Powell Doctrine

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The "Powell Doctrine" is a journalist-created term, named after General Colin Powell in the run-up to the 1990–91 Gulf War. It is based in large part on the Weinberger Doctrine, devised by Caspar Weinberger, former Secretary of Defense and Powell's former boss. The doctrine emphasizes U.S. national security interests, overwhelming strike capabilities with an emphasis on ground forces, and widespread public support.[1]

The Doctrine[edit]

The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:

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

As Powell said in an April 1, 2009 interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, the Doctrine denotes the exhausting of all "political, economic, and diplomatic means", which, only if those means prove to be futile, should a nation resort to military force. Powell has expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing U.S. casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.[3]

Analysis and commentary[edit]

The Powell Doctrine has been reported as emerging legacy from Korean and Vietnam and the "Never Again vs. Limited War" policy debates (either win or don't start versus value of limited war)[4] and Weinberger's Six Tests described in his 1984 speech "The Uses of Military Power".[5] Political scientist Robert Farley has criticised the Powell doctrine on the grounds that it is "an effort by the uniformed military to restrict the policymaking freedom of civilians".[6] It has been used to compare the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War.[7]

The Doctrine has been noted as not fully applicable for policy in conflicts that are humanitarian intervention, war of choice, protracted counter-insurgency or anti-terrorism, and where the criteria are subjective or open to differing interpretations.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Monten, Jonathan; Andrew Bennett (2010). "Models of Crisis Decision Making and the 1990–91 Gulf War". Security Studies. 19: 486–520. doi:10.1080/09636412.2010.505129. 
  2. ^ DuBrin, Doug (April 16, 2003?). "The Powell Doctrine: Background, Application and Critical Analysis". NewsHour Extra. Archived from the original on January 16, 2013. Retrieved April 19, 2015.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Rachel Maddow, "Colin Powell Talks Rachel Maddow", MSNBC, 1 April 2009.
  4. ^ "The Powell Doctrine's Enduring Relevance". 22 July 2009. 
  5. ^ "Weinberger's Six Tests". 
  6. ^ "Foreign Entanglements". bloggingheads.tv. 2013-04-01. 
  7. ^ DWSUF (September 8, 2007). "Is Iraq like Vietnam? Lessons learned". Daily Kos. Retrieved April 19, 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Heiko Meiertöns: The Doctrines of US Security Policy: An Evaluation under International Law, Cambridge University Press (2010), ISBN 978-0-521-76648-7.
  • Christopher D. O'Sullivan, Colin Powell: American Power and Intervention From Vietnam to Iraq, New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, (2009)
  • "U.S. Forces: Challenges Ahead." Powell, Colin L. Foreign Affairs; Winter 1992, Vol. 71 Issue 5, 32-45, 14p

External links[edit]