The Buzz

The Interventionists' Agenda

When Henry Kissinger warned against upending the 360-year-old Westphalian system of state sovereignty in last week’s Washington Post, the Buzz saluted. Now, Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter dismisses Kissinger in the same paper as being based on a “straw man.”

Kissinger argued that regime-change initiatives always lead to nation building, which generates challenges and expenditures of blood and treasure that often aren’t politically sustainable. And, he added, without a successful nation-building effort, the international order begins to disintegrate as nations descend into increasing—and often spreading—chaos.

But, says Slaughter, who said anything about regime change? She advocates “a Security Council resolution with clear parameters about a limited use of force . . . short of troops on the ground.” She advocates providing intelligence and communications equipment, antitank and antimortar weapons, air support against government forces and actions to disable the Syrian air defenses.

But what is the goal of such acts of war against another nation if not regime change? If a coalition of nations offers such support to internal forces trying to upend a regime, how can it argue with a straight face that regime change is not the objective?

Slaughter gives away her true intent by arguing that Muammar Qaddafi’s fall hasn’t generated chaos in Libya, where a UN-sanctioned operation much like what she advocates for Syria began as a mission to save lives but ended up in regime change. So her unspoken aim is regime change. Beyond that, it’s premature to suggest the Libyan situation won’t lead to the kind of chaos that Kissinger was warning about.

But, even if it doesn’t (and all people of good surely hope it won’t), it’s foolish to argue this is a harbinger for Syria, a country far different from Libya, situated in a far more intrinsically chaotic zone where the danger of regional destabilization is far more acute.

Slaughter turns Westphalia on its head by advocating “sovereignty as responsibility”—encompassing obligations that her country, the United States, will help enforce. Even if her country wanted to, and there’s no evidence it does, this advocacy is flawed for all the reasons Kissinger suggested.