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HomeGeopolitical CompassEurope, Russia, OceaniaTo Intervene or Not to Intervene

To Intervene or Not to Intervene

Author: Hans J. Morgenthau

Affiliation: German-American Political Scientist and Historian (1904, Coburg, Germany—died July 19, 1980, New York, USA); Professor of Political Science and Modern History and Director of the Center for the Study of American Foreign Policy, University of Chicago; Visiting Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (1966); academic interpreter of U.S. foreign policy

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: April 1967/Republished June 2022  

Type of Literature: Historical Journal Article

Word Count: 5693



Keywords: Realism, Russia, Ukraine, USA, Vietnam, Economic Aid




The Council on Foreign Relations made this article available to the public for the first time in 1967. The most well-known thing associated with Morgenthau is his six principles of realism theory, which places an emphasis on the role of security as the major driver of ‘conflict.’ Considering Russia’s continuous involvement in Ukraine, a new version of the text has been published in 2022. Despite its age and unfortunate inclusion of blatantly racist ideology, the article however remains relevant and is thought to be significant since it provides an answer to one of the most fundamental concerns—why nations act. The investigation conducted by Morgenthau reveals several significant differences between the many attempts made in the past and in the present to intervene. 


To begin, post-colonized nations do not fulfill all the conditions necessary to be recognized as nations. Because of this, the government of that country looks to other countries and organizations for financial aid. To illustrate his theory that “aid” is the basic driving factor behind interventions, Morgenthau conducts an analysis of the economies of India and Egypt, both of which have historically relied on international assistance. The hypothesis proposed by Morgenthau states that the nation that aids another country holds the power to determine the fate of the country that receives the assistance. Even if another nation’s government offers assistance, the United States will still take action; alternatively, if it does not, the major powers will still take action. It is unavoidable that a government will be susceptible to the political demands of the nation that is providing assistance if the basic existence of the government is dependent on assistance from another nation. 

Second, the world as we know it today is not all that dissimilar to the reality that existed during the Napoleonic wars, which was a time where the idea of nonintervention and the practice of war coexisted. This brings up an interesting point. The most powerful nations in the world are optimistic about the positive outcomes that could result from a successful revolution, but they are wary of the potential drawbacks that could be brought on by revolutionary upheaval. After this, the primary powers of the globe reached a consensus to join the revolution and lend their support to the many groups that are fighting for their cause. As a consequence of this, none of the revolutions that took place after World War II had any effect whatsoever on the nation’s very own foreign policy; but, they did shed light on the political group to which each nation belongs. 


In the year 1967, the United States and the Soviet Union are in a state that can be compared to “mutual cohabitation,” and they have made a pact to stay out of each other’s way. Both sides now consider the rest of the world to be their battleground, and they prefer to engage in the conflict via a third party so that they can avoid engaging in direct violence. They have either supported or opposed the administrations of less powerful nations in order to achieve their interests while simultaneously intervening in the internal affairs of the states that make up those nations. 


The struggle between various political ideologies and long-standing animosities constitutes the fourth component of the intervention. The United States and the Soviet Union squared up against one another in the international arena not only as two superpowers, but also as the creators of two opposing and incompatible philosophies, forms of government, and ways of life. This competition took place during the Cold War. This is the impetus that motivates these two nations to take action and further develop their connection with one another. 


“The choice of countries” determines whether such governments will become customers of blocs or continue to operate freely. This occurs while the two superpowers work out how to exert influence over less powerful states. 


If this reading of our intervention policy is right, then the United States has successfully interfered in a way that is both wise and effective. Their policy of involvement has been shaped by the United States’ ideological aversion to communism and potential uprisings led by communists, and this aversion has impacted their policy. This unfortunate encounter with defeat should prove to be an extremely valuable learning opportunity for the United States. The United States has spent significantly more than $100 billion intervening in the political, military, and economic affairs of other nations, and it is currently engaged in a costly and complicated war to construct a nation in South Vietnam. The United States has also spent a significant amount of time and resources on this war. Only America’s adversaries would dare to turn their backs on the unrivaled generosity of these initiatives, which have no previous example in human history. But were these strategies the best option? Have the commitments made, and the risks taken been appropriate considering what was expected and what transpired? And did they succeed, in fact? The economic assistance provided by the United States has been effective in bolstering economies that were already amid the development process. On the other hand, the assistance has largely been unsuccessful in establishing economic development in areas where none existed before. As a result of this failure, the United States has developed the conceptual idea of concentrating aid on the few nations that are able to make use of it, as opposed to providing aid to the many nations who need it. This principle of selectivity is sound in theory; however, its consistent application in practice has been thwarted by harsh political and military realities, which may necessitate the provision of economic aid that is not economically justified. In addition, its consistent application is difficult due to considerations derived from the ideological concerns that were discussed earlier. 


The concept of exercising judgment must likewise be applied to the worlds of politics and the armed forces. The United States currently has a tremendously exaggerated view of what may be achieved for the benefit of another nation through participation in the affairs of that nation. The boundless ideological commitment inevitably results in this consequence, which is an overestimation of the ability to act. It is not going to be based on broad ideological commitments or an unquestioning dependence on American strength; rather, the selection of these occasions will be determined after carefully considering the interests involved and the power that is available. If the United States adheres to this norm, it will be necessary for it to intervene less and will lead to greater levels of success.


By: Maryam Khan, CIGA Research Associate 



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