Alice in Rwandaland and Through the Looking Glass

by Daniel on August 14, 2009

If you’re going to talk about humanitarian interventionism (and with Conor as our guestblogger this week, we are), then sooner or later, you are going to come up against the Big One; the argument that the fact of the Rwandan genocide forever legitimises the general principle of a “responsibility to protect”. A version of this can be seen in James Traub’s review of “The Thin Blue Line (I should note here that IIRC Conor does say in his book that there should have been more of an intervention in Rwanda):

In 2005, the world’s heads of state, gathered at the U.N. General Assembly, adopted the doctrine of “the responsibility to protect,” which stipulates that states have an obligation to protect their citizens from crimes against humanity and other mass atrocities, and that, should they be unable or unwilling to do so, other states incur that obligation. That responsibility, in the most extreme cases, includes military action. R2P, as the norm has come to be known, formalizes the principle, which lies at the heart of humanitarian intervention, that the right of people to be free from the worst forms of mistreatment supersedes the right of states to be free from external intervention. It is scarcely possible in the aftermath of Rwanda to argue otherwise, and so no one does directly.

The implication here is that there was no intervention in Rwanda, and that this was the reason for the genocide (Traub’s sentence “It is scarcely possible …” summarises the rhetorical strategy with rather more grace and subtlety than is typical – it’s not particularly uncommon for supporters of intervention to simply accuse opponents of having the blood of Rwanda on their hands). The thing is, there was a military intervention in Rwanda.

It was called “Operation Turquoise“, carried out by the French government acting under a UN mandate, aimed at stabilising the recognised government of Rwanda and establishing a “safe zone”. It’s described in Conor’s book, and in most histories of the Rwandan genocide. It’s not at all an obscure fact about Rwanda that Operation Turquoise happened there.

The reason why humanitarian interventionists don’t typically mention Turquoise, however, is that it was an unmitigated disaster. It drew resources away from the existing UN peacekeeping force, it had confused rules of engagement which left it all too often acting as a bodyguard for genocidaires and it withdrew halfway through the genocide, leaving a massive refugee problem.

On the other hand, I don’t quite understand why this means that advocates of humanitarian intervention get to erase it from the record. Operation Turquoise was an atrociously planned, wildly under-resourced relative to its aims, and largely politically motivated intervention which had the effect of making things worse. In other words, it was an utterly typical example of the type. In Rwanda, there was exactly the kind of humanitarian intervention which it’s reasonable to expect in any other case. Which is why I agree with Jim Henley; Rwanda made me an anti-interventionist.

My point here is that the word “responsibility” in “responsibility to protect” is weasel. People who think that the R2P is a good idea tend to assume that “responsibility” means “obligation”, and that the R2P doctrine places an actual legal obligation on the world’s democracies to not only carry out an intervention, but also to do so with a full complement of military resources, and without any concern for their own political interests (the Save Darfur Coalition had a particularly bad case of this; at times they seemed to literally believe that “genocide” was a magical word that would create a fully equipped United Nations army of more than 50,000 strong, complete with helicopters and trucks, as if they’d been sown from dragons’ teeth).

It’s clear that no state in the world would ever really find it possible to accept such an open-ended commitment on the part of its limited military capacity, from a simple economic point of view notwithstanding the politics. And so “responsibility to protect” in practice is going to mean “option to protect”; the R2P doctrine provides a pretext for larger powers to carry out military interventions as and when they want one and without too much consideration for the consequences, so long as they can come up with a suitable ex ante humanitarian rationale.

Basically what I’m saying here is that if you want to create a legal space for humanitarian interventions, then you need some means of ensuring that we get only good humanitarian interventions, which do the job they’re intended for. Otherwise you’re going to get a lot of Operation Turquoises, and very few … well, can someone give me an example of a humanitarian intervention which did actually work?

{ 106 comments }

1

John M. 08.14.09 at 9:36 am

I guess the simple counter argument is that morally you have to at least try, rather than stand by and watch vast numbers be slaughtered. So the likelihood of success is less important than the simple fact of trying.

(Yes, I know).

Also, I strongly tend towards non-intervention, not because I don’t care but rather that the principle of R2P can be so quickly and liberally abused to achieve other goals by those doing the intervening.

2

Tom 08.14.09 at 10:11 am

Could it be argued that the UK’s intervention in Sierra Leone had some impact in stablising the country and dissuading rebel activity?

3

Daniel 08.14.09 at 10:24 am

It could, but I don’t really see how it counts as a “humanitarian intervention” in the sense which interventionists want – it was an operation carried out at the request of the government of Sierra Leone and in support of a UN mission in place.

4

ajay 08.14.09 at 10:30 am

Well, Op Turquoise failed only in as much as you think its intention was to stop the Rwandan genocide, rather than to prop up the French-allied government of Rwanda against attacks by the RPF. (OK, it failed to do that as well, but that wasn’t a failure of a humanitarian intervention against genocide, but a failure of a political intervention in a civil war.)

As for examples of interventions that actually worked, Sierra Leone is a fairly uncontroversial one, though it was undertaken in support of the local government rather than against it, as Rwanda would have been, and Kosovo one that is slightly more controversial – though I think that the alternative without Nato intervention would have ended up with a lot more dead and displaced Kosovars, so I suppose that counts as a success. There’s also Op Provide Comfort – aid and protection for the Iraqi Kurds post-1991 – which worked pretty well.

5

ajay 08.14.09 at 10:35 am

4 posted before seeing 3.
OK, so we’re looking for examples of forced-entry humanitarian interventions taking place without a UN mandate and against the will of the local government, aimed at stopping ongoing crimes against humanity?
Can you actually come up with many examples of those, regardless of whether they worked or not? Kosovo and (maybe) Turquoise are the only ones that spring to mind.

6

Markus Nagler 08.14.09 at 10:38 am

what about UNAMIR? To my knowledge it did save lives. Regardless of how and whether it could have been improved, that ought to count for something, right?
FWIW, I think we ought to reserve the term peacekeeping for missions requested by both sides and admit to ourselves, that “responsibility to protect” will quite often mean going in and waging all out war against the perpetrators of a genocide. I’m fine with that.

Concerning your objections in the second part, I fail to see how this isn’t the perfect being the enemy of the good. Yes, resources are limited, they’ll always be and the process of deciding who gets help and who doesn’t is very far from perfect. That shouldn’t stop us from trying to improve it and do what we can. Similarly, the failure of Operation Turquoise doesn’t indicate there should be no interventions, but that there should be more UNAMIRs and less Turquoises and the failures of UNAMIR indicate that we ought to improve that kind of mission as well.

7

Daniel 08.14.09 at 10:51 am

I don’t think the absence of UN mandate is crucial (Turquoise had one), but Operation Palliser was launched to actually rescue kidnapped UNAMSIL personnel. My list would include Robert Mugabe’s intervention in the DR Congo civil war, the US in Haiti, US in Somalia.

(I’m also going to rule out the Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia, partly because it was a war of self-defence, but also because I’m highly sceptical about the eventual humanitarian benefit; the Vietnamese seriously outstayed their welcome).

8

Pete 08.14.09 at 10:52 am

5: one of the proposed justifications for the Iraq war was exactly that.

9

ajay 08.14.09 at 11:07 am

US in Somalia doesn’t count because a) it wasn’t against the will of a local government, because there wasn’t one
b)because it was in support of an existing UN mandate. It was justified by UNSCR 794. Although under US command, it was a UN mission, replacing a less effective one – UNOSOM 1 – that was already in place.
c) Nor was it intended to stop ongoing crimes against humanity: it was intended to safeguard the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Zimbabwe’s intervention in 1998 was intended to support the local government against a rebellion. So that doesn’t count either.

And the US intervention in Haiti in 1994 wasn’t aimed at stopping ongoing crimes against humanity, but at restoring a government that had been kicked out by a coup.

Any others? I’m not trying to argue for or against humanitarian interventions, but it’s surely worth noting that, according to your definition, there haven’t actually been that many (maybe a total of 1), so arguments like “humanitarian interventions always fail” aren’t really backed up by anything.

10

J. Otto Pohl 08.14.09 at 12:10 pm

While not one to defend the government of Vietnam or its former puppet regime in Cambodia, it is difficult to imagine a worse regime than the Khmer Rouge in terms of human rights. Even Joseph Stalin comes out ahead on a per capita basis. So as bad as the Heng Samrin regime was it was vast improvement over the previous one in terms of human rights. I do think there are any other modern regimes that killed as great a percentage of their own citizens as the Khmer Rouge. So regardless of Hanoi’s motivations the invasion of Cambodia had a humanitarian effect. Of course the US, China, UK and Thailand all backed the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese after the invasion.

11

Erin McD 08.14.09 at 12:23 pm

I agree that it generally amounts to an option to protect, but this is not only a literal policy instrument for justifying action on the world stage to other leaders, it is a symbolically rich signal to a country’s own population.

More broadly, it seems this issue does not play out against only the backdrop of post 1980 intervention, but against the longer history of genocide. It plays out against the memory of the Armenian genocide in Turkey (documented by journalists who traveled with the marching, starving, Armenians). Of course, this history also includes the more politically potent Jewish genocide, with reconstructions of WWII that portray the allied forces as great saviors that put an end to human atrocities (even if these positions stop short of reconstructing the war effort as humanitarian intervention).

It seems to me that these historical interpretations make it fairly likely that repealing any R2P language is politically untenable. So it seems that we will likely be stuck with the language, and its imperfect problematic applications, for the foreseeable future.

12

Barry 08.14.09 at 12:24 pm

I would add that the wh*resons and -daughters on the right in the USA blocked US intervention in Rwanda. For [no oil] some [no oil] odd [no oil] reason, [no oil] the [no oil] right [no oil] in [no oil] the [no oil] USA [no oil] wasn’t [no oil] in [no oil] favor [no oil] of [no oil] intervention [no oil] . I [no oil] can’t [no oil] imagine [no oil] why [no oil] .

Frankly, intervention in the USA consists of neocons serving Israel, the military-petroleum complex, and those foolish liberals who think that sucking up to the right will get them respect.

13

soru 08.14.09 at 12:25 pm

In summary:
1. war is a destructive thing
2. some governments are worse than war

If your goal is to destroy a government, a war can do that. This will occasionally end up being a good thing.

But that is going to be about as rare as a strike causing a change of management which leads to smarter decisions, or someone getting arrested and changing their life while in prison.

The actual point of such actions is what happens when they _don’t_ take place. The pay cut you don’t get because you are unionised, the mugging you don’t suffer because the police exist, the fighting that doesn’t happen because the other side happens to have a bigger army.

14

Daniel 08.14.09 at 12:26 pm

it is a symbolically rich signal

I probably need to write a separate post about this, but I am very, very wary about “symbolically rich signals” which involve the expenditure of blood and treasure on wars of choice (and of signalling arguments in general, cf my past posts on the Davies-Folk theorem). A lot of people do seem to find such arguments really compelling though, which I absolutely don’t understand – it must be some underlying utilitarian gene in me.

15

Daniel 08.14.09 at 12:35 pm

Thinking about it, the ECOMOG intervention in Liberia is another one that certainly didn’t work, although I doubt it actually made things worse (the counterfactual is difficult here)

16

Barry 08.14.09 at 12:48 pm

Daniel, it’s because you have a utilitarian cognitive module; your ancestors evolved on the Scotts Pleistocene Savannah.

Soru: “…or someone getting arrested and changing their life while in prison.”

This actually fits in quite well; I’d bet the most people’s lives are changed if they are in prison. Not for good, of course.

17

mpowell 08.14.09 at 12:51 pm

13: Well Daniel may address this point (as he sort of promises to do in 14 and 15), but I think there is a difference here. It is pretty clear how potential criminals respond to the existence of the police and how management responds to the existence of a union. It is far less clear that any governments take seriously treating their civilians fairly for fear of western intervention. It’s probably something that should be looked at closely, but I’m not sure how straightforward it would be to reach an actionable conclusion on the matter.

18

ajay 08.14.09 at 1:01 pm

Hmm… ECOMOG’s dubious. Was it actually aimed at the local government? I’m still trying to think of a clear-cut example along the lines of “the Taschist government of Borduria was massacring its own citizens, and for this reason Syldavia invaded Borduria”. I don’t think that’s actually happened very often – certainly not often enough for one to be able to make sweeping statements along the lines of “history shows us that interventions never work”.

So regardless of Hanoi’s motivations the invasion of Cambodia had a humanitarian effect.

Well, yes, and the same thing could be said about both WW2 and the Falklands (inasmuch as defeat led indirectly to Galtieri’s downfall and the closure of the Argentinian Navy’s engineering school). But they were neither of them waged for that reason, and nor was the invasion of Cambodia, so they’re not really relevant to the discussion.

13: I’m actually going to come down on one side of the fence and say that preventing or stopping crimes against humanity by a local government is one of the few things that armed intervention probably could achieve, in some cases. As we’ve seen in Iraq and elsewhere, modern armies are very good at creating anarchy, not so good at creating functioning states – but if one of the things the state is doing is mass slaughter, then destroying the state is probably a good thing. It takes quite a bit of organisation, generally, to produce genocide (yes, even in Rwanda). Of course, it’s going to have to be pretty bad in terms of crimes against humanity before anarchy looks like a better alternative.

19

ajay 08.14.09 at 1:02 pm

16: “I’d bet most people’s lives are changed if they are in prison. Not for good, of course.”

Oh, I think they’re generally changed for good. Just not generally for the better.

20

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:03 pm

#13: I think my response would be, what if you had a really weak union, that never really looked like being able to organise a proper strike, but instead constantly picked minor fights with management over unrelated political issues? Or a police force that claimed to not have the resources to catch crooks but spent all its time hassling unpopular minorities?

21

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:06 pm

#18: if we’re using the restrictive definition, then we’re probably going to always go short of data points simply because interventions of this sort have typically been illegal. So let’s go for an expansive definition which lets all the examples mentioned in; I’ll spot you Sierra Leone (despite my significant caveats) and the Kurdish safe havens, but in return I get to include everything else. These things have a really bad track record in percentage terms.

22

JoB 08.14.09 at 1:06 pm

Maybe the symbolism of ‘symbolically’ is wrong but it does show some of governments that you run a risk in going too far. To establish that risk you can’t avoid but intervene, even if you know you haven’t found the solution yet for doing it at the right time and in the right way.

PS: it’s a bit unfair to limit success of UN missions to those few instances in which they are sent in to deal with genocidal governments, missions like MONUC (for all its woes) do show that the interventionary reflex can work (& are there enough instances to make any statistically sound statement? Except for Talibanistan & Kim Jong Il what would count? That may be the worst of Save Darfur Coalitions: they discredit interventionism by applying it to cases in which it should not be applied, maybe the right wing should set up a Save Venezuela Coalition (I forget: this was common practice a couple of decades ago))

23

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:10 pm

MONUC isn’t a military intervention though. When people talk about a “responsibility to protect”, they’re not talking about things like that.

24

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:10 pm

“but in return I get to include everything else. “

Well, no, you only get to keep those things that were done for the sake of humanitarian rescue, which as ajay has said, isn’t many. There have just been too few humnaitarian military interventions for anyone to make any broad generalisations

25

Conor Foley 08.14.09 at 1:12 pm

East Timor in 1999 is the closest I have been able to find. The intervention was in fact authorised by the UNSC and came at the ‘invitation’ of the Indonesian government. But it was touch and go for a few days getting the authorisation and Australia did put out a statement saying that they might go in uniltaterally. Some question whether the Aussies would have actually ‘walked the walk’, but if they had I think that it would have been legally and morally justified.

26

Nabakov 08.14.09 at 1:15 pm

“it is a symbolically rich signal”
So was Jenkin’s ear.

27

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:16 pm

So, we have East Timor, Sierra Leone, Iraqi Kurdistan, Kosovo, Somalia as actions that fit a generally acceptable definition of military humanitarian intervention. Have I missed any? From that list, it seems that East Timor, Sierra Leone and Iraqi Kudistan would generally be considered success, Somalia a failure and Kosovo a toss up.

28

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:17 pm

So, we have East Timor, Sierra Leone, Iraqi Kurdistan, Kosovo, Somalia as actions that fit a generally acceptable definition of military humanitarian intervention (to posters on here). Have I missed any? From that list, it seems that East Timor, Sierra Leone and Iraqi Kudistan would generally be considered successes, Somalia a failure and Kosovo a side-taker.

29

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:21 pm

Conor, I seem to have been dropped into moderation. Again. Any chance you can unblock?

30

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:28 pm

#24: no, I don’t agree – any “nation building” exercise has enough in common with the strict-sense interventions to be usefully informative. There’s a danger of gerrymandering the category “bombing people for their own good” here. Somalia and Haiti are definitely in.

31

Conor Foley 08.14.09 at 1:29 pm

John: How can I do that?

32

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:35 pm

I don’t know. I thought it was in the gift of the thread owner. Don’ty worry, I can livfe without my wisdom going public and I am very sure the rest of you can. I think I used a phrase that might have an obscene use in another context.

33

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:35 pm

#25: Surely a “military intervention” has to involve shots being fired though? The Australians didn’t fight a single battle against the Indonesian army and in the counterfactual world in which the Indonesians didn’t cave in to diplomatic pressure, I don’t think we can assume a success.

34

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:37 pm

“no, I don’t agree – any “nation building” exercise has enough in common with the strict-sense interventions to be usefully informative.”

How can it? I agree that Somalia belongs in there because the purpoise was explicity humanitarian, but Haiti was simply regime change, not humanitarian in any sense that people mean when they talk abour R2P.

35

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:39 pm

John, I am the thread owner of this one and have approved your comment. But I’m not accepting SL as being primarily aimed at preventing humanitarian crimes if we’re working on this strict definition; it was aimed at a) evacuating UN personnel and b) enfocring the Lome Peace Accord.

36

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:39 pm

“Surely a “military intervention” has to involve shots being fired though? “

Why? If a military intevenes, what else is it but a military intervention?

37

Conor Foley 08.14.09 at 1:41 pm

Good point, although I think that the more successful interventions have been the ones in which no shots were fired (the Brits did not take on the RUF in Sierra Leone, western forces turned back the Iraqi army from the Kurdish safe haven without opening fire and the various interventions in Haiti have not invloved much fighting). of the three, the only one that needs to be covered by the R2P doctrine is the Kurdish safe haven because the other two were Chapter VII.

38

ajay 08.14.09 at 1:43 pm

Daniel at 23, meet Daniel at 21. And, for that matter, Daniel at 3.

MONUC isn’t a military intervention though.

MONUC has over 16,000 troops in country with a mandate to, inter alia, “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” as well as demining, aid protection and supervising a ceasefire.

Also, “So let’s go for an expansive definition which lets all the examples mentioned in”.

No, let’s not. My argument isn’t “history shows that humanitarian military interventions are generally really great”; my argument is that “history doesn’t really show anything at all either way, so let’s base the argument on other grounds than what history shows”.

Let’s go back to first principles. We’re talking, as in the Traub passage you quote, about the argument that “states have an obligation to protect their citizens from crimes against humanity and other mass atrocities, and that, should they be unable or unwilling to do so, other states incur that obligation. That responsibility, in the most extreme cases, includes military action”.

So we’ve got a few possible situations:
Borduria’s government is brutalising its own citizens;
or some other force is brutalising Bordurians, and the Bordurian government tacitly approves;
or it doesn’t approve, but is too weak to act against this other force;

and, in order to protect Bordurian citizens’ lives, Syldavia takes action, potentially military.

Your claim is that, most of the times this has happened, it has been a failure, and therefore this sort of intervention should not be performed.
My claim is that it has almost never happened (as John and Conor point out), and therefore you shouldn’t generalise from history because there isn’t a big enough sample size.

The other way of learning from history is to say “here are some times where this didn’t happen, and things would have been better if it had”. This is tricky, like all counterfactuals.

But here’s a thought: there are a few natural experiments, where the government of a country (like Cambodia or Uganda) was brutalising its own people and then got toppled by military force for an unrelated reason. You can then ask “did things improve for the Cambodians and Ugandans as a result of their brutalising governments being toppled by foreign armed intervention?”

39

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 1:43 pm

“John, I am the thread owner of this one and have approved your comment.”

Apologies, I thought it was Conor’s because of the subject. Thanks for the approval though.

“But I’m not accepting SL as being primarily aimed at preventing humanitarian crimes if we’re working on this strict definition; it was aimed at a) evacuating UN personnel and b) enfocring the Lome Peace Accord.”

Well, OK, we could remove that from the list, but the balance still does not seem to favour the ‘history proves that humanitarian intervention is disasterous’ thesis, does it?

40

JoB 08.14.09 at 1:48 pm

Daniel@29, but that’s too easy because obviously nobody is defending that anybody can go and rescue another country’s citizens without any process whatsoever. UN-sanctioned intervention has its successes, unless of course you only focus on the subset of controversial all-out wars; of which you’re right that we should have as little as possible but that doesn’t mean that the threat should be there. It should be a realistic possibility. I don’t think we should even contemplate the regime change in Sudan but I do think that without the threat of intervention there would never have been the current status described in the other post – including the presence of the African forces.

We should have less interventions through the establishing of a process that makes intervention based on a clear UN-mandate more predictable.

41

JoB 08.14.09 at 1:53 pm

Well yes, let’s define intervention as anything UN-mandated that involves sending the military into an area of conflict. Iraq is out then, MONUC is in and you have enough data points. Shots fired and controversy in the international press are just not very objective measures.

42

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.14.09 at 1:55 pm

A genuine military humanitarian intervention may or may not be successful to various degrees, and that would be a function of proper and competent planning and execution.

The problem is that, of course, a genuine military humanitarian intervention is an imaginary event, fiction. As the actors involved inevitably pursue their own interests, the whole things becomes meaningless: what constitutes success? Suppose the place has become quiet and a new colonial (or quasi-colonial) rule is established (or restored) – is that a success? Who knows.

43

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:56 pm

#36: No, I’m not accepting your “natural experiments” because the context of the debate is a proposed change to/reinterpretation of international law with respect to wars of aggression. We wouldn’t want to reinvent the law on patricide based on “natural experiments” where an unpleasant father died accidentally.

44

ajay 08.14.09 at 1:56 pm

I think that the more successful interventions have been the ones in which no shots were fired (the Brits did not take on the RUF in Sierra Leone)

Not actually true. The RUF tried to take on a Para Pathfinder patrol at Lungi airport one night. The results were as one might expect. And the only reason that no more widespread fighting occurred is that, basically, the RUF were scared off.

45

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:57 pm

“Iraq is out then”

about a zillion times no. I am totally not accepting anything which excludes the precise kind of conflict which would be rendered much more likely by general acceptance of the R2P.

46

Eamonn Rorke 08.14.09 at 1:57 pm

I’m not an expert on this example, but what about the Tanzanian intervention into Idi Amin’s Uganda? I’m wary of humanitarian based military interventionism, but I recall that being held up as a good example of non-imperialist success in deposing a brutal regime.

47

ajay 08.14.09 at 2:01 pm

I’m not accepting your “natural experiments” because the context of the debate is a proposed change to/reinterpretation of international law with respect to wars of aggression. We wouldn’t want to reinvent the law on patricide based on “natural experiments” where an unpleasant father died accidentally.

But that’s exactly what this debate is about, isn’t it? Whether or not military humanitarian interventions – which are essentially wars of aggression justified by the brutality of the aggressee – should be permitted? You can’t just turn round and say “well, obviously military humanitarian interventions shouldn’t be allowed because they’re against the law”. That’s circular reasoning.
You were originally arguing that MHI shouldn’t be allowed because they generally had bad consequences, which is an entirely different argument.

48

ajay 08.14.09 at 2:03 pm

43: but the US government didn’t attempt to justify Iraq by using the R2P, did they? They attempted to justify it by pointing to WMD production as a breach of the 1991 ceasefire terms, and by pointing to links to AQ in order to link the Iraq war to the ‘self-defence’ argument used for Afghanistan. Remember Colin Powell’s presentation? Iraq would have happened even if no one had ever uttered the words “responsibility to protect”.

49

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 2:05 pm

“I am totally not accepting anything which excludes the precise kind of conflict which would be rendered much more likely by general acceptance of the R2P.”

But Iraq is a poor example. It is true that R2P would be conjoured rhetorically by any party wanting to wage an Iraq II, but it would be difficult to make the case and far from obvious. What could have been claimed as the humanitarian disaster that the invading forces would have alleviated?

50

engels 08.14.09 at 2:28 pm

Iraq would have happened even if no one had ever uttered the words “responsibility to protect”.

clearly does not follow from the fact that

the US government didn’t attempt to justify Iraq [to the UN security council] by using the R2P

51

John Meredith 08.14.09 at 2:30 pm

The question, engels, is whether wars like Iraq II would be more likely under the R2P law change. But what can be ‘more likely’ that ‘actually happened’?

52

ajay 08.14.09 at 2:35 pm

47: it doesn’t necessarily follow but I think it’s a pretty good assumption.

53

Daniel 08.14.09 at 2:39 pm

I’m saying that MHIs are wars of aggression (on which we’re agreed), that wars of aggression have a terrible track record (on which I presume we’re agreed), and that there are no particularly convincing examples which would make one say that that actually the terrible track record of WOA conceals significant variation between the quite-good track record of MHIs and the absolutely-terrible track record of non-MHI WOAs.

54

JoB 08.14.09 at 2:39 pm

Daniel, OK, yes, definitely – if accepting R2P means that any government can claim it in order to justify whatever the hell it thinks is OK then R2P should be out. If on the other hand, the UN (or an organization defined by it) has the final authority to say whether the R2P is claimed justly — I do not see your problem: Iraq is out, Congo is in.

55

JoB 08.14.09 at 2:45 pm

50 – one can agree on a terrible track record based on a limited amount of data points – and still defensibly claim it at least has to be a credible option, believing it is not a matter of physics that it has to go wrong. Kim Jong Il can stay put because he believes everybody believes you are right.

56

tom s. 08.14.09 at 2:45 pm

Chomsky, here, addresses the interpretation of East Timor as a success for R2P. And has many other useful and sceptical things to say.

57

engels 08.14.09 at 2:48 pm

The Iraq war wouldn’t have happened if public opposition to it had been sufficiently strong. As you say, humanitarian arguments weren’t part of the official justification for the war but they were frequently advanced as unofficial justifications, both by the government and by others. I think they played an important role in recruiting support for the war, especially among the centre-left, and in weakening the opposition to it.

John – The fact that event E has occurred means that nothing can now increase its likelihood, but it does not mean that nothing could increase the likelihood of event like E occurring in the future.

58

ajay 08.14.09 at 2:55 pm

50: All that is true, but if there haven’t been any MHIs (or at most one or two) then you can’t draw any inferences from the history of non-MHI wars either way. The logic’s flawed.
In fact, going back to my ‘natural experiment’ point: wars waged (for other reasons) against states that are brutalising their own populations often though not always have the (unintended) effect of stopping them from doing so: see Cambodia, the Falklands, Uganda, the Second World War etc.
So it’s not unreasonable to suppose that wars waged against brutalising states with the intention of stopping them from being brutal might also have some success.

59

Chris 08.14.09 at 3:08 pm

So, if I’m understanding this principle correctly, does it mean that other nations would have been justified in military intervention in the Jim Crow/KKK era South, during the period in which the U.S. government failed to do so?

Or is it only large, rich nations who get to decide when to intervene (interfere) in the internal politics of small, poor nations? I find that rather fishy.

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 3:18 pm

All that is true, but if there haven’t been any MHIs (or at most one or two) then you can’t draw any inferences from the history of non-MHI wars either way

but there have been innumerable WOAs which were, in whole or in part, presented by the people who started them (usually in bad faith) as MHIs, from the invasion of the Sudetenland to the Iraq War. Which is exactly why there is no MHI-clause in the Nuremberg Principles. The entire point here is that R2P is a doctrine which will give us more wars of aggression, and which in turn will give us lots more opportunities for people to say “that wasn’t really a proper MHI”.

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 3:30 pm

And further to the above, there has to be a presumption of bad faith here. According to the Soviet Union, the 1956 invasion of Hungary was a “humanitarian intervention”, protecting the honest socialist Hungarians from counter-revolutionary hooligans and the 1939 invasion of Poland was a humanitarian intervention to protect the Ukrainians.

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Dan Hardie 08.14.09 at 3:35 pm

Conor Foley 08.14.09 at 1:41 pm: ‘Good point, although I think that the more successful interventions have been the ones in which no shots were fired (the Brits did not take on the RUF in Sierra Leone, western forces turned back the Iraqi army from the Kurdish safe haven without opening fire and the various interventions in Haiti have not invloved much fighting). ‘

Conor, you are completely wrong to say that no shots were fired in the Sierra Leone or Kurdish interventions.

The first British intervention in Sierra Leone, in May 2000, involved a gunbattle between the Pathfinder platoon attached to 1 Para and the RUF, in which a number of RUF were killed. The RUF then fell back from Freetown, and it’s reasonable to say that the defeat at the hands of the Pathfinders had something to do with that. In September 2000, there was a very intense gunbattle between British forces seeking to rescue hostages, and the West Side Boys militia, in which one British soldier and a large number of militiamen were killed. This led to the disappearance of the West Side Boys and a number of other militias. These two operations were widely reported at the time, eg http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1351052/Soldiers-rifle-failed-in-battle-says-secret-report.html or http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/1354976/Paras-free-hostages-in-jungle.html .

Also in May 2000, there was very heavy fighting between the Indian and Kenyan battalions serving under UN command in Sierra Leone, and the RUF, in which the rebels were ultimately defeated. Phil Ashby’s book ‘Unscathed’, despite having a silly title, has a firsthand description of the fighting between the Kenyans and the RUF.

There were also a number of gunbattles in the Kurdish safe havens in 1991 between Iraqi forces and the Royal Marines sent to protect the Kurds- I can’t find any online references, but the fights were mentioned at the time in print journalism by correspondents like Robert Fox, who is reliable.

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 3:36 pm

Another one for the list of humanitarian interventions; the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia to prevent the ‘genocide’ of South Ossetians. This one wasn’t actually all that much of a humanitarian disaster, but I think it still has to be put in the fail column.

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soru 08.14.09 at 3:41 pm

Haven’t there also been innumerable WOAs which were, in whole or in part, presented by the people who started them (usually in bad faith) as:

– legitimate self defence
– preemption
– retaliation
– restoration of sovereign control over an indivisible part of the country which has only recently come under the sway of illegitimate separatists/imperialists.

If anything, I think that last category is by far the biggest – it covers at least Tibet, the Korean and Vietnamese wars, Cyprus, East Timor, Bosnia, Falklands, and the first Gulf War.

If you have the ability to successfully lie, I don’t particularly see what difference the nature of that lie makes. If you can fake a solid alibi, intimidate a jury, or bribe a judge, you can get one charge as easily as another.

So you should probably focus discussion on the cases where the truth has some influence.

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 3:43 pm

#61: yes, but all of those apart from the first one are illegal under the Nuremberg Principles.

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Hix 08.14.09 at 3:48 pm

So because most interventions so far where halfhearted ones that failed due to the pressure of those that lobyied against them we should just stop any atempt to do it serious in the future? Sure those lets just watch and scare them with our gun even so they know no one is alowed to use those guns nor are those guns more than we have missions failed.

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Dan Hardie 08.14.09 at 3:51 pm

Daniel 08.14.09 at 1:39 pm ‘But I’m not accepting SL as being primarily aimed at preventing humanitarian crimes if we’re working on this strict definition; it was aimed at a) evacuating UN personnel and b) enfocring the Lome Peace Accord.’

This is largely inaccurate: the British troops landed at Freetown with the Blair governent announcing that they were there to evacuate UN personnel, but their mission rapidly changed, to securing Freetown against the advancing RUF (which they did), and training the Sierra Leonean army up to fight the RUF (which they also did).

And the British troops did *not* enforce the Lome Peace Accord, which allowed the RUF leader Foday Sankoh to participate in the Ahmed Tejan Kabbah-led government, made the RUF a political party, allowed for ex-RUF fighters to join the Sierra Leonean army, granted the RUF leadership amnesty for crimes committed and, de facto, allowed them to control the trafficking of diamonds from areas controlled by the RUF. Instead, as the RUF had broken the Lome Peace Accord, Sankoh and other RUF leaders were imprisoned, and the Sierra Leonean army with its British instructors attacked what remained of the RUF.

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ajay 08.14.09 at 3:56 pm

I think I’m with soru here. If a country wants to wage an aggressive war and is prepared to lie about it, the nature of the lie isn’t really relevant. And if we should get rid of principles of international law because they could provide cover for aggression, we should get rid of self-defence and the sanctity of borders first.
Also, recovering occupied territory certainly isn’t illegal, retaliation can be justified as ‘self defence’ and even pre-emption has much to be said on its behalf.

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Dan Hardie 08.14.09 at 3:57 pm

I also think we need to talk about Macedonia in 2001: pressure was put on the Macedonian government and the ethnic Albanian rebels to accept the presence of British and French troops (backed up by US aircraft) to enforce a ceasefire and disarm the Albanian militias.

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 4:01 pm

pressure was put on the Macedonian government

these “diplomacy with threats” cases are pretty difficult though; on the one hand I don’t necessarily want to pretend that diplomacy alone could have achieved the goals in question, but on the other hand there wasn’t a military intervention which the government in question opposed. I’d also note that this really was an episode of big powers throwing their weight around – if this on is in, I am definitely claiming South Ossetia.

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Dan Hardie 08.14.09 at 4:07 pm

I think there are at least three categories of intervention: invasion against the will of the domestic government, intervention at the request of the domestic government, and then the third category where outside powers tell the domestic government that things may get nasty if it doesn’t accept the presence of some foreign soldiers. East Timor and Macedonia are definite examples of the latter.

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 4:25 pm

I can’t believe I forgot this; if we’re counting Kosovo as a humanitarian intervention success, don’t we have to recall that Slobodan Milosevic justified nearly every single thing he did in terms of his “responsibility to protect” ethnic Serbs?

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Daniel 08.14.09 at 4:27 pm

#68: I think there’s a further important distinction to be made: stuff that people have been able to get a UN Security Council resolution to support them in doing (a category which includes Operation Turquoise, so in my view it’s already too expansive), versus stuff that, presumably, those who want to extend the R2P into a major new doctrine want to do but currently can’t.

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snuh 08.14.09 at 5:34 pm

i am surprised no one has mentioned india’s intervention in the bangladeshi war of independence. obviously india’s actions were completely self-serving, but they did put an end to atrocities that could plausibly be described as genocide, with an umabiguous long term benefit for bangladeshis (and indeed for pakistanis too as it led directly to a brief restoration of civilian government).

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Conor Foley 08.14.09 at 5:36 pm

Thanks for the correction Dan. I knew that the Brits had taken on the West Side Boys – but they were technically part of the Government army. I had not realised that there had been a skirmish with the RUF. My understanding is that most of the fighting against the RUF was conducted by other forces.

I would not count Macedonia (FYRoM) in 2001 though. I was there at the time and don’t remember the Albanian militias being disarmed. Diplomatic and economic pressure was piled on to the Government of the country to dissuade them from ‘over-retaliating’ against terrorist attacks mounted against them (as the Serbs had previously done in Kosovo). I do remember Kosovan Albanians asking us when we were going to bomb Skopje (I was working for the UN at the time) and that placed the previous attacks on Belgrade into some kind of context.

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Barry 08.14.09 at 6:04 pm

22
JoB 08.14.09 at 1:06 pm

“Maybe the symbolism of ‘symbolically’ is wrong but it does show some of governments that you run a risk in going too far. To establish that risk you can’t avoid but intervene, even if you know you haven’t found the solution yet for doing it at the right time and in the right way.”

Yes, but ‘going too far’ tends to mean ‘p*ssing off a stronger government due to geopolitical reasons’. Classic example – Vietnam invaded Cambodia (IIRC), only after the Khmer Rouge government attacked Vietnam. The KR could have sat in Cambodia killing people for many more years, with little fear of invasion.

A second classic example would be, of course, Nazi Germany.

A more recent example would be Saddam Hussein and the USA. The USA happily sold him goodies, until he invaded Kuwait, and proved problematic. Attacking Iran and massacring his own people were no big problem (the latter was only a PR problem for the right in the US and the UK). And afterwards, he was only deposed by the USA because he had oil – even after 9/11, Mr. Random Mass Murdering Dictator has been pretty safe from US intervention, one might note.

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Conor Foley 08.14.09 at 6:26 pm

And, not that I am obsessed with having the last word or anything, but here is the subsequent exchange that I had with James Traub

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4577

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Katherine 08.14.09 at 7:16 pm

So what would you have the international community do then Daniel, should another internal genocide occur (which is pretty much a given)? Sit on the sidelines wringing our hands, unable/unwilling to do anything?

I understand your concerns, I really do – but there has to be a point between “a R2P will mean any country can do anything to another country under that guise” and “let’s get in there everytime something a bit nasty might be happening”.

As someone else said, there’s always some excuse that an aggressive country can hang their intervention/aggression on, but that’s what international law is supposedly for – to distinguish between the bollocks and the real. UNSC approval is a good place to start for a stamp of legitimacy, although given the political realities of that body it’s not ideal (that’s a whole larger UN organsiation issue though).

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lemuel pitkin 08.14.09 at 7:39 pm

Seems like the fundamental issue is this:

At present we have a principle of national sovereignty which is to some extent a binding constraint on the authority of governments of rich, strong countries over the population of small, weak ones. Not a hard barrier by any means, but it does genuinely limit the freedom of action of the US (and other potential intervenors) compared with a world in which the sovereignty of poor countries was not recognized.

R2P is in practice, as Daniel says, Option2P. So its actual content is simply to loosen the constraints imposed by national sovereignty. All it does, in situations where it’s plausibly relevant, is increase the freedom of action of those rich countries with the capacity for military intervention. So whether you endorse it or not just depends on whether you think poor countries would be better off governed from Washington or Paris rather than from their own capitals. (Not completely, of course, but at the margin.)

Now many people probably do believe that a country like Haiti or Sierra Leone would be better off if it moved from independence back to some kind of colonial status. But only a few people (like Brad DeLong) are honest enough to say so. So the result is we get this pretense that the proposal isn’t to transfer political power from third-world to first-world capitals, but to some imaginary world government instead.

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dsquared 08.14.09 at 7:45 pm

So what would you have the international community do then Daniel, should another internal genocide occur (which is pretty much a given)?

Put a resolution authorising the use of force to the UN Security Council and get it passed, more or less as the current state of international law actually has it.

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James Wimberley 08.14.09 at 8:59 pm

Isn’t RTP primarily an attempt to get the UN Security Council to do its job by rolling back the pernicious doctrine of “non-interference in internal affairs”?
Note that if the UN system worked as planned, it would also consist in great-power bullying of small-power delinquents. What exactly is the alternative to this route to an orderly world?

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dsquared 08.14.09 at 9:24 pm

this doctrine is “Pernicious” in the sense of offering us fewer Iraqs, fewer Turquoises, fewer Ossetias?

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Martin Bento 08.14.09 at 10:05 pm

Among the criteria argued here for humanitarian interventions is that the case be honestly made, and the agressor not have ulterior motives (leaving aside motive, Vietnam re Cambodia would be the best pro-intervention example by a wide margin). The status of Kosovo is questionable on both counts: Kosovar casualties were grossly exaggerated to strengthen claims of genocide, and NATO covertly placed provisions in the Ramboillet agreement that Serbia couldn’t possibly accept (the right to occupy Serbia, and an explicit right to commit war crimes) and then took Serbian rejection of the treaty as proof of genocidal intent. Kosovo defenders usually respond to these points by arguing that the effect was humanitarian anyway. In that case, though, Cambodia is in. However, if Cambodia is in, we’re in the realm of the ex post facto.

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Martin Bento 08.14.09 at 10:25 pm

“Saddam used weapons of mass destruction on his own people” – didn’t we hear that one endlessly? Humanitarianism was certainly part of the case for the Iraq War, and, if it was not part of what was officially stated to the UN (though was the gassing actually not mentioned? I doubt it), it was certainly part of the case as made to the public by the key leaders including Cheney and Bush.

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Phil 08.14.09 at 10:57 pm

Isn’t RTP primarily an attempt to get the UN Security Council to do its job by rolling back the pernicious doctrine of “non-interference in internal affairs”?

The job the UNSC isn’t doing is implementing collective security, against nations which threaten their neighbours – any nation, any neighbour. If it can’t consistently do that – and it can’t, for fairly fundamental political reasons – then it’s hard to see why it would help matters to create a whole new class of targets, particularly one that’s much bigger and much more nebulously defined.

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james 08.14.09 at 11:11 pm

Sierra Leone should also be excluded. In 1995, 5 years prior to the UN / British involvemnt, the National Provisional Ruling Council had successfuly defeated the RUF using South African mercenaries. The UN demanded the removal of the mercenaries, as a direct result the RUF where in a military possition to safely violate the Abidjan Peace Accord in 1996. The revival of the cival war from 1996 – 2000 was enabled by UN intervention in Sierra Leone.

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soru 08.15.09 at 12:25 am

@james: wouldn’t that be an argument against _constraints_ on intervention, rather than against intervention?

I am sure there are plenty of countries willing to rent out their currently-nationalised armies for a dollar a year, if only they get to pick the contracts.

Kind of the problem with the word ‘intervention’ is that it is like those libertarian words that don’t correspond to any coherently-defined natural category, just mean ‘the set of things I’ve taken an ideological dislike to’.

Is selling military services at market price intervention?

If they are subsidised?

Buying goods that are used to purchase military services?

Refusing to sell military services?

Refusing to buy goods that may be used to purchase military services (i.e. sanctions)?

Providing free goods, perhaps allowing money saved to be spent on military services (i.e. humanitarian aid)?

The only way not to ‘intervene’, in that sense, is not to exist.

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Martin Bento 08.15.09 at 1:19 am

Re my comment above. I’m pretty sure I specifically remember Colin Powell bringing up the “he used weapons of mass destruction on his own people” argument at the UN. Am I mistaken? The argument is ambiguous in that it can be seen both as emphasizing how dangerous a character he is and as an accusation of atrocities (in the past, but implicitly possible in the future as well) sufficient to justify intervention. I suppose ambiguous humanitarian justifications introduce another issue.

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LFC 08.15.09 at 1:29 am

I’ve read the original post and some (not every word) of this thread. A few observations:
1) Part of the problem in this area, arguably, is that there has never been a UN standing army. This slows down the deployment of UN peacekeeping missions, which have to be put together on a case-by-case basis with contributions of troops from whichever countries are willing, and also, more relevantly here, increases the chances that the great powers will be able to use the R2P doctrine as a pretext to throw their weight around. If the UN had a standing army robust enough to do both peacekeeping and, if/when justified, humanitarian interventions, then things might be somewhat different.
2) Before there was R2P, there was a doctrine, admittedly always controversial, of humanitarian intervention in customary international law, which allowed such intervention in cases of egregious conduct that ‘shocked the conscience’. It was this vague language that enabled, e.g., Tanzania to make a case that its overthrow of Idi Amin was a humanitarian intervention, and India to make a case that its intervention in East Pakistan/Bangladesh (Dec. ’71) was a humanitarian one, even though in both those cases the intervening countries had obvious non-humanitarian motives as well as humanitarian ones. In theory, R2P should be an improvement in that it is phrased in more specific terms, although in practice it may not work as intended, for reasons that have already been pointed out.
3) I noticed, though have not yet had a chance to really read, Michael O’Hanlon’s column in today’s Wash Post calling for a new kind of US army unit to be set up for ‘humanitarian’ interventions in, e.g., the Dem Rep Congo. I assume most people here will disagree with him but thought I’d mention it fyi.

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Mrs Tilton 08.15.09 at 1:44 am

I think that R2P limited by Edward Hyams’s interesting ideas about when it is legitimate to assassinate political leaders might be one way forward.

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james 08.15.09 at 3:12 am

soru:

It is absolutely an arguement against intervention. This is why Sierra Leone should not be considered a successful UN intervention. The result in 2000 spoke highly of the British and UN involvemet; however if the UN had kept their nose out in 1995 there is every indication that intervention in 2000 would not have been necessary.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.15.09 at 9:10 am

The whole idea of the UN was, when it was created, to prevent wars between the nation-states: “to maintain international peace and security”. So, for them then to turn around and endorse military aggressions is what – an act of subversion?

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Phil 08.15.09 at 10:25 am

HV – that is or was the idea of collective security: everyone bands together and squishes a rogue nation. Obviously it’s never happened, unless you count Korea(!).

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engels 08.15.09 at 12:41 pm

HV, that wasn’t the ‘whole idea’. Have a look at the Preamble to the UN Charter, for instance, which resolves, among other things, ‘to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small’ and ‘to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest’.

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dsquared 08.15.09 at 1:21 pm

I am sure there are plenty of countries willing to rent out their currently-nationalised armies for a dollar a year, if only they get to pick the contracts.

Renting out its army to various UN peacekeeping forces is a major foreign exchange earner for Bangladesh, IIRC.

I don’t think we’ve yet mentioned what I regard as basically the only unambiguously positive humanitarian intervention so far in history; the American Civil War.

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LizardBreath 08.15.09 at 1:38 pm

Doesn’t that one have a mixed motive problem? If it were a humanitarian intervention, I’d be all for it (I’m all for it in any case), but the North’s motive was either retention or acquisition of territory, depending on whether you view secession as a political reality or not.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.15.09 at 2:19 pm

@94, Right, maybe not the whole idea, but most certainly the main and most important idea. International peace is the main feature, human rights – a nice-to-have. International peace, international friendly relations, and international co-operation are the purposes of this particular organization.

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belle le triste 08.15.09 at 2:25 pm

This is uncharacteristically idealistic of you, Henri: why does the UN, of all bodies, get to dodge the laser-lash of your ultra-cynical pragmatism, as regards motives and intentions and purposes? Think about it: who was the UN set up by, and why?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.15.09 at 2:34 pm

Well, I think they really did want to set it up in order to avoid another mass-slaughter. But the R2P makes it more likely.

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Heur 08.15.09 at 2:49 pm

So the argument as I understand it is that R2P doesn’t work, and is actually bad, because it simply creates a legal option to intervene; and this allows states to use R2P to justify (what? non-humanitarian interventions?) military actions that will only make things worse.

The argument assumes that, once a state has sufficient reason internally to authorize military action in a foreign country, it will then be forced to look for reasons justifying that action under international law (IL). This need for an IL justification acts to hamper a state’s ability to use military force. Otherwise, of course, the existence or non-existence of a R2P doctrine wouldn’t make a shred of difference with respect to non-humanitarian uses of military force.

And it’s this assumption that I do not buy. There are certain norms of international behavior that inform the likely international reaction to a state’s use of military action. But these do not, on my view, have much to do with IL. A state may consider likely economic sanctions, or worse, from other countries. Whether these sanctions, or worse, are forthcoming has very little to do with close legal questions of intent (e.g. did they REALLY mean this to be a humanitarian mission?). There is no impartial judge deciding whether sanctions, or worse, are warranted; there is a group of self-interested nations deciding whether sanctions, or worse, are warranted.

So I simply do not see how a state’s ability to plead R2P as justification has much to do with whether the state takes military action, and whether other states support or punish that military action.

The benefit of an R2P doctrine is NOT that it will thereby, by legal force alone, change the behavior of states; nor is the problem that it will thereby, by providing legal justification, change the behavior of states.

Rather the limited benefit is that it contributes to the growth of a new international norm, and is an explicit indication that sovereignty is not a legal shield for crimes against humanity. Will that make much difference in itself? No. Is it a small part of a larger process of bringing order to the conduct of states in the world? Yes.

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ajay 08.18.09 at 8:24 am

the only unambiguously positive humanitarian intervention so far in history; the American Civil War.

Didn’t thousands and thousands of people die during the American Civil War? Or am I thinking of another, less unambiguously positive war?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.18.09 at 8:36 am

…and is an explicit indication that sovereignty is not a legal shield for crimes against humanity.

And this is exactly the problem. If sovereignty is not a shield against military invasions, then you need weapons, preferably nuclear weapons. There are, of course, plenty of other ways to disincentivize bad behavior: political, economic, legal (indictment of leaders of states, for example).

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Martin Wisse 08.18.09 at 3:20 pm

Bit of an angels on a pinhead discussion isn’t it? No humanitarian intervention has ever been a succes on its own terms because humanitarian reasons are the excuse, not the reason these interventions happen or do not happen. They’re attacks by the strong on the weak when the strong feel it’s in their interest to do so. It’s p.r., nothing more and anybody trying to dress this up as more than that is wasting their time.

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Joe's Keys 08.19.09 at 1:19 am

Kosovo is the least tainted example of humanitarian intervention that comes to mind… but it can’t really be used to justify future interventions because even its supporters call it “sui generis” and swear it’ll never happen again. Even if you count Kosovo and Sierra Leone as successes, they’re outnumbered exponentially by mountains of failures, failures where the intervention not only didn’t help but actively worsened the situation. Not a good enough average to justify humanitarian interventionism at all.

The main problem with intervening in an ethnic war like Rwanda is that, even if your intentions are noble (doubtful, especially for France), what do you do once you’re there? In Kosovo, we won the war for the Kosovars, ostensibly because they were victims of ethnic cleansing. If we’d done the same in Darfur, the entire country and probably several of its neighbors would have collapsed in catastrophic violence. If we’d intervened in Sri Lanka, whose side would we have taken? The government who now holds 250,000 people in concentration camps? The terrorist LTTE?

Ethnic wars end when someone wins, or when both sides realize they can’t and agree to a political solution. Political solutions, like that in Kenya last year (incidentally the only time R2P has actually been employed, according to UN R2P expert Ed Luck), are usually the only hope for ending ethnic violence… or a smashing victory by one side, as in Rwanda in 1994 or Sri Lanka this year. We didn’t intervene in Sri Lanka, even when a thousand people were dying a day. We didn’t even really consider it. Nor should we have. The world’s a cruel place sometimes, and sending in foreign guns to an internal conflict seldom makes it less so.

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Joe's Keys 08.19.09 at 1:24 am

Ajay (#101), the death toll of the American civil war over 600,000, out of a total American population at the time of about 31 million. More than 1 in 50 Americans died.

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ajay 08.19.09 at 4:27 pm

105: well, yes. Hence my doubt that it counts as “unambiguously positive”…

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