What Intervention Can, and Cannot, Do


Paris. -- There are two kinds of foreign intervention, and President Clinton and his team had better get the distinction straight.

There is an intervention intended to impose order in a country where civil struggle or revolutionary uprising has taken place, or where structures of government have broken down. This was the case in Vietnam. It is the case now in Somalia and Haiti. The outside power intervenes with the intention of restoring order, in the belief that with its help the people of the country will regain control of their own affairs.

The prognosis in such an affair is poor. The outsider interprets, or misinterprets, the situation according to its own ignorance, bias or ideology, and supports one or another faction in the struggle, alienating the others, or ending as the enemy of all XTC factions, who find a common purpose in resisting the outsider.

An intervention of this kind may be necessary, or inevitable, when national interest or historical responsibilities are involved, as they are for the United States in the case of Haiti. The United States can scarcely ignore a desperately poor and persecuted people just off the American coast, whose country has been the object of repeated American interventions in the past.

In the Somalian case, the intransigence and ignorance of the U.S.-dominated U.N. command have steadily worsened what was a misconceived enterprise from the beginning. The best solution now in Somalia would be to ask the Italians, whom the U.N. command has previously scorned, to take the operation over and see what can be salvaged. They at least know the country, having been the colonial power there. The mediation of Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Organization of African Unity should equally be welcomed and supported. Negotiation is the direction in which Mr. Clinton now seems headed.

The second kind of international intervention has a better chance of success. It deals with the external consequences of upheavals or conflicts inside countries, or with the political or military choices deliberately made by certain governments. When civil struggle or a political upheaval leads to external aggression, foreign intervention may be desirable, indeed urgent, to prevent worse from following. Deterring or halting aggression is a clear and attainable objective. Success is possible.

Take the example of Germany in the 1930s. Internal intervention -- foreign interference inside Germany in 1932 to keep Hitler from taking power, when his party had won the largest number of parliamentary seats, or in order to put him out of power during the years which followed -- would have been resisted as an intolerable violation of Germany's sovereignty. It could have succeeded only at the price of a new war and military occupation of Germany. (That, of course, is what eventually did happen, but much later, at immense and possibly unnecessary cost.)

External intervention to prevent Hitler's annexation of Austria, or to block Germany's claim on Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland in 1939, or foreign support for Czechoslovakian resistance to a German invasion, would have been a clearly justified defense of international law and the international order. The historical evidence of the period suggests that this policy might have succeeded. Hitler's control over the German General Staff was consolidated only after Munich, when he had triumphed over Britain and France.

Of the two forms of intervention, internal and external, the second is by far the better, with a clear and limited purpose, and a sound political and legal rationale. The catastrophe that has taken place in Yugoslavia during the past two years might have been prevented had the international community intervened externally to block military aggression across international frontiers and demanded -- with economic, political and military threats behind the demand -- that the undoubted conflicts between Serbs, Croatians and Bosnians be settled through negotiation or international arbitration.

The return to power in Greece of Andreas Papandreou is an event with serious implications for the future of the Balkans. Mr. Papandreou was elected on a nationalist program promising resistance to what he considers "the Turkish threat." He envisages Greece allied with the Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic against Turkey -- Greece's NATO partner. He also has assured the Greeks of "an even tougher" policy toward the newly independent ex-Yugoslav Macedonian nation to the north of Greece.

We have entered a period of mounting nationalist and ethnic turbulence that the United States and the Western powers would prefer to ignore but will have to confront. Hyperbolic threat, ethnic revindication and historical fantasy more than ever influence the political conduct of this region, and parts of the ex-USSR as well. Transcaucasian conflict is beyond the reach and prudent capacity of the Western powers directly to influence. Balkan conflict is not.

If the Western powers together were to commit themselves to the proposition that only negotiated change is acceptable in Europe, and military and political aggression forbidden, these destructive forces might be contained. If the Balkan situation is allowed to deteriorate, and ethnic nationalism and hatred prevail, there may be a new Balkan war, with unforeseeable consequences there -- and further east, and in the West as well.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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