Without a clear strategic concept, eroding borders and expanding wars create risks, Henry Kissinger wrote in the Washington Post yesterday. Military intervention in Syria should be considered in this context.
"For military intervention, humanitarian or strategic, there should be two prerequisites," Kissinger wrote. "First, a consensus on governance after the overthrow of the status quo is critical. If the objective is confined to deposing a specific ruler, a new civil war could follow in the resulting vacuum, as armed groups contest the succession, and outside countries choose different sides.
"Second, the political objective must be explicit and achievable in a domestically sustainable time period. I doubt that the Syrian issue meets these tests. The U.S. and allies cannot afford to be driven from expedient to expedient into undefined military involvement in a conflict taking on an increasingly sectarian character. In the absence of a clearly articulated strategic concept, a world order that erodes borders and merges international and civil wars can never catch its breath. A sense of nuance is needed to give perspective to the proclamation of absolutes. This is a nonpartisan issue, and it should be treated in that manner in the national debate we are entering."
Kissinger ponderously reviewed world orders from the Treaty of Westphalia to modern times. "The diplomacy generated by the Arab Spring replaces Westphalian principles of equilibrium with a generalized doctrine of humanitarian intervention," he wrote. "If adopted as a principle of foreign policy, this form of intervention raises broader questions for U.S. strategy. Does America consider itself obliged to support every popular uprising against any non-democratic government, including those heretofore considered important in sustaining the international system? While the United States accelerates withdrawals from military interventions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, how can a new military commitment in the same region be justified, particularly one likely to face similar challenges?"