Drone Diplomacy: America’s Intervention Problem

A new research project aims to tally the bill of American military intervention and spotlight the need for a return to diplomacy and statesmanship

A few years ago, as she researched civil wars around the globe, international relations scholar Monica Duffy Toft noticed two emerging trends: regions where there had already been a civil war were far more likely to engage in conflicts, and third party intervention was the biggest factor in extending or sparking them. And the country that most commonly intervened? The United States.

It seemed counterintuitive to Toft, the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies and a Professor of International Politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School outside Boston. Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, a development that left the United States as the world’s lone superpower, the rate of American intervention had increased astronomically. Conventional wisdom held that a period of relative peace globally would bring lower threats abroad and less need for U.S. intervention. There should have been a peace dividend.

“I became really concerned about defense spending,” she says. The United States, fueled by what Toft calls an “addiction to intervention,” spent nearly $700 billion on military spending in 2018.

So last September, Toft started work on her ambitious Military Intervention Project (MIP), which aims to create a comprehensive database that catalogs the costs — financial, military, social and otherwise — of all the military conflicts in American history.

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