This essay argues two propositions. The first is that the diplomacy of humanitarian intervention is more important than many realists think it is or would like it to be and that includes realists resident in the upper strata of the George W. Bush administration. The president and his senior national security aides have written and spoken as though they were wedded to a Reaganite approach to this issue: Nancy Reagan, in this case, as in “Just say no.” Bush himself expressed this view clearly during the presidential campaign: “We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in nations outside our strategic interest.”
Appealing though such an approach may be, it just will not work. Humanitarian crises will occur in relative abundance because postÛCold War conditions are busily generating them, and even if the United States avoids entanglement in most of them, that avoidance, no less than any involvement, will affect broader American interests. Responding to such crises therefore requires an overall strategy that takes into account the respective importance of and interplay among various U.S. interests. Put differently, any coherent discussion of the diplomacy of humanitarian intervention demands attention to the strategic context. Unless the United States has a strategy, it will not be able to conduct a successful diplomacy of humanitarian intervention or of anything else.
The second proposition is that a realistic approach does exist to the problem of humanitarian intervention, but it abides amid the thickets of coalition diplomacy. Concern for sound coalition diplomacy happens to be a key element of any effective national strategy, and so we come back to the conclusion that, in order to have a workable diplomacy of humanitarian intervention, the United States will first have to attend to other tasks.