data, human rights maps, international relations, intervention, war

Human Rights Maps (171): U.S. Military Intervention

U.S. military intervention abroad isn’t necessarily incompatible with respect for human rights. Sometimes it’s the only means to stop large scale violations. While military intervention always means imposing a certain level of harm on the local population, it’s possible to argue that in some cases intervention results in a net benefit. WWII could be viewed as belonging to this category of cases. Had the U.S. intervened in the Rwandan genocide, that could also have been a net benefit even if many Rwandans had died in the process. Of course, there are strict limitations to this kind of calculus – normally, it’s not OK to kill two in order to save three. However, in catastrophic circumstances, some sacrifices are probably morally acceptable if they are necessary to save thousands or even millions. That’s even more true if those who are sacrificed are responsible for the harm that triggered the intervention. (More on so-called humanitarian intervention here).

The argument that foreign intervention is necessary in order to protect the rights of U.S. citizens at home is somewhat harder to make. That was the rationale for the invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but those probably did not help to reduce the terror threat at home. Perhaps the contrary was the case. And if you count the harm done to the invaded populations – as you should – then the net result is clearly negative, even if the invasions did succeed in reducing the terror threat in the U.S.

Furthermore, very few if any of all the military interventions ever carried out by the U.S. – either before or during the War on Terror - were meant to protect anyone’s human rights – neither those of Americans, not those of the people in the invaded countries. The central concerns were about spheres of interest, balance of power, economic profit etc., and the usual outcome was a human rights disaster.

Those interventions were numerous, especially if you add the quasi-military ones, namely those that involved support for local guerillas, assassinations etc. Many interventions had long-lasting effects: military bases were established, autocrats received military training and long-term financial support and so on. In fact, there have been so many interventions that they can’t all fit on a single map, unless you want to have something awful like this. Here’s a better map showing some of the American interventions in one part of the world:

map of US interventions in Latin America

map of US interventions in Latin America

(source, click image to enlarge)

Here’s a map from an earlier period in history, just to show that this is nothing new:

US Interventions map

(source, click image to enlarge)

The number of troops or military bases abroad is another way to represent the extent of U.S. intervention in the world:

US troops abroad

(source, the sharp increase in the late 60s is of course due to the Vietnam war, the sharp decline in the early 90s follows the fall of the Iron Curtain)
US military bases abroad

US military bases abroad

(source, click image to enlarge)

US overseas troop deployment

Here’s a map of US military bases in the Middle East:

US military bases in the Middle East


More maps on international intervention are here. More human rights maps in general here.


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