Analysis & Opinions - Project Syndicate

How Will Biden Intervene?

| Jan. 05, 2021

American foreign policy tends to oscillate between inward and outward orientations. President George W. Bush was an interventionist; his successor, Barack Obama, less so. And Donald Trump was mostly non-interventionist. What should we expect from Joe Biden?

In 1821, John Quincy Adams famously stated that the United States "does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." But America also has a long interventionist tradition. Even a self-proclaimed realist like Teddy Roosevelt argued that in extreme cases of abuse of human rights, intervention "may be justifiable and proper." John F. Kennedy called for Americans to ask not only what they could do for their country, but for the world.

Since the Cold War's end, the US has been involved in seven wars and military interventions, none directly related to great power competition. George W. Bush's 2006 National Security Strategy proclaimed a goal of freedom embodied in a global community of democracies.

Moreover, liberal and humanitarian intervention is not a new or uniquely American temptation. Victorian Britain had debates about using force to end slavery, Belgium's atrocities in the Congo, and Ottoman repression of Balkan minorities long before Woodrow Wilson entered World War I with his aim to make the world safe for democracy. So, Biden's problem is not unprecedented.

What actions should the US take that cross borders? Since 1945, the United Nations Charter has limited the legitimate use of force to self-defense or actions authorized by the Security Council (where the US and four other permanent members have a veto). Realists argue that intervention can be justified if it prevents disruption of the balance of power upon which order depends. Liberals and cosmopolitans argue that intervention can be justified to counter a prior intervention, prevent genocide, and for humanitarian reasons....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Nye, Joseph S. Jr.“How Will Biden Intervene?.” Project Syndicate, January 5, 2021.