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Foreign Policy, National Security Strategy, and Morality: The Enduring Relevance of the Just War Theory to Military Strategy and Intervention

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There is a closely woven nexus between foreign policy, military policy, and morality underscoring the American political system. The United States political tradition, at least since 1945, has encompassed the imperative to not only maintain its power -- political, economic and military -- but also to project its values, ethics, and morality on the global scene. At times, the tensions and contradictions between prudent politico-military policy and ethical considerations create fissures in the body politic. One may only look at the interplay between military strategy and morality in our experience in Vietnam, or the heavy moral pressure that pushed the Clinton Administrations hand in the decision to intervene militarily in Bosnia to underscore the uneasy relationship between power and morality. The purpose of this essay is to focus on the tensions between morality and military policy, at a time when the increasing emphasis for American military forces is to engage in smaller scale contingencies, humanitarian interventions, peacekeeping, and a wide range of noncombat situations. One only need look at the recent past when American armed forces were used for interventions in civil crises, such as those in Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda, to see that American forces are being placed all too frequently in highly ambiguous situations. These situations are hostile and dangerous, but they do not necessarily directly involve warfighting scenarios for which American military forces are specifically trained. In fact, these interventions place strains on the application of present military strategies, both at the strategic and operational level, which call for more traditional types of military engagement. As part of this examination between military strategy and morality, the author examines the just war tradition and the factors that affect the application of just war criteria to military strategy and military engagement.

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  • Sociology and Law
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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