United States ... to the exercise of international police power.'' Secretary of State Cordell Hull, however, effectively repudiated that corollary on Dec. 23, 1936, in Buenos Aires. He signed a protocol to an Inter-American Declaration on Non-Intervention in which the US affirmed the principle that ``no state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.''
Did US interventions in Grenada in 1983 and in Panama in 1989 revive the corollary? No. Every postwar administration has sought to obtain a form of international approval for interventions. The Grenadan action was under the umbrella of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. And only after major efforts were made to remove Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega through action of the Organization of American States (OAS) did the US invade Panama.
Haiti is a different matter. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton administrations wished, at their outset, to use force to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Instead, they chose economic sanctions. Sanctions inescapably involve nations outside the hemisphere. Although an issue such as Haiti might logically be taken to the OAS, this regional organization does not have the authority to impose sanctions on a global basis.
Any administration faced with the defiance of brutal regimes has three choices: 1) to say the issue is not in the national interest, 2) to act unilaterally, or 3) to seek international support. In the case of Haiti, given strong US domestic concerns and the threat of more boat people, the first option is not realistic. Acting unilaterally is feasible; the US has the capacity. President Clinton could return to Roosevelt's corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The global and hemispheric reactions could probably be contained. But such a move, by the precedent it would establish, would run the risks of further weakening the fragile fabric of international cooperation. The remaining alternative, as difficult as it may be, is to obtain international approval and cooperation.