January 8, 2001
By MICHAEL O'HANLON
WASHINGTON &emdash; During the presidential campaign, George W. Bush opposed using American military power to stop tragedies like the 1994 Rwanda genocide. He viewed such interventions as strategic luxuries that the United States simply could not afford.
The United States certainly cannot be the world's policeman. But with nearly a half-million people dying each year in civil conflicts around the world, a president cannot suggest indifference to the world's worst atrocities simply because they do not affect America's core interests.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent atrocities in distant parts of the world without turning to the American military. The solution is to help other countries improve their ability to use force to save lives.
In some regions, like Europe, the United States needs to provide only a little encouragement. European countries currently spend two-thirds of what the United States spends on defense, but focus excessively on protecting their own territories.
To deploy significant numbers of troops beyond the NATO region, European countries must purchase ships and airplanes, as well as trucks and other equipment that allow them to operate a long way from home. The Clinton administration has sometimes discouraged Europeans from this task, because of an overwrought worry that NATO could be weakened if the European Union becomes militarily stronger. Mr. Bush should cheer them on.
But the real opportunity, as well as the real problem, is in Africa. Although conditions have improved in places like Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia, terrible wars continue in Angola, Congo and Sierra Leone. A number of African countries, led by Nigeria, have tried to send troops to quell some of these conflicts; after all, it is in their best interest to do so. But they often lack the basic means to get the job done.
This is where the United States can help. We can provide equipment, training and general financial support so that African troops can carry out more of the missions that we prefer to avoid.
To its credit, the Clinton administration, after its shameful non-intervention during the Rwanda genocide, moved in this direction. It created the Africa Crisis Response Initiative to help militaries in the region prepare for difficult operations. The program has been a success, but it receives only $20 million a year and has trained just 6,500 troops. The program has given African troops only nonlethal equipment like communications gear. These troops also need trucks, light armored vehicles and other equipment that can be used to uphold ó or impose ó peace.
The Bush administration should expand this program dramatically. A serious peace operation could require anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 troops. That means that the current program should reach at least 10 times as many soldiers as it does today. And the program needs better equipment if African troops are to effectively counter opponents like the brutal rebels of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone.
The price tag for these efforts would be considerable, but not when compared to what it costs to send American forces abroad. Expanding the training program might cost $200 million a year. Buying enough equipment could cost $5 billion over several years. If the United States split the cost with its allies, we would spend about $500 million a year ó much less than we typically spend when American troops carry out peace operations.
This proposal could elicit a positive bipartisan reaction on Capitol Hill, even though it requires an increase in foreign aid. To begin, the program could help relieve peacekeeping demands on American troops. In addition, since the African response program is run by the State Department, Colin Powell would presumably direct it. His military experience, together with his personal reputation, could reassure members of Congress who might otherwise be wary of supporting international peacekeeping efforts.
To be sure, there may be peace operations in which the American military must play a role. For instance, Mr. Bush would be mistaken to believe that American forces can be quickly withdrawn from Kosovo, where conditions remain tense and where NATO allies rightly expect American leadership and participation.
Nor would this program be a panacea for all civil conflict. There would still be a need for debt relief and traditional foreign aid, since they reduce the likelihood of civil conflict in the first place.
But if America leads a major effort to train and equip the militaries of other carefully chosen countries for peace operations, violence and human suffering in regions like Africa can be reduced.
Michael O'Hanlon, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Congo, is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.