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Unintended consequences outweigh—they don’t spill over

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Unintended consequences outweigh—they don’t spill over

Gvosdev 5 – Rhodes scholar, PhD from St. Antony’s College, executive editor of The National Interest (Nikolas, The Value(s) of Realism, SAIS Review 25.1, pmuse, AG)
As the name implies, realists focus on promoting policies that are achievable and sustainable. In turn, the morality of a foreign policy action is judged by its results, not by the intentions of its framers. A foreign policymaker must weigh the consequences of any course of action and assess the resources at hand to carry out the proposed task. As Lippmann warned, Without the controlling principle that the nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means and its means equal to its purposes, its commitments related to its resources and its resources adequate to its commitments, it is impossible to think at all about foreign affairs.8 Commenting on this maxim, Owen Harries, founding editor of The National Interest, noted, "This is a truth of which Americans—more apt to focus on ends rather than means when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world—need always to be reminded."9 In fact, Morgenthau noted that "there can be no political morality without prudence."10 This virtue of prudence—which Morgenthau identified as the cornerstone of realism—should not be confused with expediency. Rather, it takes as its starting point that it is more moral to fulfill one's commitments than to make "empty" promises, and to seek solutions that minimize harm and produce sustainable results. Morgenthau concluded: [End Page 18] Political realism does not require, nor does it condone, indifference to political ideals and moral principles, but it requires indeed a sharp distinction between the desirable and the possible, between what is desirable everywhere and at all times and what is possible under the concrete circumstances of time and place.11 This is why, prior to the outbreak of fighting in the former Yugoslavia, U.S. and European realists urged that Bosnia be decentralized and partitioned into ethnically based cantons as a way to head off a destructive civil war. Realists felt this would be the best course of action, especially after the country's first free and fair elections had brought nationalist candidates to power at the expense of those calling for inter-ethnic cooperation. They had concluded—correctly, as it turned out—that the United States and Western Europe would be unwilling to invest the blood and treasure that would be required to craft a unitary Bosnian state and give it the wherewithal to function. Indeed, at a diplomatic conference in Lisbon in March 1992, the various factions in Bosnia had, reluctantly, endorsed the broad outlines of such a settlement. For the purveyors of moralpolitik, this was unacceptable. After all, for this plan to work, populations on the "wrong side" of the line would have to be transferred and resettled. Such a plan struck directly at the heart of the concept of multi-ethnicity—that different ethnic and religious groups could find a common political identity and work in common institutions. When the United States signaled it would not accept such a settlement, the fragile consensus collapsed. The United States, of course, cannot be held responsible for the war; this lies squarely on the shoulders of Bosnia's political leaders. Yet Washington fell victim to what Jonathan Clarke called "faux Wilsonianism," the belief that "high-flown words matter more than rational calculation" in formulating effective policy, which led U.S. policymakers to dispense with the equation of "balancing commitments and resources."12 Indeed, as he notes, the Clinton administration had criticized peace plans calling for decentralized partition in Bosnia "with lofty rhetoric without proposing a practical alternative." The subsequent war led to the deaths of tens of thousands and left more than a million people homeless. After three years of war, the Dayton Accords—hailed as a triumph of American diplomacy—created a complicated arrangement by which the federal union of two ethnic units, the Muslim-Croat Federation, was itself federated to a Bosnian Serb republic. Today, Bosnia requires thousands of foreign troops to patrol its internal borders and billions of dollars in foreign aid to keep its government and economy functioning. Was the aim of U.S. policymakers, academics and journalists—creating a multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia—not worth pursuing? No, not at all, and this is not what the argument suggests. But aspirations were not matched with capabilities. As a result of holding out for the "most moral" outcome and encouraging the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo to pursue maximalist aims rather than finding a workable compromise that could have avoided bloodshed and produced more stable conditions, the peoples of Bosnia suffered greatly. In the end, the final settlement was very close [End Page 19] to the one that realists had initially proposed—and the one that had also been roundly condemned on moral grounds.

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