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Why Does the United States Intervene Abroad? Democracy, Human Rights Violations, and Terrorism


Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


Democracy, human rights, and terrorism are major foreign policy issues. However, among these issues, what do the US leaders care about the most? This study assesses the degree to which Washington responds militarily to threats to democratic institutions, human rights abuses, and terrorist activity in other countries. Based on a cross-national, time-series data analysis of 164 countries for the years 1981 to 2005, this study presents empirical models that evaluate the relative importance of these issues for contemporary American foreign and security policy. It turns out that, all other things being equal, the United States is likely to engage in military campaigns for humanitarian reasons that focus on human rights protection rather than for its own security interests such as democracy promotion or terrorism reduction. This finding is extremely robust and reinforced by case illustrations that support a causal explanation for US intervention with a basic and sustained place for human rights protection.