The Powell Doctrine’s Enduring Relevance

The Powell Doctrine’s Enduring Relevance
Photo: Official portrait of Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for whom the Powell Doctrine was named (Department of Defense photo by Russell Roederer).

Editor’s note: The following article is one of 30 that we’ve selected from our archives to celebrate World Politics Review’s 15th anniversary. You can find the full collection here.

Once upon a time, there was a grand and influential foreign policy doctrine. It was based on some traditional notions about U.S. statecraft that placed severe constraints on when America went to war. It asserted that when the United States used military force, it must do so in decisive fashion and only in the service of vital national interests.* For any military action, it counseled the dispassionate weighing of costs and benefits, recommended that policymakers have clear, realistic and achievable political objectives, and called for the strong support of the American people and a clearly defined exit strategy.

This doctrine was called the Powell Doctrine, and it was based, in large measure, on a long-simmering debate in the military about how, when and where the United States should use force. While many in the military thought it was great, a lot of other folks hated it.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.