When Should the U.S. Invade Other Countries?

In this debate, Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, and Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, discuss whether war is ever justified. Prof. Ting argues that while war should be a last resort, there are occasions where the consequences of not going to war outweigh the costs of war. He uses World War II as an example in which war prevented great evil. Prof. Caplan argues for strict pacifism, saying it is highly unlikely that any benefits of war would outweigh the horrific costs.

In this clip, Prof. Caplan argues that there are a number of cases in the world that involve ideological or religious thinking contradictory to our notion of human rights and dignity that we would not invade. For example, we would not invade Saudi Arabia if they refuse to give women equal rights, even though we disagree with the practice. We would not invade China if they don’t become a democracy.

Prof. Ting agrees that we should have an aversion to intervention, but that we need to have the option on the table to deal with situations like we saw in Nazi Germany. Prof. Caplan counters, saying, “It seems like really all that you’re saying is even though we have a lot of evidence that our best thinking isn’t very good, let’s do it anyway and rely on it. . . . Saying we’re going to go and attack a country and kill a lot of innocent people when we just have a guess that it might be better is not good enough.” What do you think?


  1. connornll


  2. KaseyKesha


  3. DHiga

    I would tend to agree with the idea that nation building is bad. But I think that Mr. Caplan’s assertion that our military kills innocent people is absurd. Yes there is collateral damage and it’s regrettable. But if I were to look at it in his view, I couldn’t rationalize fighting the Nazis because innocent civilians would get caught in the crossfire.

  4. Matt Wavle

    Ting makes a few good examples of where human suffering is so extreme that only a heartless few could justify a lack of intervention.

    Yet, we should have a natural aversion to intervention, and see it only as a last resort, when all other measures have failed.
    I find it hard to condemn another people group to a forceful overthrow of their statist government, when we have such a statist one ourselves to contend with right here at home.
  5. nididpi

    My thinking is can we have Samsung and Kia to enjoy without the war on NK? What will happen today if we didn’t help SK?

  6. agavin2342

    I think Professor Ting is very articulate in this discussion and is raising some good points on when to invade, and when to not. The idea that when there is a horror such as the heinous genocide due to the Nazi’s, we were to intervene which he is then able to correlate to the unnecessary killing of many in the name of Allah. It’s a very interesting argument.

  7. andrei.roibu

    The true power of a country isn’t measured in it’s GDP or PPP, but, in my opinion, in the size and power of it’s armed forces. This is why the US is still the most powerful state in the world: because it’s military keep it in that position. Now, the intervention problem: well, here comes another side of the story, and a surprisingly simple one to understand. The US and it’s forces act in their own interest, and they intervene in the spots, where, economically, after a conflict, american companies could profit. Some of you may say: well, it’s wrong, but, pragmatically thinking, that is the way any of us would act, if we had real power. The challenge for us, as free thinkers and libertarians is to try to change that mentality, and direct this huge military force in a way that balances economical and other interests and securing a better future for the next generation, no matter of their creed or color. 

  8. Ryan Boyd

    The great question remains: which evils do we need to intervene against? The fact is there are a large number of our allies who we rely on who if not for sheer virtue of being our friends we would probably invade. We invaded  Afghanistan for the ideology of the Taliban, but we won’t do anything against the People’s Republic of China despite similar conditions of oppression.

  9. kgauck

    There arise on occasion cases where the next best alternative is so much worse than intervention, despite the problems of figuring out what to do, how to do it, and who to do it with. When a despot is using chemical weapons, murdering their own people in large numbers, attacking their neighbors, doing nothing means accepting a much larger cost than intervention, albeit a larger cost it can be easy to ignore if we choose to. The importance of signalling in international affairs means that simply appearing willing to take action, reinforced by the very occasional intervention, can prevent a great deal of the worst behavior by despots. Power will be exercised in the world. If one’s default position is to reject the exercise of power because its difficult, others will exercise that power instead. Again, we must consider what that second best alternative is. On one occasion it might be acceptable, but on some occasions the next best alternative is very undesirable.

  10. Kevin Burctoolla

    good point

  11. RastaJoe

    Fighting for peace is like fornicating for virginity.

  12. Rod Morley

    The reason America became powerful is the fact that they believed and lived their Constitution. Now that they are the only superpower left on the planet( only China could become the next superpower) they have left their Constitution behind and their power will crumble and soon. The only question is, are they going to take the World with them or are they going to accept their decline?

  13. Matt Wavle

    When human rights violations become intolerable to other free peoples…  THAT’s when good people ought to intervene.  Not to reduce oil prices, etc.

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