Sunday, July 11, 2010

To Be or Not To Be Part of Multinational Forces

Valid Reasons for the U.S. to Be, or Not to Be, Part of a Multinational Conflict Management Force

    In 2002 President George W. Bush's National Security Strategy offered a number of challenges to set the country on a better path to security. Interestingly the strategy outlined a dichotomy of options to be or not to be part of a multinational effort to deal with conflict. On the one hand President Bush (2002) suggested, "The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism" (p. 1). On the other hand he concluded, "the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs is diminishing. In a globalized world, events beyond America's borders have a greater impact inside them" (p. 31). Essentially the U.S. has three options when dealing with conflict. There is the option to not deal with conflict which is really not practical. The U.S. can unilaterally manage conflict. Or, the U.S. can be part of a multinational force. Should the U.S., then, consider being part of such a force or go it alone? The challenge with determining whether to be or not to be is that there are valid reasons to be and not to be part of a multinational conflict management force.

To Be

    Participating in a world system that encourages multinational cooperation has benefits. There is strength in numbers. States individually have resources. Collectively states can amplify those resources. There is also a distribution of responsibilities. One state, theoretically, does not have to bear the burden of responsibility when dealing with conflicts. The burden is shared. Two aspects of this burden sharing provide valid reasons for the U.S. to participate in multinational forces. There is the nature of a shared landscape that effectively connects all states. As Thomas Friedman (2002) put it regarding globalization, "it is the integration of everything with everything else" (p. 64). There is also the nature of shared threats. Transnational terrorist groups, rogue states and burdened states are examples of global threats that affect states collectively. Considering these two aspects when dealing with conflicts, it makes sense then for the U.S. to be part of a multinational force.

Nature of a shared Landscape

    President Obama's recently published National Security Strategy (2010) captures the heart of the global environment. He says, "To succeed, we must face the world as it is" (p. 1). Understanding how the world is today is to understand that no country is alone and states are not entirely independent of each other. President Obama continues, "we must recognize that no one nation - no matter how powerful - can meet global challenges alone…America must prepare for the future, while forging cooperative approaches among nations that can yield results" (p. 1). The argument then is that those results are best achieved together rather than alone. The U.S. is strong, but is it strong enough to handle conflicts without help?
    The reality of the global landscape today is that presently no one nation can truly govern all elements of economic, military and political capital. That is to suggest, then, that a certain complete hegemony that the U.S. may have held prior to the end of the Cold War is no longer true. Instead the nature of power is diffusing. Granted, we can reasonably argue that the U.S. still maintains a large share of global power. But, other blocs of nations have gained strength economically and politically.
    There is therefore a relative diluting of American strength globally. Fareed Zakaria details this in his book, The Post-American World. He argues (2009), "This hybrid international system - more democratic, more dynamic, more open, more connected - is one we are likely to live with for several decades" (p. 43). In other words the U.S. would do well to join it rather than beat it. This means the U.S. should consider amplifying its strength with that of other nations when dealing with conflicts. This is particularly important today considering the global nature of shared threats.

Nature of shared Threats

    Although terrorism is not a new threat, the events of the past decade demonstrate that terrorist threats transcend borders. Using a colloquial phrase, we all have a dog in this fight. In a backgrounder published by the conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, James Carafano and Richard Weitz make the case for cooperating internationally with alliances to thwart terrorist attacks (citation). They say (2007), "The transnational nature of contemporary terrorist threats, the interdependence of modern societies resulting from globalization, and the concept of using layered defenses to thwart attack at every turn from conception to execution all make the case for multinational homeland security partnerships" (p. 3). Threats are not entirely localized. They stretch beyond borders and require a response that is also beyond borders.
    Kosovo in the mid 1990s was a case in point. Charles Kegley and Gregory Raymond (2002) cite Tony Blair's proposition when he argued, "The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in a combustible part of Europe" (p. 230). The international community including the U.S. was faced with a humanitarian crisis. Dealing with the crisis was beyond the scope of a single power, so collectively, NATO intervened. Now the intervention and subsequent reconstruction was not effortless. David Rieff argues that the ad hoc assembly of NATO forces proved unsuccessful as similar ad hoc assemblies did in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda (Rieff, 1999). Nevertheless, the reason to partner to counter shared threats still remains valid. Rather than accept a position as Rieff's, the U.S. should consider bolstering the organization of a multinational force vice an ad hoc one. Why?
    Partnering with multinational forces to improve security at home makes sense because the effect of doing so expands the reach of American resources. Alliances with other nations provide opportunities to place U.S. resources - diplomatic and military - forward so security threats are dealt with abroad. Robert Art makes this point in his essay The Strategy of Selective Engagement. He suggests (1999), "alliances facilitate war waging, peacekeeping, and peacemaking…because standing alliances permit more rapid and more effective action than assembling ad hoc coalitions" (as cited in Art & Waltz, p. 329). The strength of an organized multinational force expands the influence of U.S. power and ultimately provides an international layer of national security protection.

Not to Be

    Despite the nature of globalization and states sharing the landscape and threats, there are reasons not to be part of multinational forces. What governs the international system today is a set of principles established in the 17th Century. Kegley and Raymond (2002) capture the governing principles of the international system. They say, "Ever since the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years' War in 1648, the twin principles of sovereignty and nonintervention have governed international politics" (p. 214). When states choose to participate in a multinational effort, they choose to forgo some essence of sovereignty. Furthermore states submit their forces and resources to deal with interests that may or may not be entirely relevant to individual national security. Therefore considering the value of state sovereignty and the relevancy of national security concerns, it may make sense for the U.S. not to be part of a multinational force.

Value of state sovereignty

    Some might argue that to get a little, one must give a little. When states join into a collective effort, states join into a body that assumes some amount of responsibility over the whole of members. The individual right of states to control their resources is circumstantially surrendered. Robert Art (1999) discusses this drawback to collective security. Among other things he makes the point that joining a collective effort to manage security means that states may have to give up forces to support a conflict. He said, "In the past, moreover, states have not been willing to yield national control over the use of force and give to an international organization a blank check upon which to draw in order to resist or punish aggression" (as cited in Art and Waltz, p. 343).
    Also, in order for that collective or multinational force to deal with conflicts there must be a decision to cross sovereign boundaries for the good of the entire group. The logic suggests that what occurs domestically within the borders of a sovereign state impacts other states. Therefore external states have an interest in the domestic affairs of states internally. This is exactly what happened in the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s.
    Kegley and Raymond (2002) point out that, "If NATO acted without a UN Security Council resolution specifically authorizing the use of force…it would violate the UN Charter. Article 2(4) prohibits 'the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state'" (p. 228). Leading into the intervention of Yugoslavia the international community needed to validate its justification to use force "against the territorial integrity" of the former Yugoslavian state. NATO did justify intervention vis-à-vis a series of propositions. According to Kegley and Raymond (2002) one such proposition "declared that the international community had a legal responsibility to stop human rights violations" (p. 229). They recount the International Court of Justice as arguing that, "all members of that community 'have a legal interest in their protection'" (p. 229). In other words all members of the multinational force, NATO, shared the same responsibility. Therefore intervention was justified.
    While intervention in the Balkan states was arguably necessary, the greater point of concern the U.S. must consider is whether it would concur with a similar intervention on U.S. soil by members of NATO for a domestic U.S. crisis. If a domestic crisis were significant enough to garner the interest of the international community (take for instance a housing mortgage meltdown), the U.S. vis-à-vis its membership in NATO could lose its "political independence" for the good of the rest of NATO. Although that is highly unlikely, the U.S. should consider the value of its sovereignty and choose not to participate in a collective effort.

Relevant Security Concerns

    One thing a state must consider regarding any aspect of its foreign policy is the relevancy of security concerns. To a certain extent the security concerns that exist on the global landscape could be arranged in a priority list. A state must place a value on each concern and rank them in terms of relevancy. In other words, some issues have greater relevancy than others with regard to a state's overall security. When a state becomes part of a multinational group, then every state in that group shares the relevancy of issues. However, what is relevant to the group may not necessarily be relevant to an individual state. Ted Galen Carpenter (1992) made the following point in a Cato Institute occasional paper. He said, "Washington's Cold War era alliances also have the potential to entangle the United States in a host of obscure conflicts that have little relevance to America's legitimate security concerns" (p. 1).
    This can be a particularly complicated point for a state like the U.S. to manage because the U.S. is so powerful. The U.S. has money and resources to deal with conflicts in a way that other nations do not. As President Bush put it in 2002, "The United States possesses unprecedented - and unequaled - strength and influence in the world" (p. 1). So the U.S. is somewhat ethically challenged to right every wrong. Leading up to the air war on the former Yugoslavia, President Clinton remarked (1999), "'ending this tragedy is a moral imperative'" (as cited in Kegley & Raymond, p. 228). From an ideological perspective addressing as many conflicts as can be addressed is a moral imperative. However, from a practical perspective it is not feasible. And, despite states' interest in being morally objective, states still maintain the realist principle of self-interest. As Robert Art puts it (1999), "nationalism and national self-interest remain the most potent forces in international affairs today, overriding ethnic, religious, and cultural cleavages" (as cited in Art & Waltz, p. 329).
    Ultimately states must do what is best for the state. So, the U.S. has a responsibility to do what is best for the security of its people. Sometimes states delve into a conflict with good intentions. But good intentions do not necessarily make the U.S. any more secure. Joining a multinational effort could mean being forced into a position to support a cause that has little to no real national security effect. In that case the U.S. might be better served by avoiding such arrangements and determining on its own what is or is not a relevant security concern.


    Choosing to be part of a multinational conflict management force certainly has benefits. Choosing not to be part of a multinational effort also has benefits. Benefits of the former are inherently drawbacks to the latter and vice versa. So what should the U.S. do? Today the interconnectedness of states and their threats require cooperation especially for managing conflicts. It is not truly practical to avoid involvement in multinational forces. As President Bush (2002) said, the U.S. does posses an unprecedented amount of power and influence in the world. The U.S. therefore has a responsibility to participate in multinational efforts where it can. However, the U.S. can be selective about the extent to which it participates. The U.S. should balance the power of that responsibility with the value of its sovereignty. The challenge for the U.S. then is not really an "either or" question. Depending upon the relative effect on national security the U.S. is in a position to be and not to be part of a multinational force.
Art, R. J., & Waltz, K. N. (2009). The Use of Force Military Power and International     Politics (Seventh ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefied Publishers, Inc.
Carafano, J. J., & Weitz, R. (2007). Enhancing International Collaboration for Homeland     Security and Counterterrorism. Heritage Foundation, Douglas and Sarah Allison     Center for Foreign Policy Studies. Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation.
Carpenter, T. G. (1992). Cato Institute Foreign Policy Breifing No. 16: The Case for U.S.     Strategic Independence. Washington, D.C.: The Cato Institute.
Friedman, T., & Kaplan, R. (2002, March/April). States of Discord. Foreign Policy , pp. 64-    70.
Kegley, C. W., & Raymond, G. A. (2002). From War to Peace Fateful Decisions in     International Politics. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
President of the United States. (2002). The National Security Strategy of the United States of     America. Washington, D.C.: The White House.
President of the United States. (2010). The National Security Strategy of the United States of     America. Washington, D.C.: The White House.
Rieff, D. (1999, Summer). A New Age of Liberal Imperialism. World Policy Journal , 1-10.
Zakaria, F. (2009). The Post-American World. New York: W.W. Norton.


  1. Great points, great explanations, and overall a superb write-up. I liked how you were able to show the 'to be' vs 'not to be' without over favoritism on either side. Rather, the balance is to be able to see both ways and use them accordingly. Great work!

  2. Your point that the US can both opt in or out of a multinational force is a little unsettling, although probably true. It means that each situation requires our leaders to choose one strategy or the other. And that opens the door for us to get it wrong.


Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your interest in the topic. It adds a little more to how we understand our world.