Donald Canaday

US Human Rights Policy


After the Cold War

                With the end of the cold war in 1989, the United States found itself able to focus on other priorities other than the eventual defeat of the Soviet Union.  Interest in human rights began to come closer to the forefront of our consciences.  Interest in the promotion of human rights had already gained a foothold with the creation of the Country Reports by US Congress in the mid-1970’s[1].  Since that time, the US often found itself supporting nations with questionable human rights records simply because they supported us in the cold war against the Soviet Union.  When challenged on this, we could usually defend our actions in the interest of national security.  This defense is no longer viable such challenges today.  Replacing the security defense with the “trade” defense is not as effective because the need for maintaining a strong economy can not compare with the need to deter annihilation by a powerful enemy.  The current world situation dictates that we must take a stronger stance on human rights than we have in the past.

Human Rights Operations: Successes and Failures

            Since 1989 the United States has been involved in many conflicts with the intention of promoting human rights or to reinstate the human rights of victimized

peoples.  We have had a few successes, but we have had many more failures. 

We can certainly count Kosovo as one of our successes.  The US, along with NATO, was able to stop Yugoslavian Serbs from ethnically cleansing Kosovo’s Muslim population.  To further solidify our success, Slobodan Milosevic recently lost a national election and, under great international and domestic pressure, conceded defeat.  He is likely to stand trial in a domestic court for his crimes.  We can also count Haiti as one of our successes of the 1990’s.  We removed an unelected dictator and replaced him with an elected one.

            I must qualify our success in Haiti, however.  Reinstating Aristide was a short-term victory, but a long-term failure.  Aristide himself had corrupt tendencies and regularly violated the Haitian constitution.  For example, he often took money from the Haitian treasury and placed it in the treasury of his own party.  Actual living conditions have changed little in Haiti.  Some of the worst human rights violations have been alleviated, and US Army engineers and medical personnel were able to provide some relief to some unfortunate people[2].  History seems to be reasserting itself, however, as post Operation Uphold Democracy leaders revert to the traditional Haitian leadership style of autocracy and self-enrichment.

            Somalia must also be added to our list of failures.  As in Haiti, we were able to provide some relief to some suffering people.  Mission creep took control, however, and our mission escalated from ensuring the proper delivery of humanitarian aid, to capturing one particular crafty warlord.  After the corpses of captured US Army Rangers were dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu, the American public lost all enthusiasm for any mission we had in Somalia, humanitarian or otherwise.

            Our failure in Somalia led to another failure, through inaction, in Rwanda.  After the tragedy and loss of public support for operations in Africa as a result of the events in Mogadishu, we were reluctant to get involved in the horrible genocide that occurred in Rwanda.  Hutus were killing Tutsis at a faster rate than Hitler was able to destroy Jews, yet we did nothing[3].  Although we did not pay a heavy price for this domestically, internationally we were found to be responsible, along with other Western nations, by Human Rights Watch in 1999[4].

            The failure in Bosnia was largely that of the UN’s decision to send peacekeepers when there was no peace to keep.  However, as a member of the Security Council we share some responsibility in all UN failures.  In the end, we can claim some success with the results of the Dayton agreement, but even that was an imperfect solution[5].

            After a decade of blundering around the globe, perhaps it is time to step back and take a good look at ways to increase our success rate.  History will perhaps forgive us for our errors in the 1990’s, if we learn from them to develop organizations and processes that can better meet these challenges in the future.  I believe it is self-evident that after Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone,

Indonesia and Kosovo, all in the space of one decade, we will continue to see violations of human rights occurring throughout the planet.

The Risks Involved

            If we have learned one thing from our adventures in the last decade it is that there is much inherent risk when a peacekeeping operation is undertaken, both political and physical.  Political risks include, but are not limited to: failure to accomplish our intended mission, taking too long to accomplish our mission, misbehavior of US soldiers or peacekeepers, not acting when we should, acting when we should not, and giving the appearance of taking sides in an operation.  Physical risks include the loss of life or capture of US soldiers, peacekeepers and other US civilians in the area of operations.  Physical risk also includes the loss of expensive equipment such as when an F-111 Stealth Fighter was shot down over Yugoslavia.  These physical risks ultimately translate into a political risk, the best example being the events in Mogadishu.  Both the downing of a US Blackhawk helicopter and the deaths of US Army Rangers in Mogadishu were strategically and successfully used to dishearten the American public.  In Yugoslavia, Milosevic used the downing of an F-111 and the capture of some American soldiers in a less successful propaganda attempt.  Warlords and hostile foreign leaders seem to have broken the code on ending US human rights operations.  Simply kill enough US military personnel, publicly and violently, and the US public will lose all enthusiasm and demand that the troops come home.  Clinton understood this and refused to send ground troops into Yugoslavia.  Although announcing this publicly may have not been strategically sound from a military perspective, from a political perspective he had robbed Milosevic of the most effective way of resisting us.

A Three legged Strategy

            It is with the intention of minimizing this political risk that I propose a three-legged strategy toward dealing with human rights.  These three legs are prevention, maintenance, and action.  The last is to be used when the other two fail.


            Prevention is the first leg of my strategy.  It means to promote democracy whenever and wherever possible.  Liberal democracies, though hardly perfect, especially abroad, do tend to have better human rights records than other political systems[6] such as communism or theocracies.  Being the only superpower and having the world’s largest market give us tremendous advantages if we choose to use them.  We have the power to use the benefits of trade, military alliance, and diplomatic support to assist any emerging democracies or new leaders who wish to make democratic and human rights reforms.  We can also withhold these benefits to those who violate human rights.  An excellent opportunity would be our trade relationship with China.  Despite the progress China has made in the last two decades, it is still ruled by a communist dictatorship, and its human rights record is deplorable.  China regularly harasses, imprisons, tortures, and executes its citizens for political reasons[7].  The most obvious example is its treatment of Tibetan monks and nuns who are suspected of preaching for independence.  The most recent example is the persecution of members of the Falun Gong religion[8].

            China has a large potential market that may someday be realized.  It uses this as leverage over American businesses that seek to sell products and services there someday.  It is quite understandable for American companies to lobby for keeping open trade with China.  However, China has been able to persuade American corporations to lobby for non-business related Chinese interests as well.  Boeing, for one, has lobbied our legislature to reduce support for Taiwan, decrease publication of human rights abuses and on other issues that China is concerned with but are not necessarily trade related[9].  Boeing does this because it sees the potential for 70% market share of Chinese domestic flights.  Should Mainland China ever become the economic powerhouse that Hong Kong or Taiwan has, those who can sell to them will become very rich indeed.  China, it seems, is better at using its potential market to influence us than we are at using our very real and valuable market to influence them.  Despite China’s potential market of over one billion consumers; we have an actual market much greater than theirs and it is, in fact, the worlds largest.  Every entrepreneur on the planet wants to sell to Americans.  I propose that we use this as leverage to encourage the Chinese government to improve its treatment of political dissidents and people of religion.  This would require a great deal of political courage on the part of any president.  However, a quick walk through any Wal-Mart reveals the multitude of goods that we import from China.  The loss of the US market would hurt them greatly.  Any president who could use this to effect real and significant political and human rights reform in China would surely go down in history as a great humanitarian.

            Another prevention tool we can use is our domestic court system. Although there is not currently any standing international criminal court[10], we can and have tried foreign leaders, such as Manuel Noriega, in our own court system for violations of human rights and international law.  We should attempt to try those who are the worse violators of human rights.  It may not be practical in all situations, but when it is we can create second thoughts in the minds of any leaders thinking of committing massive atrocities.


            The second leg of my human rights strategy is maintenance.  This is essentially keeping what we have.  We support existing democracies with trade, military alliance, and diplomatic support.  Although most existing democracies have largely internalized the value of human rights, at least domestically, any newly elected leader would be aware of the cost of violating human rights.  An opportunity available to us is Yugoslavia.  President Clinton and other Western leaders have wisely expressed a willingness to work with the newly elected president, Kostunica.  Should Kostunica try to take absolute power, as Milosevic had, then Western nations should certainly and suddenly become unwilling to work with him.  The maintenance portion of my strategy is something we are really doing already.  I am simply suggesting that we continue to do so, and link this with democracy and human rights.


            The third leg of my strategy is action.  The purpose of the first two legs is to minimize the need for the third.  However, if the 1990’s are anything to go by, we will still see plenty of action in the decades to come.  Action means the deployment of peacekeepers or military in the support of human rights.  This is the most risky of the three legs as well.  Poor decision making in this arena can often mean the loss of lives on the part of US citizens and military personnel, as well as international embarrassment.

A United Nations Peacekeeping Reaction Force

            One way of avoiding risk here is to support the creation of a United Nations Peacekeeping Reaction Force (UNPRF).  A UNPRF would be more likely to foster global support, whereas US operations often mean that we are subject to criticism by other nations.  Should a UNPRF operation fail, then all forces involved could share in the blame, as opposed to the US taking all of it.  Such a force could quickly react to global events in time to make a difference.  The UN as it is presently organized is a slow, ponderous beast.  It takes too much time to form a peacekeeping force and lives are hanging in the balance.  Boutros-Ghali, for example, found it terribly difficult to get nations to commit to troops for Somalia and Bosnia.  Those that did would sometimes renege on their commitment.  When they did arrive they might not be adequately trained or equipped[11].  Once in country, nations could remove them at a whim.  Nations may compete with each other for the most prestigious assignments, or the safest, or the most comfortable. 

The lack of peacekeeping training among supposed peacekeepers can not be underemphasized.  When I was in Haiti as part of Operation Uphold Democracy, it was common knowledge among US troops that Bangladeshi soldiers were only there to collect UN pay.  Since they were not trained to be diplomatic, as were the US Special Forces soldiers there, they often would shoot first in a situation that was only mildly threatening, such as a political demonstration.  They did not want to meet with and interact with the Haitian people, which is an absolute necessity for peacekeeping.

            The Bangladeshis are not the only military forces that would arrive at peacekeeping operations unprepared.  US forces typically adopt a “bunker” mentality when they are supposed to be on a peacekeeping mission[12].  European forces have been very critical of the US in this regard.  Our compounds are sandbagged and surrounded by concertina wire.  We have trenches and foxholes throughout.  When we do venture out of the security of our compounds, we wear the full “battle rattle” of combat vest, kevlar helmet and camouflage.  We are also armed for battle with squad automatic weapons, M60 machine guns, M203 grenade launchers, hand grenades and AT-4 anti-tank weapons.  We position

ourselves in our HMMWV’s or APC’s at the combat ready, with weapons pointed in all directions like the quills of a porcupine. 

To the civilian populace in the area, we look scared and ready for war.  We seldom venture out of our vehicles to speak to the local populace and when we do we are not always diplomatic.  Recently the 82nd Airborne Division has embarrassed itself in Kosovo[13] because it was entirely too harsh with the local populace.  In one particularly unfortunate situation a young girl was raped and killed.  The rape/murder, I believe, was an individual act and is atypical of the behavior of the 82nd, one of our best-trained infantry divisions.  The rapist/killer, SSG Frank Ronghi, is now serving a life sentence.  However, the harsh treatment of civilians by the 82nd is perhaps to be expected.  I have worked with the 82nd and can testify that they are quality soldiers.  They are trained to seize terrain and kill whomever they have to in the process.  They are not trained to conduct peacekeeping operations.  Sending them to Kosovo was asking for trouble.

            A UNPRF would be better behaved if trained properly.  Training should consist of peacekeeping, riot control, and light infantry tactics.  This would give it the focus on peacekeeping, but the ability to defend itself in the event they encounter hostile forces.  They should carry only small arms consisting of rifles and pistols, along with some extra ammunition.  Heavier weapons should be in theater, but kept out of site unless the situation escalates to the point where they are required.  If needed, the UNPRF could use indirect fire and combat air support in the event of a serious firefight, if the US or some other able nation would be willing to provide it.  Indirect fire and combat air support can be prepositioned for long range support.  This would provide additional protection for UNPRF personnel without presenting a threatening image to the local populace.  UNPRF personnel should wear simple non-camouflage uniforms, boots, blue UN baseball cap or beret, and equipment vest or harness.  While the uniform and equipment should be functional, it should also be designed to be as least threatening as possible.  UNPRF equipment should also be functional but non-threatening.  I recommend civilian four-wheel drive vehicles, painted UN white.  Any helicopters organic to or supporting the UNPRF should be painted white if possible.  It should not be painted black under any circumstance.

            UNPRF personnel should be selected from many different countries.  Experience in the 1990’s has shown us that member nations will pull their people out of operations they do not support.  By having a multitude of nations represented, the overall strength of the UNPRF would not be significantly weakened if some of the troops were recalled to their home countries.  Officers and senior NCO’s, however, should come from the nations represented in the Security Council.  Since each nation in the Security Council can veto an operation, it is less likely that they would withdraw their troops if they voted to support the operation.  This way the officer and senior NCO’s who trained with the unit will operate with the unit.  The size of the UNPRF should be restricted to about a brigade size element.  This is sufficiently large enough to be an effective force until other forces arrive, but not so large that any country or organization could accuse the UN of organizing a private army for world conquest.

            Language ability should be a criterion when selecting UNPRF troops.  All should possess one common language, such as English or French, and any languages in addition to their home language would be ideal.  This would give the UNPRF forces the ability to communicate amongst each other efficiently, and to interact with the local populace effectively.  This would minimize the need for translators.  In addition, language training should be on their training schedule and should be focused on likely deployment locations.

            Setting up this UNPRF will not be inexpensive, but it can save us political costs in the future.  I therefore propose that we pay our UN dues, with the stipulation that funds will be designated towards the creation of a UNPRF.  Our stated reasons for not paying them up until now has been that we are paying too large a share and the UN is not spending the money efficiently.  I think we should still push to get our percentage of the overall UN income reduced, but we should consider the creation of a UNPRF as a victory in restructuring the UN more efficiently.

            All UNPRF troops should be volunteers.  This should not be difficult to manage if UN pay is involved.  This will help minimize the public outcry for withdrawal should any UNPRF personnel get killed, which will eventually happen.

            There are a million other small details that need to be worked out in order to make a UNPRF function properly.  There are cultural differences, dietary differences, and historical differences to be worked out.  How well would a Japanese private work for a Korean Sergeant?  How will they get themselves and their equipment to the area of operations?  How will they feed the Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu troops, with their religious restrictions on diet?  Under what rules will they be disciplined should any misconduct occur (which will eventually happen)?  I leave these details to the future officers and NCO’s of the UNPRF.

United States Peacekeeping Force

            Inevitably, there will come times where we will want to operate independently of the UN.  This may be because the Security Council did not approve an operation that we strongly supported, possibly because of the veto of just one country.  It might be because the UNPRF is otherwise engaged.  There may also come times where we will want to support the UNPRF with competent peacekeepers.  That is why I am proposing a United States Peacekeeping Force (USPF).  We must keep in mind that any failures or misbehaviors of a USPF will fall back on us directly.  Any USPF should be trained, like the UNPRF, in peacekeeping, light infantry tactics, and riot control.  I suggest an MP brigade at first, since they are already trained in these three skills.  They should be equipped along the same lines as the UNPRF.  They do not need to be volunteers, although this would be ideal.  They should also have a multitude of language qualifications in order to operate worldwide.

            A USPF would enable us to avoid having to send in units like the 82nd, 101st, or 25th infantry divisions who are trained to kill and destroy, not keep the peace.  These war-fighting units would then be free to train for their combat missions, and therefore increase the combat readiness of our military.  Like the UNPRF, their specialized training would make them less likely to commit the blunders we saw from the 82nd in Kosovo, or the Bangladeshis in Haiti.  This makes the USPF a better choice to send on these politically risky missions.

            In some circumstances the USPF would be a better choice than the UNPRF.  A decision by the US to send the USPF would also mean a decision to send in the proper resources such a force would need.  These include transportation, indirect fire support, Special Forces support, civil affairs units and psychological operations units.  They could arrive faster and could sustain themselves longer than any UN force could.  They would not have the degree of political infighting that would be present in a multinational force.  However, we must resist the temptation to lead the way unless we absolutely have to.  Unless there is a broad base of domestic support for the operation, any USPF soldiers killed would result in cries of “Bring our boys home!”

High Tech, Low Risk Equipment

            During the conflict in Yugoslavia, President Clinton pledged that no ground forces would be used.  What he was doing was ensuring the US population that we would not have another Somalia.  The US population, while perhaps supportive of human rights operations in general, will usually not support a specific operation if it means the loss of life for US military personnel.  For over seventy days NATO conducted air operations against Serbian forces in Yugoslavia.  Although not as effective as CNN videos would have one believe, smart bombs and cruise missiles did have a significant impact on Serbian forces[14].  Combined with the diplomatic pressure that the US and other NATO countries were able to bring to bear, Slobodan Milosevic was forced to allow an international force into Kosovo[15].

            The “Airpower only” strategy is worthy of some criticism.  Perhaps Milosevic would have given up earlier if he thought that M1 tanks would soon be rolling into Belgrade and the 101st would be occupying the countryside.  By refusing to deploy ground troops we allowed him to decide when it was time to surrender.  In addition the bombing escalated the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.  Unable to fight NATO directly, Serb forces took out their anger on Kosovar Albanians.  Many refugees fled into Albania, which only furthered the goals of Milosevic.  We hit the wrong targets on occasion, including a column of refugees and the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.  Our stock of cruise missiles was significantly depleted and it will be some time before we replenish them[16].

            Still, the public outcry over the loss of US life that a ground invasion would clearly have led to must be considered.  The Serbs have a reputation for being fierce fighters.  They had modern equipment and they knew the terrain.  Even at the end of the bombing, most of their military was intact[17].  It is unlikely they would have surrendered in droves as the Iraqi’s did during the Gulf War.  During the bombing campaign, I detected no strong feelings about the conflict one way or another from my civilian co-workers, despite the nightly reports depicting Kosovar refugees on television.  I think had we gone in with ground forces, we would have had significant casualties at the hands of Serb weapons, and the American public would have demanded to pull our troops out of the area.  Had this occurred, it would have been difficult for NATO to go it alone, and victory would not have been guaranteed.  Milosevic would have become very popular for standing up to the NATO invaders and would still be in power today.

            Obviously Clinton considered this a serious risk.  Should we find ourselves in this situation again, we should be prepared with an arsenal of weapons systems that allow us to do what we did in Yugoslavia, defeat an enemy while not allowing him any targets whatsoever.  We should replenish our stock of cruise missiles as rapidly as possible.  If we are going to be dependent on these in the future, we should increase our reserves to the level that we can fight this war again if needed, without lowering our defense posture.  We should also invest in the research to improve this technology so that we will have less collateral damage, which can be embarrassing.  We are already conducting research on pilotless planes that can conduct reconnaissance and deliver bomb payloads[18].  As much as the Air Force will complain about this, sending robot planes on the most dangerous missions will allow us to deny the enemy air targets as well.  Anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) is relatively cheap and some of them, SA-2’s and SA-5’s in particular, are very difficult to defeat[19].  Despite its stealth technology, the F-111 was shot down by Serbian small arms fire, giving them a small psychological victory.  This type of technology, while allowing us to minimize risk in an operation like Kosovo, also has obvious applications in a full-scale war.

            We should also invest non-lethal weapons technology.  Although it’s use in full scale war is very limited, operation it can be indispensable in a peacekeeping.  Pepper spraying a riotous but unarmed individual is much preferable to shooting him, and then seeing his mother wail endlessly on CNN that very evening for the entire world to see.  Any USPF or UNPRF should be well supplied and trained in the use of pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, CS gas, beanbag guns, tasers, and rubber bullets.  There is also some promising research being done to develop devices similar to what we used to see only on “Star Trek,” such as a laser[20] that can stun an adversary.  At this point it is the size of a suitcase and too big for practical use.  Within a decade, however, it may be rifle or even pistol sized and in the hands of peacekeepers.

            There are some things to be considered when using non-lethal or less than lethal weapons.  One is that invariably allegations of torture will be made against peacekeepers that use these technologies, even if they are in reality used perfectly legitimately.  Already in the United States, demonstrators, having had been pepper-sprayed by police who were trying to subdue them, have elected to speak of the experience in poetic terms in order to gather sympathy for their cause[21].  Secondly, there will be forces that will attempt to take advantage of peacekeepers by throwing rocks and making themselves seem like underdogs.  Some may even do so in order to goad peacekeepers into using lethal force and thus creating an incident suitable for viewing on CNN that evening.  Finally, we must realize that non-lethal weapons are not the answer for every situation.  In some cases lethal force is perfectly legitimate and should be used.


            The challenges that face us in the future are not entirely unknown to us.  We know that we will be facing ambiguous environments somewhere on the scale of conflict between peaceful coexistence and full-scale war.  Human rights violations will always occur, and the stronger nations will always be expected to do something about them.  Although I do not believe we are obligated to engage in activities that are counter to our own national interests, there are many times when it is in our national interests to simply do something, anything, to help.  In the future we need to be better prepared to address these issues than we have in the past.  By using a three-legged strategy to prevent human rights violations from occurring, to reward those nations and leaders who have internalized human rights values, and to be prepared for action when human rights violations do occur, we can better resolve future human rights issues with more efficiency and minimal risk.




1.        Thomas B. Jabine and Richard P. Claude, eds., Human Rights and Statistics, of The Role of Government Organizations, Judith E. Innes  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, <date unknown>)


2.        William Shawcross,. Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000)


3.        David Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)


4.       Labor U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Priactices. 2000.


5.        J. Michael Waller, “China’s Agents of Influence,” Insight on the News (2000): 14


6.        Tanya Biank, “Kosovo Murder Suspect to Appear,” Fayetteville Online Local News, 22 Jun. 2000


7.        Paul Richter, “Plane with a brain may wage wars,”, 18 May 2000


8.        Dr. Nick Lewer, “Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project,” Center for Conflict Resolution, June 1998, 14 Oct. 2000 <>


9.        Neil deMause, “Pepper Spray Gets in Their Eyes,” Fair, March/April 2000 <>


[1] Thomas B. Jabine and Richard P. Claude, eds., Human Rights and Statistics, of The Role of Government Organizations, Judith E. Innes  (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, <date unknown>), 237.

[2] William Shawcross,. Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 406.

[3] Ibid., 138.

[4] Ibid., 145.

[5] Ibid., 188.

[6] David Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 10.

[7] Labor U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 1999 Country Report on Human Rights Priactices. 2000.

[8] Ibid.

[9] J. Michael Waller, “China’s Agents of Influence,” Insight on the News (2000): 14.

[10] Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations, 220.

[11] Shawcross, Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict, 112.

[12] I have gathered this information from numerous conversations with military personnel, both US and foreign, throughout my military career.

[13] Tanya Biank, “Kosovo Murder Suspect to Appear,” Fayetteville Online Local News, 22 Jun. 2000 <>


[14] Shawcross, Deliver Us from Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict, 384.

[15] Ibid., 383.

[16] Ibid., 368-369

[17] Ibid., 384.

[18] Paul Richter, “Plane with a brain may wage wars,”, 18 May 2000 < >

[19] I have had many conversations with Special Operations Wing (SOW) Air Force personnel while on Operation Ulchi Focus Lens in Korea.  The SA-2 and SA-5 are particularly scary to them because they are very difficult, if not impossible with our current equipment, to jam.  These are relatively old systems that North Korea and other nations possess.

[20] It works like this.  The laser ionizes the air between the peacekeeper and the rioter.  This allows a current to pass from the weapon to the target.  The target is incapacitated temporarily, but not harmed.  Dr. Nick Lewer, “Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project,” Center for Conflict Resolution, June 1998, 14 Oct. 2000 <>

[21] Neil deMause, “Pepper Spray Gets in Their Eyes,” Fair, March/April 2000 <>