History Ph.D. Dissertations


Wars Without Risk: U.S. Humanitarian Interventions in the 1990s

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Gary Hess

Second Advisor

Robert Buffington (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Stephen Ortiz (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Neal Jesse


Wars Without Risk is an analysis of U.S. foreign policy under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton involving forced humanitarian military operations in Somalia and Haiti in the 1990s. The dissertation examines American post-Cold war foreign policy and the abrupt shift to involve U.S. armed forces in United Nations peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations to conduct limited humanitarian and nation-building projects. The focus of the study is on policy formulation and execution in two case studies of Somalia and Haiti.Wars Without Risk examines the fundamental flaws in the attempt to embrace assertive multilateralism (a neo-Wilsonian Progressive attempt to create world peace and stability through international force, collective security, international aid, and democratization) and to overextend the traditional democratization mandates of American foreign policy which inevitably led to failure, fraud, and waste. U.S. military might was haphazardly injected in ill-defined UN operations to save nations from themselves and to spread or "save" democracy in nations that were not strongly rooted in Western enlightenment foundations. Missions in Somalia and Haiti were launched as "feel good" humanitarian operations designed as attempts to rescue "failed states" but these emotionally-based operations had no chance of success in realistic terms because the root causes of poverty and conflict in targeted nations were too great to address through half-hearted international paternalism. Trapped by policies driven by empty rhetoric but lacking any validation in terms of national interests, Bush and Clinton weren't willing to take serious risks in order to fulfill their overly idealistic mandates over unwilling or unmotivated populations. The operations in Somalia and Haiti were poorly conceived and lacked and real public support at home, thus perpetuating the need of policymakers to focus on crafting political theater and positive imagery over generating viable strategies to accomplish these missions. Both interventions in Somalia and Haiti were initiated and executed on the basis of their promise of producing risk-free operations for policies built upon flimsy foundations of empty rhetoric, internationalism, idealism, and the desire to create positive imagery for the U.S. role in the post-Cold War world and for the presidents that conducted humanitarian operations.