The Limits of Noninterventionism
Before I get into the meat of this post I need to mention that I’ve opposed every U. S. military intervention of the last 25 years including the Gulf War, our interventions in Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo, and our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Do I think that we’re too quick to intervene militarily overseas? Obviously, yes. But I also believe that an official policy of noninterventionism would be imprudent and wouldn’t achieve some of the objectives its exponents claim.
We’ve been down that road before. Until 1917 it was our dominant foreign policy but you don’t need to go that far back to consider the limits of noninterventionism.
Consider the case of China. China has an official policy of noninterventionism. That hasn’t insulated Chinese citizens from terrorist attacks. In July there was a series of attacks against Chinese citizens in Pakistan. The first was on July 8:
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, July 8 (Reuters) – Unidentified gunmen killed three Chinese workers and wounded another on Sunday in what Pakistani officials said was a terrorist attack apparently linked to the bloody siege of militants at an Islamabad mosque.
The four Chinese, who worked for a motorcyle company making three-wheeled auto-rickshaws, were ambushed as they were leaving their factory on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar, a provincial government official said.
There were more on July 19:
More than 40 people have been killed in three separate bomb attacks in Pakistan, officials say.
In the latest incident, a bomb was detonated in a mosque used by military personnel in the north-western town of Kohat, killing at least 11 people.
The interior minister said it appeared to be a suicide attack. Most of the dead are feared to be army recruits.
Two earlier bomb attacks in Baluchistan and in North West Frontier Province killed more than 30 people.
Twenty-six died in the southern town of Hub, 35km (23 miles) north of Karachi, in an attack apparently targeting Chinese workers.
These weren’t the first attacks in Pakistan against Chinese workers. There had been prior attacks in 2006:
QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Unknown attackers gunned down three Chinese engineers and a Pakistani driver in southwestern Pakistan Wednesday evening, police sources told CNN.
The attack happened in Hub in Balochistan province, a tribal area where recent violence has prompted Pakistan’s army to conduct operations.
The engineers were helping construct the multimillion dollar Gwadar seaport in Balochistan, a joint venture by Pakistan and its key ally, China.
The Chinese consulate in Karachi said the attack happened while engineers were in a car with three others, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. They worked for a cement company in Hefei, in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, Xinhua reported.
Balochistan’s tribal groups have complained that, although the province is rich in natural gas and will be the site of Pakistan’s second major seaport, residents do not receive basic resources, such as drinking water.
and before that in 2004:
Three Chinese technicians working on a port project in the volatile southwestern province of Baluchistan were killed in a bomb attack in 2004.
The same year, Islamist militants kidnapped two Chinese engineers working on a dam in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border. One was killed during a rescue operation, while the other was freed. (Additional reporting by Sheree Sardar)
Why go after Chinese workers when the Chinese government has a policy of nonintervention? The reasons are varied and include China’s domestic policies (treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority) and that people with grievances aren’t particularly concerned about the niceties of whether the country in question is interventionist or not. They’re there; they’re having an effect; they’re intervening. Unless you’re prepared to cut off all trade and diplomatic contact as well as military and economic intervention you can’t escape stirring up hostility.
We don’t call cutting off all contacts with other countries noninterventionism. We call it isolationism.
Commenters have given China’s policy of nonintervention credit for China’s success in gaining toeholds in African countries. China is, in one fashion or another, supporting the really heinous regimes in Sudan and Zimbabwe. One of the grievances that people in the Middle East have against us is our support for repressive regimes. I have little doubt that China will learn in time the lesson we should have learned: you won’t gain any friends that way.
There are perfectly good reasons to argue against our present willingness to intervene militarily in the absence of a specific threat to our own security. The reasons include moral ones, national sovereignty, and the expense but I don’t think we should kid ourselves into believing that we’ll make friends by not intervening. We won’t. Those with the inclination will find their reasons to hate us including the pervasiveness of American companies and culture.
And, like it or not, it’s American intervention that keeps the sealanes open, provides assistance to victims of earthquakes and tsunamis, and reduces the likelihood of major power war. We’re not going to return to a policy that was rejected because it had failed nearly a century ago.