Self­ish ‘ Hu­man­i­tar­ian’ In­ter­ven­tions

In ad­di­tion to fac­ing nat­u­ral catas­tro­phes, coun­tries where in­ter­ven­tions take place also hap­pen to be im­por­tant for geo-strate­gic or eco­nomic in­ter­ests of the big pow­ers.

Southasia - - Front page - By She­hzad H. Qazi

The topic of in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions has oc­cu­pied in­creas­ing at­ten­tion in the dis­cus­sions on in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity over the past two decades. Much of this is at­trib­ut­able to many of the grue­some civil wars fea­tur­ing eth­nic cleans­ing and geno­cide wit­nessed dur­ing the 1990s; events that war­ranted in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion.

Much of the dis­cus­sion on the topic, how­ever, has high­lighted the chal­lenges of in­ter­ven­tion. An attitude of in­ter­ven­tion-pes­simism has pre­dom­i­nated. Sev­eral rea­sons, such as the prob­lem of in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tive ac­tion, lack of do­mes­tic sup­port, ques­tions over le­gal­ity, and con­fu­sions over goals and ex­tent of the oc­cu­pa­tion, are cited to ex­plain the prob­lem. In the U.S., So­ma­lia where in 1993 17 cases do we typ­i­cally see in­ter­ven­tion? In the Kosovo war of 1999, as Ser­bian forces killed thou­sands of Al­ba­ni­ans, NATO in­ter­vened on be­half of the for­mer and bombed Yu­goslavia, push­ing its army out of Kosovo. In thick con­tract, just four years prior to this con­flict, within three months, al­most 800,000 peo­ple were killed in Rwanda in one of the worst geno­cides of our time. No in­ter­ven­tion

took place then, how­ever. As­tound­ingly, the same Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion that pushed for in­ter­ven­tion in Kosovo, ar­gu­ing that the mur­der of Al­ba­ni­ans was of geno­ci­dal pro­por­tions, de­clined to even ac­cept that what was un­der­way in Rwanda was geno­cide till much later.

More­over, since 2003 an­other civil con­flict-turned-geno­cide has been tak­ing place in Dar­fur, Su­dan. Roughly 400,000 peo­ple may have now been killed in the geno­cide that fea­tures the Jan­jaweed, a mili­tia of Su­danese Arabs with the back­ing of the Su­danese gov­ern­ment, fight­ing non-Arab Su­danese of the re­gion. Yet, no in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion, such as that in Kosovo, has oc­curred. Sim­i­larly, a civil war, de­scribed by Howard French as “one of the most de­struc­tive wars in mod­ern his­tory,” has raged in the Congo since 1998. The death toll stands at an ap­palling fig­ure of over five mil­lion. The con­flict, how­ever, gets al­most no cov­er­age in the West, let alone talk of in­ter­ven­tion. On the other hand, NATO has in­ter­vened in a ma­jor way in Libya, car­ry­ing out al­most daily bomb­ing raids in an ef­fort to help Libyan rebels top­ple the tyran­ni­cal gov­ern­ment of Muam­mar Qaddafi. While the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion has made at least no pub­lic state­ments ad­vo­cat­ing in­volve­ment in Dar­fur, Cote d’Ivoire or Congo, Pres­i­dent Obama jus­ti­fied U.S. in­volve­ment in Libya through the heavy rhetoric of moral re­spon­si­bil­ity, pro­claim­ing, “I re­fused to wait for the im­ages of slaugh­ter and mass graves be­fore tak­ing ac­tion.”

So why do Libya and Kosovo get in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tions when Rwanda, Dar­fur and the Congo are left alone? A deeper look re­veals that the rea­son for se­lec­tiv­ity may lie in the fact that in ad­di­tion to fac­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phes, coun­tries where in­ter­ven­tions take place also hap­pen to be im­por­tant for geo-strate­gic or eco­nomic pur­poses for the in­ter­ven- ing states. Whereas the plight of the Al­ba­ni­ans was an es­sen­tial fac­tor in push­ing for NATO bomb­ings, as oth­ers have high­lighted, pre­serv­ing sta­bil­ity in the Balkan re­gions, con­tain­ing Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic’s power and reach, pro­tect­ing NATO’s cred­i­bil­ity and fos­ter­ing its rel­e­vance were all es­sen­tial fac­tors that con­trib­uted to mil­i­tary en­gage­ment. Sim­i­larly, Libya has the 9th largest proven re­serves of oil in the world, more than Nige­ria, and also pro­duces over 1.7m bar­rels of oil per day. As The Econ­o­mist dis­cussed in a re­cent post­ing, Euro­pean na­tions hap­pen to be the largest con­sumers of Libyan oil giv­ing them a large stake in the po­lit­i­cal out­comes in that coun­try. The cur­rent un­rest in the Arab world is all the more a rea­son to safe­guard these oil in­ter­ests.

The only ex­am­ple that stands in op­po­si­tion to this is the re­cent French in­ter­ven­tion in Cote d’Ivoire. Fol­low­ing its 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, the Ivory Coast fell into po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that turned into an armed civil con­flict be­tween the forces of in­cum­bent Lau­rent Gbagbo and pres­i­dent-elect Al­lasane Ou­at­tara. In April, France fi­nally in­ter­vened, car­ry­ing out the UN res­o­lu­tion rec­og­niz­ing Ou­at­tara as the le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent, and its forces helped Ou­at­tara’s forces gain vic­tory and ar­rest Gbagbo.

So where does this leave the prospects for in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tions? Whereas 2011 fea­tures a mixed record, larger his­tor­i­cal pat­terns oblige one to ar­gue that coun­tries where in­ter­ven­tions are needed most will con­tinue to face ne­glect, un­less they are val­ued for strate­gic pur­poses. Thus, this year’s ex­pe­ri­ences will not nec­es­sar­ily be­come prece­dents and in­flu­ence more in­ter­ven­tion­ism in the fu­ture. Prob­lems tra­di­tion­ally seen as im­ped­ing in­ter­ven­tion, such as col­lec­tive ac­tion, seek­ing do­mes­tic sup­port, et cetera, will con­tinue to per­sist in cases where the tar­get coun­try has noth­ing to of­fer in re­turn for ab­sorb­ing the fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary re­sources of the in­ter­ven­ing na­tions.

Nev­er­the­less, two fac­tors leave room for some op­ti­mism. First, the French in­ter­ven­tion in the Ivory Coast shows that de­ci­sive mil­i­tary en­gage­ment in the early stages of a con­flict can pro­vide a quick vic­tory and im­pede larger hu­man catas­tro­phe. Ad­vo­cates of in­ter­ven­tion can make the case that acting early can help con­tain the vi­o­lence and in­sta­bil­ity and avoid hav­ing to make larger mil­i­tary com­mit­ments.

Sec­ond, al­ter­ing the con­cept of in­ter­ven­tion might brighten its prospects. As re­cent pol­icy re­search has also ar­gued, it is im­por­tant to ex­pand the def­i­ni­tion of in­ter­ven­tion. In­ter­ven­tion should be seen on a con­tin­uum where mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion should be un­der­taken only af­ter a host of other forms of diplo­matic, civil-so­ci­ety and non-mil­i­tary meth­ods of in­ter­ven­tion have been uti­lized. More­over, again the value of early ac­tion has to be re­al­ized. For ex­am­ple, a re­port on geno­cide preven­tion by the U.S. In­sti­tute of Peace ar­gues for the cre­ation of early-warn­ing sys­tems. A plan that uti­lizes var­i­ous tac­tics cho­sen strate­gi­cally based on the sit­u­a­tion at hand might de­crease the bar­ri­ers to in­ter­ven­tion.

Whereas 2011’s in­ter­ven­tions will prob­a­bly not bring a change of heart in world cap­i­tals, it has the po­ten­tial to spark a con­cep­tual re­for­ma­tion, one that can pos­si­bly pos­i­tively im­pact the prospects for gen­uine in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tions in the fu­ture. The writer is a Re­search As­so­ciate at the In­sti­tute for So­cial Pol­icy and Un­der­stand­ing, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and founder of the Coun­cil for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs at In­di­ana Univer­sity-Pur­due Univer­sity In­di­anapo­lis.

U.S. sol­diers died af­ter in­tense fight­ing with a So­mali mili­tia — events eter­nal­ized in the movie Black Hawk Down, has been re­peat­edly in­voked to warn against in­ter­ven­tion in for­eign conflicts.

This year has seen two cases of in­ter­na­tional in­ter­ven­tion: a ma­jor multi­na­tional NATO in­ter­ven­tion in Libya and the French en­gage­ment in Cote d’Ivoire. These oc­cur­rences beg the ques­tion - are we be­gin­ning to over­come some of the prob­lems tra­di­tion­ally associated with in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tions? And do these cases bet­ter the prospects of fu­ture in­ter­ven­tions in places that are des­per­ately in need?

In look­ing to dis­cuss the longert­erm pic­ture, it is help­ful to first con­sider an­other ques­tion: in which

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