The strictures of the Cold War imposed a certain discipline on the process of deciding whether and when to militarily intervene in a given conflict. By contrast, judging from the past decade, it might seem that the decision of whether or not to intervene has become entirely arbitrary. But on closer examination, we can begin to see the general outlines of some criteria that have guided these determinations.

The Realist Prism: Making Sense of the 'New' U.S. Interventionism

By , , Column

In the aftermath of the Libya operation, my Naval War College colleague Tom Nichols concluded bluntly, "Humanitarian interventions are here to stay and are going to be driven more by moral calculation and military opportunity than by 'national interest.'" This, it seems, is the new American foreign policy consensus; despite the costly U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-interventionist coalition has lost the policy debate.

The current fiscal crisis may trim back the scale and scope of future interventions, but will not eliminate them altogether from the U.S. policy toolbox. Even with its fiscal constraints, the United States will continue to retain an absolute preponderance of the world's economic and military power for the foreseeable future. And if Libya provides a model for "intervention on the cheap," we are likely to see this template emulated in other situations. Candidates on the campaign trail will continue to make promises about a humbler, less interventionist foreign policy. But the reality, as Dan Drezner recently pointed out, is that candidates' "pronouncements about future foreign policy don't seem to matter" once a president actually takes office. ...

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