What interests does the United States have in the conflict in what was once Yugoslavia? And how should the United States intervene in this conflict, if at all, to protect these interests? Policy Review asked these questions of several leading conservative foreign-policy specialists at the beginning of September.
Other countries have interests, the United States has both interests and moral imperatives. American politicians who recognize interests alone (e.g., Henry Kissinger) or humanitarianism alone (Jimmy Carter) invariably end up misjudging the mood of the electorate. That mood is highly variable, depending on the state of our self-confidence and economy, the extent and nature of our media coverage, and our attitudes toward those in trouble abroad. In other words, Americans are highly inconsistent in their approach to foreign crises.
In the former Yugoslavia, our interests are modest, especially compared with those of Western Europe. Economic ties don't amount to much, we're not threatened militarily, and few refugees will land in on our doorstep.
Yet Yugoslavia has absorbed our humanitarian attention. The victims' European culture has something to do with it, as does the antiquity and beauty of their cities; but Serbian war behavior—"ethnic cleansing," shooting at busloads of orphans, concentration camps—is the key. Serbian behavior increasingly brings Nazis to mind, and that rightly brings out our humanitarian passions. In short, our stake is moral, not practical. It is no less real for being abstract. Accordingly, we should get involved.
But how? Two considerations—the awful complexity of fighting in the former Yugoslavia and the inward-looking mood prevailing in the United States—lead me to propose a limited use of force against Serbia. This might include the enforcement of sanctions, helping anti-Serb forces, and air strikes against key targets.