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Researchers Debate Role of US Military in Humanitarian Missions


Although the U.S. military is already fighting insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, calls have been increasing for it to become involved in other trouble spots. But some people are questioning whether American troops should get involved in humanitarian missions around the world.

With more than 130,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, some analysts are saying the United States military is overstretched. Still, calls to send U.S. troops to places like Darfur, Sudan or Democratic Republic of Congo for humanitarian missions have increased.

The issue was the subject of a recent panel discussion at Washington's Cato Institute.

The panel's members generally agreed that, in order to rally international support, military action today tends to be justified on moral grounds. But they warned against overusing human rights as a reason for military intervention, saying the international community could come to view rights issues as simply a pretext for war.

The Cato Institute's director for foreign policy studies, Christopher Preble, said it is often up to the United States to carry out humanitarian missions because it possesses one of the few militaries in the world that has the resources to handle them.

Preble says in recent years, America has tended to deal with crises on its own. Instead, he said there should be a focus on building the capacity of other nations and groups to handle humanitarian issues.

"We talk about capacity and we talk about what we, the United States, should do to build capacity," said Mr. Preble. "We should also be thinking, perhaps more so, thinking about how to build this capacity elsewhere around the world to really empower other countries to take responsibility for some of these things, so that not everything is falling to the U.S. military."

Georgetown University International Relations Professor Charles Kupchan says military interventions pay dividends whenever they are done purely for humanitarian reasons.

"If the U.S. deploys forces, expends blood and treasure when it doesn't have the national interests on the line, it seems to me it's an investment in our image abroad and in the legitimacy of American leadership," he said.

As an example, Kupchan said the international perception of the United States improved after the American military stepped in to help after the 2004 tsunami in Indian Ocean region and Pakistani earthquake in 2005.

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