Revisiting the Powell Doctrine

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Alexander Wolf, a PhD candidate at the University of the Armed Forces, Munich, and a research assistant at the Academy for Politics and Current Affairs had a piece in the Winter issue of Strategic Studies Quarterly: U.S. Interventions Abroad: A Renaissance of the Powell Doctrine?. In his piece he suggests that “By chronicling the doctrinal premises of US intervention policy during the “interwar years” (1990–2001)1 and the administration of George W. Bush (2001–2008), it will demonstrate that the “smart power” approach of the Obama administration suggests continuity over radical change.” Wolf writes that “despite a liberal humanitarian orientation that in principle should look favorably on intervention, Washington will consider employing its military forces—when necessary, unilaterally and preemptively—only to protect vital US interests and only when confronted by immediate security threats.”

He then brought up the Powell Doctrine (shelved for years over the Bush Doctrine), which “offers a promising framework for military intervention” and why it should be considered in connection with Washington’s interest-based policy approach. With the President scheduled to deliver the much anticipated “way-forward” in Afghanistan, I think it would be interesting to revisit the Powell Doctrine. The following excerpted from Mr. Wolf’s paper:

[T]he Powell Doctrine begins with the interest-based decision to intervene and formulates an operational catalogue of criteria for the “proper” execution of military intervention. Accordingly, the military should only be put to use when:

(1) The national interest requires it;

(2) The number of troops employed corresponds with the mission they are to execute;

(3) The mission is clearly defined, both politically and militarily;

(4) The size, composition, and disposition of the troops is constantly being reevaluated;

(5) The operation has the support of both the Congress and the American people; and

(6) There is a clear exit strategy.

He further writes that “the operational criteria to be fulfilled according to the Powell Doctrine are meant to set up barriers to the ill-considered commitment of military forces in poorly planned operations and to help prevent “mission creep,” the unplanned escalation of a conflict.” He cited as primary example of a military intervention carried out in accordance with the Powell Doctrine, the US-led Operation Desert Storm, conducted under UN auspices for the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.”

Related Item:
Alexander Wolf | U.S. Interventions Abroad: A Renaissance of the Powell Doctrine?
Strategic Studies Quarterly | Winter 2009