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Post-Cold War Interventions show Military Restraint is the Key to Protecting Human Rights

Executive Summary

For the United States to be “committed to a world in which human rights are protected, their defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable” requires more than rhetorical flourishes.1 To achieve the goal of protecting and promoting human rights, the United States must embrace a more restrained security posture together with a persistent diplomatic strategy that prioritizes engagement ahead of confrontation. 

Military force and economic coercion are the wrong tools for advancing human rights. As the cases of Iraq and Libya demonstrate, preventive or humanitarian wars have critically impaired human rights. Similarly, comprehensive sanctions regimes have imposed severe human rights costs while achieving few U.S. foreign policy goals, if any, in targeted countries. The United States should therefore incorporate the following policy approaches in the service of human rights:

• Right-size its expectations of what American power can achieve to protect and advance human rights abroad. On balance, exaggerated and unrealistic confidence in American power has hurt rather than helped the cause of human rights. 

• Serve as a public advocate of human rights in multilateral settings, engaging with  international institutions to pressure allies and adversaries alike on their human rights records. At the same time, the United States should raise human rights concerns directly in its bilateral dealings when abuses come to light, using private diplomacy to highlight specific issues or changes that are priorities.

• Do much more to support the protection and promotion of human rights in areas under its direct control or influence. This would include, at a minimum, halting human rights abuses committed by the U.S. in its own counterterrorism operations, freezing military aid when U.S. arms are implicated in targeting civilians, building on the recent openness to Ukrainian refugees by strengthening and expanding U.S. asylum and refugee resettlement programs globally, and greatly increasing delivery of humanitarian aid, in the form of funding as well as medical and food assistance, to civilian populations deprived of their socioeconomic rights due to conflict, climate change, and the global food crisis.

Read entire article at Quincy Institute