Colin Powell’s forgotten doctrine

General Colin Powell, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, formulated what came to be known as the Powell Doctrine. He said the United States should not go to war unless the decision-makers could answer “yes” to the following questions:

General Colin Powell

General Colin Powell

  1. Do we have a clear and attainable objective?
  2. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
  3. Have all non-violent policy means been exhausted?
  4. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
  5. Have the consequences of our actions been fully considered?
  6. Is the action supported by the American people?
  7. Do we have broad international support?

If the Powell Doctrine had been used as a basis for decision-making, the United States would have seldom if ever gone to war in the past 20 years — which perhaps was his intention.

The objection to the Powell Doctrine was expressed by Madelaine Albright, UN ambassador and later Secretary of State during the Clinton administration. She reportedly asked Powell: What is the point of having the world’s largest military if you’re never going to use it?

If a government has the world’s largest hammer, it is hard to avoid the temptation to treat every problem like a nail.

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One Response to “Colin Powell’s forgotten doctrine”

  1. whungerford Says:

    Madelaine Albright was addressing limited intervention in the Balkans. In another context she might have asked why we support year after year a larger military than we have any use for.


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