The New In­ter­ven­tion­ists

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The con­se­quences of Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion in Syria stretch far be­yond the Middle East. The Krem­lin’s mil­i­tary cam­paign has tilted the stale­mate in favour of the govern­ment and de­railed ef­forts to craft a political com­pro­mise to end the war. It also her­alds the be­gin­ning of a new era in geopol­i­tics, in which large-scale mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions are not car­ried out by Western coali­tions, but by coun­tries act­ing in their own nar­row self-in­ter­est, of­ten in con­tra­ven­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.

Since the end of the Cold War, the de­bate over in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary ac­tion has pit­ted pow­er­ful, in­ter­ven­tion­ist Western pow­ers against weaker coun­tries, like Rus­sia and China, whose lead­ers ar­gued that na­tional sovereignty is sacro­sanct and in­vi­o­lable. The un­fold­ing de­vel­op­ments in Syria are fur­ther ev­i­dence that the ta­bles are turn­ing. While the West is los­ing its ap­petite for in­ter­ven­tion – par­tic­u­larly in­volv­ing ground troops – coun­tries like Rus­sia, China, Iran, and Saudi Ara­bia are in­creas­ingly in­ter­ven­ing in their neigh­bours’ affairs.

In the 1990s, af­ter geno­cides in Rwanda and the Balkans, Western coun­tries de­vel­oped a doc­trine of so-called hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion. “The Re­spon­si­bil­ity to Pro­tect” (col­lo­qui­ally known as “R2P”) held coun­tries ac­count­able for their peo­ple’s wel­fare and com­pelled the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to in­ter­vene when gov­ern­ments failed to pro­tect civil­ians from mass atroc­i­ties – or were them­selves threat­en­ing civil­ians. The doc­trine up­ended the tra­di­tional con­cept of na­tional sovereignty, and in coun­tries like Rus­sia and China, it quickly came to be viewed as lit­tle more than a fig leaf for Western-spon­sored regime change.

So it is ironic, to say the least, that Rus­sia is us­ing a con­cept sim­i­lar to R2P to jus­tify its in­ter­ven­tion, only in this case it is de­fend­ing the govern­ment from its cit­i­zens, rather than the other way around. Rus­sia’s ef­forts are, in ef­fect, an ar­gu­ment for a re­turn to the era of ab­so­lute sovereignty, in which gov­ern­ments are uniquely re­spon­si­ble for what

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