April 3, 2001
Professor Looks Into 'Humanitarian Card' in Foreign
Somalia or Rwanda? Congo or the former
Throughout much of the world, national governments are wondering
what model the United States and other Western powers will
use when confronted with humanitarian crises. For many foreign
governments, it is the vital foreign policy question of the
post-Cold War world.
Many observers have argued that demand for action following
televised media coverage - the so-called "CNN Effect"
- has become a major factor in an otherwise unfocused U.S.
foreign policy. Humanitarian military interventions are apt
to become more common, they say, citing intervention in Somalia
and the former Yugoslavia.
But in an essay in the influential South African Yearbook
of International Affairs 2000-01, CSUS government professor
Bill Dorman warns African leaders that the issue is far from
He says there seems to be some merit to the theory that humanitarian
concerns have begun to replace ideological concerns when Americans
determine where they want their military involved. But they
remain wary of overseas adventure in general, he says, and
unsure what exactly justifies humanitarian intervention. It
isn't yet clear if horrifying pictures beamed to American
televisions will prompt citizens to demand military action,
or even if American media will be interested in foreign conflict,
"It is simply much too early in the post-Cold War period
to make sweeping generalizations about how the humanitarian
card is likely to be played in the future," Dorman writes.
He points out a number of recent examples in which the U.S.
did not intervene militarily, including the 1994 genocide
in Rwanda in which hundreds of thousands, or possibly more
than 1 million, perished. Similarly, the U.S. has not gotten
involved in the war now raging in Congo, which former U.S.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has called "Africa's
First World War."
Rwanda received very little media coverage until after the
slaughter began, and the Congo conflict is being largely ignored
by the media today.
But Dorman says yesterday's humanitarian disasters will influence
American leaders in the future.
"For instance, what happens if there is another genocide
like there was in Rwanda on George W. Bush's watch? If the
media covers it, will we be able to stand by and say 'no,
no, no we won't go there'? I kind of doubt it."
He adds, "I think it's clear is that under some circumstances
there is a 'CNN effect,' though we can't be sure yet what
those circumstances are. Unfortunately I think we'll get more
chances to find out soon enough. There's plenty of conflict
in the world."
Dorman, a long-time government and journalism professor at
CSUS, has been studying the relationship between the mass
media and world conflict since the 1960s. He started an informal
class on the topic on the lawn of the University's main quad
in 1970, and that class has since blossomed into a popular
course offering each year. Dorman is the co-author of U.S.
Press and Iran and has written extensively on the subject
for journals and periodicals ranging from the World Policy
Journal to the Columbia Journalism Review.
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