The relentless urge to action rather than inaction

by Daniel on October 2, 2006

I have a post up on the Guardian blog, in praise of “stasis” as an under-rated strategy for government when compared to “reform“.

Of course, the general principle that the status quo is no worse than the status quo, and that all proposals for radical change should first be assessed to see if they can beat this hurdle, is one that has applications in foreign policy as well as domestic. For example, via Normblog Wole Soyinka is apparently castigating the UN and African Union for “inaction” on Darfur. Soyinka apparently believes that sponsoring two sets of peace talks, providing a massive humanitarian relief effort and negotiating the AMIS peacekeeping force don’t count as “doing anything”, which suggests to me (along with the fact that Norm links Soyinka’s speech to a series of diatribes by Eric Reeves on Jeff Weintraub’s site) that the only thing that would count as “doing something” would be war, or economic sanctions of such severity as to be roughly equivalent to war in terms of lethality.

Nobody, from Alex de Waal to Jan Pronk to Mark Malloch Brown, thinks that an invasion would pass the simple test of “would it make things worse or better”. As I’ve said repeatedly with respect to Darfur, it’s the height of irresponsibility to demand “action” without saying what that action might be, or to provide some kind of sensible assessment of its likely consequences.



anonymous 10.02.06 at 7:15 pm


Leo Casey 10.02.06 at 7:22 pm

The height of irresponsibility is this sort of posturing, at a very safe distance from an ongoing genocide.

How many hundreds of thousands more need to die before your nifty cost-benefit calculus ddecides that maybe intervention is called for?


Gary 10.02.06 at 8:35 pm

Stasis is an unfortunate choice of terms. In ancient Greek, stasis meant “faction, sedition, discord, division, dissent” when used in a political context. Here’s the URL of the relevant entry in the big Greek Lexicon:



John Quiggin 10.02.06 at 8:52 pm

Although there has been a humanitarian effort, there’s plenty more that could be done on this front . As I recall, rations were halved earlier year due to a shortage of money.

And the big current problem is that even the existing peacekeeping effort is under threat because the Sudanese government won’t allow a renewed mandate and the Chinese will veto a UNSC resolution that doesn’t require their permission.

It seems to me that putting lots of pressure on both these parties is a reasonable response to calls for action. For example, given China’s emergence as the leading advocate of dictatorship, wouldn’t it be reasonable to start talking about protests around, or a boycott of, the Olympic Games. As regards the Sudanese government, they ought to be reminded that there is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

Those are some of the things I have in mind, at any rate.


tom hurka 10.02.06 at 9:03 pm

“The status quo is no worse than the status quo” — providing it doesn’t change, and in particular doesn’t get worse. But often it does get worse. And then inaction lets it get worse while action has a chance of stopping the deterioration.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 12:17 am


How many hundreds of thousands more need to die before your nifty cost-benefit calculus ddecides that maybe intervention is called for?

This question is fundamentally misconcieved and illustrates what I mean by “irresponsibility”. The nature of cost benefit analysis is that the criterion is not “how many hundreds of thousands, blub blub weep weep?” but “will intervention make things better rather than worse?”. Even if not one single person more was going to die in Sudan, I would still support intervention if I thought that intervention would improve the quality of life there (or to get rid of the al-Bashir gang for the sake of doing so). Even if the consequences of not intervening meant that ten million would die, I would not support intervention if I thought that on the balance of probabilities it would likely result in the deaths of eleven million.

John: Unfortunately, China’s involvement is not really making as much of a difference as one might think. The problem with coercive intervention is not that it would be vetoed in the UN; it’s that it would not be possible on the ground. It’s just not possible to put a UN force into a country if the incumbent government doesn’t want it there and controls its army, unless you are prepared to countenance huge loss of life.

Tom H: by “action” here, we mean “war” and war has a really bad record when it comes to stopping things from getting worse.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 12:25 am

oh, I missed as well that Leo is also using the word “genocide” (even “ongoing genocide”, to make it clear that he is talking about the current civil war in Darfur and not anything that happened in 2004), which has a particular meaning in international law and flies in the face of the UN findings. What is your source of information here, Leo, is it Eric Reeves and why do you think it is better than that of the UN, Amnesty International and Medecins Sans Frontieres?


Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.06 at 1:23 am

“which has a particular meaning in international law and flies in the face of the UN findings.”

Yes, yes, we know. According to the UN there was not at any point a genocide in the Sudan. And that says a bit more about the UN than it does about genocide. Brilliant point.


John Quiggin 10.03.06 at 1:25 am

Daniel, the intervention I support (at least until convinced otherwise) is a more robust version of the peacekeeping forces we’ve seen so far (that is, more troops and more willingness to shoot back), with a mission of protecting refugees, rather than a full-scale attempt to take over the country, or even Darfur. It doesn’t seem, on the face of it, that the Sudan government could do much to stop this – most of the actual fighting in the area is being done by the irregular janjaweed, not the Sudanese army.

Of course, I agree with you about the dangers of war, but the status quo clearly involves lots of people getting killed, so I need more than generic arguments to convince me that nothing at all can be done that would reduce the number of lives lost.

Coming back to China, it’s not clear to me that the Sudanese government would persist in its defiance in the absence of China’s support in the UN – after all, it’s a pretty high-risk option for them.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 2:26 am

And that says a bit more about the UN than it does about genocide.

No, it says more about people who’d rather strike postures than learn the facts.

John Q: The expanded African Union force which is currently being put together has roughly that kind of mandate. But I think you really do underestimate the danger and difficulty of putting even a single blue helmet on the ground without Khartoum’s co-operation. The force of 20,000 troops in the UN resolution was sized by the UN to be a peacekeeping force acting alongside and with the co-operation of the Sudanese Army. If they instead have to fight them (and to fight a load of foreign Al-Qaedas currently based in Eritrea, who have announced that they would get involved in this situation, plus they could not necessarily count on the co-operation of the rebel forces) then it would take thousands more troops and would make it more or less completely impossible for aid agencies to remain in the camps. People have looked at this up, down, backwards and forwards and there really does not appear to be any way of inserting any peacekeeping force while maintaining the humanitarian relief effort which has to be the priority.

I don’t agree that the majority of the fighting is being done by Janjaweed at present. The worst of the fighting is taking place in North Darfur between NRF and SLA/Minnawi, with some government support for SLA/Minnawi. The NRF killed forty people yesterday by rocketing an aid camp. The Janjaweed are still carrying out murders and rapes around the camps in South and West Darfur, but they’re not capable of massacring villages or taking on rebel units without air support and they aren’t getting air support any more.

What can be done to reduce the number of lives lost is diplomacy – in particular, a reopening of the DPA peace talks to rebel groups that refused the original DPA – and that’s what’s being done (and you are correct in #4 to note that the threat of ICC prosecutions is being used as a lever, on the rebels as well as Khartoum, although they are having to be very careful about doing so as, as Mark Malloch Brown has pointed out, we are slowly learning that neither Khartoum nor the rebels seem to respond very well to threats). I still find it amazing that so many people regard the diplomatic effort as “doing nothing”.

Finally, one thing that can be done is to put troops in Chad in order to reduce the risk of the Darfur conflict spilling out of Sudan’s borders. The French are currently doing this – even though it means propping up Idriss Déby who is one of the worst dictators in Africa, it is probably worth it.


Sebastian Holsclaw 10.03.06 at 2:45 am

Many people think that diplomatic efforts are “doing nothing” when they function to give more time to commit atrocities or prepare for the same.


Brendan 10.03.06 at 2:49 am

I went and checked out Soyinka’s actual comments: assuming that he was misquoted should be par for the course in dealing with someone like Geras. And his actual statements ARE different from the way Geras chose to report them. Unfortunately they are worse. Some sample quotes: ‘(Soyinka) asked why the United Nations (UN) has been able to do nothing in Darfur when it reacted “with speed” to bring about a cease-fire in Lebanon.’ To misquote the Hitchhiker’s Guide, this is obviously some strange new use of the phrase ‘with speed’ I was previously unaware of. And it gets worse: ‘He also criticised the UN, saying the world body had failed the endangered African community in Darfur, chiding it for basking in the solace of protocol-related excuses when it should have intervened in a fundamental manner.

“One finds it odd that this alibi for inaction was not invoked before the rigorous intervention in former Yugoslavia, an intervention that not only brought a rogue regime to heel, but oversaw the return and rehabilitation of the dispersed populations of ethnic Albanians and Muslim Croats,” Soyinka added.’

Unbelievably (assuming that this quote is accurate) Soyinka doesn’t know that the UN notoriously, did NOT authorise action in Yugoslavia (which was, of course, the Houses of Parliament later decided, ‘illegal but not immoral’). He also uses the weasel word ‘intervention’ (meaning, of course, invasion) and seems to have an extremely naive (not to mention erroneous) view of the entire Yugoslav situation (like most of the ‘pro-invasion left’ he gets the two military operations confused: the Kosovo War did NOT lead to the the return of ‘Croat refugees’). Soyinka’s terminology is also blatantly racist. I know for a fact that when (for example) LGF use the word ‘Muslim’ this is a euphemism, but at least they use the euphemism. Soyinka cuts to the chase, however. This is, apparently, a plot to ‘Arabise’ an ‘African country’. He also claims that the ‘African’ is ‘indigenous’ to Africa (with the implication that ‘Arabs’ are not…perhaps they should all go home to ‘Arabia’?).

What is it about famous writers when they get past the age of 70?


Kevin Donoghue 10.03.06 at 3:19 am

Many people think that diplomatic efforts are “doing nothing” when they function to give more time to commit atrocities or prepare for the same.

I always wondered about the claim that time must have a stop. What’s to stop it? Sebastian has the answer: if diplomacy stops, the supply of time will be curtailed.

Without much hope that they will pay attention, I appeal to the proponents of “intervention” to tell us what they have in mind. Who is to provide the troops, where are they to deploy in order to “intervene” and what objectives are to be assigned to them?

Operation Iraqi Freedom was bad enough: a plan to topple a regime with no plan for the aftermath. But the likes of Sebastian don’t even have much of a plan for taking Khartoum. It’s quite a long walk, you know.

Thanks to anonymous (#1) for the link about Burke. I’ve often wondered where that quotation was to be found.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 3:20 am

Many people think that diplomatic efforts are “doing nothing” when they function to give more time to commit atrocities or prepare for the same.

Sebastian, I’m afraid that you’re going to have to show me that you understand what the DPA was before I’m going to discuss this any further with you. The sentence I’ve quoted above may have just been poorly phrased, but it gives me the distinct impression that you are uninformed. If you want to rubbish the diplomatic process, you need to be specific. I also notice that none of the advocates of using violence in Darfur appear to be at all concerned with giving reasons why they think that it would make things better rather than worse; this is what I mean by irresponsibility. Leo Casey appears to believe that it is intrinsically immoral to use “cost benefit analysis” and that we should therefore carry out an invasion whenever someone feels sufficiently morally aggrieved; is this your point of view too Sebastian.

What is it about famous writers when they get past the age of 70?

As far as I can tell in the case of Soyinka, they start fighting proxy political battles against domestic political and cultural enemies. Soyinka is quite likely using “Arab” here to mean “Muslim”, because his domestic enemies are Nigerian Muslims.


Doctor Slack 10.03.06 at 4:06 am

Soyinka’s remarks are playing not only to domestic politics, but also to a fairly common African conviction that, on the whole, the world pays attention to managing and ameliorating “white” wars (or at least to wars outside sub-Saharan Africa) while ignoring or neglecting African wars. There is something to that, of course, but it shouldn’t be asking too much for Soyinka to trouble to make his remarks at least a little bit accurate.


Marc Mulholland 10.03.06 at 5:23 am

Daniel says:

“Even if the consequences of not intervening meant that ten million would die, I would not support intervention if I thought that on the balance of probabilities it would likely result in the deaths of eleven million.”

I don’t think this can be the whole of the story. It’s well established in International Law that self-defence against a state can enter into the war-waging calculation as an independent variable, indeed as an over-riding imperative. It’s certainly arguable that non-resistance to Nazism, thus avoiding a war, would have killed a good deal less that 60 million. Nevertheless, the war was justified as a defence against a ferociously imperialist regime.

A modified – and I think weakened – version of the same principle seems appropriate in cases of invasion to destroy or inhibit a regime intent on dstroying a people under its control. While utilitarian ‘body count’ calculations would not become irrelevant, I suspect a 110 per cent mark-up on anticipated fatalities could be justified by the salvation of an ethnicity and the moral effect on egregious regimes.

Of course, all this applies to a genocidal case, which does not appear to be straight-forwardly relevant to Darfur. So I’m afraid this has been an exercise in generic argument rather than concrete critism of Daniel’s general point.

Demanding unspecified “action”, of course, does have an important role: it’s an assertion of moral superiority at an exceptionally low cost to oneself.


ajay 10.03.06 at 5:24 am

So now he wants more Western military intervention in African countries? Jeez, make your mind up.

Incidentally, I read the passage Brendan quotes as saying: “The West didn’t stall by quoting UN procedure when it was former Yugoslavia [which I read meaning Bosnia as well as Kosova, and should be ‘Muslims and Croats’ – ie in Bosnia not ‘Muslim Croats’ in Kosova] – in fact, it didn’t even wait for the UN in Kosova – but now look at them, using the UN as an excuse not to act in Africa”.

And the Lebanon ceasefire happened about a month after the start of hostilities. By African war standards, that is “with speed”. Sudan’s been at war for years.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 5:47 am

As Marc notes, the second World War was a war of self-defence, and would benefit in any cost-benefit analysis from the almsot overwhelming positive value attached to maintaining something like the rule of law in the international sphere as regards the punishment of wars of aggression. I think I’d accept something like his 10% mark-up concept, albeit that for the reasons John Q has gone through in the past, I would want that markup to be applied to a realistic estimate of the likely costs and benefits, which given the history of wars of aggression, would most likely be a lot less than 91% of the original estimate supplied by a would-be invader.

I think the really difficult case for cost-benefit analysis is the most famous example of a successful humanitarian intervention; the American Civil War.


Kevin Donoghue 10.03.06 at 6:08 am

I don’t see how you can classify the American Civil War as a humanitarian intervention, as opposed to self-defence. The Confederates fired first.


soru 10.03.06 at 6:36 am

Tom H: by “action” here, we mean “war” and war has a really bad record when it comes to stopping things from getting worse.

This seems a slightly strange use of the word ‘war’. Surely what is currently happening, if it is not a one-sided genocide, is already a war, a conflict of two more or less equal sides.

An intervention, to either declare Darfur a sovereign independant state, or wipe out the rebels supply lines, would presumably end that currently-ongoing war. It might be that after the end of the war, oppression and famine would be worse than they were during the war, or that a new war would start, e.g. between the different rebel groups. But that wouldn’t be the way to bet.

It’s certainly questionable if the cost is either affordable in practise or worth paying in principle, but that’s not something you can show from a general anti-war argument.

See also: US intervention in WWI.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 7:09 am

US intervention in WW1 would fall under the general category of “punishing aggression”, which is a big additional benefit. On the other hand, I don’t think one can just single out the USA’s entry into World War 1 and say “see, intervention works”. Part of the whole problem in that period (which I don’t really know much about so am willing to be corrected) was that nation after nation decided that they could make things better (and help themselves into the bargain) by piling in. Nobody really planned it as a World War.

In general though, I don’t like the comparisons to the Great Big Events of history. Why do we need to start thinking of WW1 when we have much more relevant comparisons to Darfur in Somalia and DR Congo?


John Quiggin 10.03.06 at 8:30 am

“See also: US intervention in WWI.”

Maybe you’d like to spell this one out, Soru. WWI was a disaster which set the stage for worse (Nazism, Leninism-Stalinism etc). No one who took part came out better off (and many who tried to stay neutral also suffered).

If the US wanted to intervene, it should have demanded a compromise peace.


Brendan 10.03.06 at 8:48 am

“But that wouldn’t be the way to bet.”

Sez who?

In fact I’m not even prepared to grant the first assumption. Who says that the US (because it is, presumably, the US not the ‘international community’ that you are talking about) will have the time, the money, the troops or the materiel to invade the Sudan? And even if they do, who says that they will have the troops, the time (etc.) to achieve their military aims? It’s true that the US ‘succeeded’ in Kosova (and now that one ‘success’ should be considered in terms of what looks increasingly like two ‘failures’ in Afghanistan and Iraq: one out of three ain’t betting odds), but they were then fighting a war on one front (as opposed to three) and they also had public opinion behind them: something that would be much more dubiously the case (at least in the middle east, and on the home front) in Sudan. In other words, if they didn’t succeed in their war aims almost immediately (i.e. within a month) pressure on them to withdraw would be almost overwhelming, not least within the US itself. (cf Israel in Lebanon).

So I don’t even succeed that it should be immediately assumed that US ‘intervention’ would ‘end the war’.

I would however, echo your point that it is at least a possibility that ‘oppression and famine’ might actually end up being worse after an American invasion: and this point would go double if, as seems likely, and American invasion wouldn’t even stop the ‘original’ war.


soru 10.03.06 at 8:59 am

US declared war in December 1917, troops arrived in numbers summer of 1918, war ended November 1918.

Obviously, you can counterfactual to your hearts content: perhaps the war would have ended about then anyway, or it would have been better for Germany to win, or for the war to go on longer, or whatever.

But I think the straightforward reading of events is that the US actions moved the continent from a state of war to a state of non-war. In comparison, previous efforts at asking for a negotiated compromise settlement had got nowhere.

Most wars end that way – one side is defeated, or comes to believe it’s defeat is inevitable.

External military intervention in an ongoing conflict should, if it is decided on, generally try to work with, rather than against, that pattern.


Bruce Baugh 10.03.06 at 10:39 am

Soru, you’re missing the point about WW1.

Yes, it’s true that US intervention almost certainly sped up the end of the war. Without it, the war would likely have lasted one more ghastly winter and then ended in the sort of “peace without honor” compromise that had been discussed increasingly seriously in 1917 and 1918. In that sense, it was a good thing.

But its intervention allowed the Allies to impose their terms on the Central Powers. Also, as Margaret Macmillan calls attention to in Paris 1919, it allowed the Central Powers to surrender without foreign armies entering most of Germany, apart from the eastern and western frontiers. That combination of imposed terms without visible defeat set up directly for the “stab in the back” mythos and the rise of fascism. And I would think it difficult to argue that one more year of World War I could have been more costly than the six years of European war that came with Hitler.

One also has to look at the costs of war to the US. In particular, it let the thoroughly racist Woodrow Wilson and his like-minded folks throughout the administration institutionalize a whole bunch of racial segregation at the federal level, letting black people all over the country get the kind of treatment that had been confined to the state level since the sabotage of Reconstruction. The war also gave a big push to the military-industrial economy we’ve suffered from ever since. Free speech and political diversity suffered in a big way, and the idea that America can and should routinely act as the world’s savior gained much favor.

Again, it’s possible that all of this is a price worth paying to avoid a 1918-19 like 1917-18. But I don’t think it’s self-evidently true that that’s so. The reckoning should be demonstrated, not assumed. In the case of World War I in particular, we have the then-secret correspondence and discussion of warring nations’ leaders to show that they were stumbling their way toward a compromise, but felt they couldn’t reach it as long as anyone had something like effective fighting forces left. The exhaustion was coming. It doesn’t seem to me out of line to suggest that the sort of compromise they’d been poking at for a couple of years would have been much better for the world than what we got.

I skimmed for casualties by year for WW1. No luck there. But overall there were about 8.5 million deaths and total casualties of about 37.5 million. Assuming a rising death toll so that it doesn’t seem like I’m fudging things in my favor, say that an extra year of war would cost 3 million deaths and 10 million casualties. That still compares pretty well to World War II and other problems.


ajay 10.03.06 at 11:04 am

Bruce, you’re very ready to get a hundred thousand of my countrymen killed in order to ameliorate your race relations problem. Are you saying that the trouble with WW1 is that Germany didn’t suffer enough? Whatever the outcome of the peace terms after your one more ghastly winter, I’d say it would have resulted in an impoverished and battered Germany, and a political settlement which could easily have been spun by the Nazis as a defeat.

Or – what happens if the Germans actually win? What odds would you give on a war with the USSR over, say, Brest-Litovsk? That’s the trouble with counterfactuals…


soru 10.03.06 at 11:05 am

I think anyone arguing to kill 3 million now to perhaps save 9 million in 30 years time needs a pretty strong version of historical knowledge.

Apart from anything else, it would be easy to imagine a much worse WWII, for example one that started after 5 years more research into nuclear power, or simply one where the Nazis won.


Bruce Baugh 10.03.06 at 11:16 am

Ajay: Germany couldn’t have won, as nearly as I can tell. In the absence of US intervention, exhaustion, stalemate, and compromise look pretty inevitable.

Macmillan’s argument is that Germany had to surrender on the terms of abject defeat without the social experience of abject defeat, which made it possible for a lot of Germans to avoid dealing with the reality of having lost. She compares it to the aftermath of World War II, with Allied troops all over the place. There was no room to argue in 1945 that it was all just a diplomatic scheme or something, as it was in 1918.

Soru: I agree that forecasting World War II would have been pretty impressive. On the other hand, the argument “let’s not bail out either set of imperialist warmongers” required only present facts, and was made, and was trampled. The idea that letting them fight to exhaustion would be good in the long run is one you can find in the debate at the time. It took a lot of effort and some extraordinary incompetent diplomatic bungling to shift US sentiment….

And actually, that’s another consequence of the war, for the US. The 20th century would have been happier if we’d been slower to plunge into wars.


Bruce Baugh 10.03.06 at 11:24 am

Oh, some side thoughts.

One thing to keep in mind about a World War I without US intervention is that it would not have ended with the status quo ante returning intact. There’d been mutinies of the troops on both sides, and the frequency and size of them were rising. There were strikes at home, likewise. The evidence suggests (but does not prove, of course) that had the war continued, socialist and liberal groups would have gained more power. For some people that may well be an argument in favor of intervention; for others of us, it’s an argument against.

And even if I’m wrong on all the conclusions I’m reaching – which is possible, goodness knows – the questions I’m asking are the ones that should come up in discussions of intervention. What’ll happen next? And after that? What long-term forces might we be shackling or unleashing? Pro-intervention arguments seem to me usually very weak in this, boiling down to “it’s so right that we shouldn’t think of consequences” or “our hearts are good so no real disaster can ensue” or “what happens later is someone else’s problem and can’t reflect badly on our choices”.


Daniel 10.03.06 at 11:39 am

I agree that forecasting World War II would have been pretty impressive

not so impressive that JM Keynes didn’t manage it, in writing, within months of Versailles.

In fairness to soru’s argument, however, the general problem of inequitable peace settlements and the problems they cause is not specific to military interventions. It can be credibly argued (I don’t agree with it, but it is a reasonable thing to argue) that the Darfur Peace Agreement concluded in Nigeria earlier this year was a quick fix pushed through by US and UK negotiators and was the proximate cause of the current emergency.


abb1 10.03.06 at 12:15 pm

This is all wrong. In fact, the rise of Nazism in Germany and the WWII were easily preventable, except that the Western powers wanted to create a “Drang nach Osten” regime in Germany; they nourished it all the way thru, right to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when they realized that they can’t control and direct the monster anymore.


radek 10.03.06 at 12:37 pm

Daniel, here’s the costs at least:

Goldin, Claudia, and Frank Lewis. “The Economic Costs of the American Civil War: Estimates and Implications.” Journal of Economic History 35 (1975): 299-3


soru 10.03.06 at 12:39 pm

The 20th century would have been happier if we’d been slower to plunge into wars.

I think that it is interesting that you are advancing that claim by means of an argument that explicitly rests on the idea that war is, all things equal, better than peace, resolves situations in a way that peace doesn’t.

If more war was the preferred solution to the German problem in 1918, wouldn’t it also have been a preferred solution in other times and places?


radek 10.03.06 at 12:43 pm

No one who took part came out better off

Well, that’s not true, at least not in the immediate aftermath. Mitteleuropa, Germany aside came out pretty good.


Tracy W 10.03.06 at 3:29 pm

My understanding was that part of the problem with the WWI settlement was the aim of “self-determination of nations”.

The Allies negotiated separately with every group wanting bits of land carved out of Germany, and were deeply surprised when they added it all up and realised how much land they had agreed to remove from Germany for one reason or another, and how many other costs they were applying to Germany. But no one had the will to go back to the groups they’d negotiated with earlier and negotiate them back down to something smaller.

Another possibility apparently would have been to place the Kaiser’s grandson on the throne, who was only 2 years old at the time so no one could believe he was responsible for Germany’s actions in WWII, and create a constitutional monarchy which could have offered some continuity and more respect to the new democracy in Germany.

So quite possibly Allied troops occupying Germany was not the only outcome to WWI that could have avoided WWII. Better negotiations by the Allies that placed less of a burden on Germany might have been able to avoid WWII as well.


Bruce Baugh 10.03.06 at 3:44 pm

Tracy: That’s part of the argument for the long-term benefits of exhaustion, yes. Less triumphant Allies would have been as good for the world as a Germany less able to sustain the “stab in the back” lie.


John Quiggin 10.03.06 at 3:57 pm

Soru, you’re the one who argued for more war, specifically US intervention. You want to claim that this “more war” led to peace by bringing an end to the war more quickly. The point is, it didn’t succeed – the consequence was an untenable peace that set the stage for more war.

It’s not even clear, BTW, that the war would have lasted longer in the absence of US intervention. If the US had instead demanded a compromise peace “without indemnities or annexations”, Britain and France might have been forced to go along with it.


soru 10.03.06 at 4:51 pm

Soru, you’re the one who argued for more war, specifically US intervention

No, I’m attempting to argue against the solipsistic viewpoint, expressed in #6, that a war is not a war if the US is not involved in fighting it.

The generalised point ‘US involvement in a war tends to be a bad thing’ may or may not be true, but it is a different point from ‘war tends to be a bad thing’, and is not a logical consequence of it.


soru 10.03.06 at 5:06 pm


1. If the US had instead demanded a compromise peace …

2. it’s the height of irresponsibility to demand “action” without saying what that action might be…

Making a demand _is_ intervention, that’s the difference between a demand and a request.


Karole 10.03.06 at 5:54 pm

Daniel, in your 12.17 a.m. comment you say the test is “will intervention make things better rather than worse?”, but then say at the end of the comment: “Even if the consequences of not intervening meant that ten million would die, I would not support intervention if I thought that on the balance of probabilities it would likely result in the deaths of eleven million.” These are two separate tests. One compares the aftermath/consequences of an intervention with the situation prior to intervention; the other compares the aftermath/consequences with the likely result of inaction – inaction being shorthand for not intervening. Thus if – hypothetically speaking – some sort of NATO-backed force had gone in two years ago, the situation might well not have deteriorated to the point it has today. Also your use of the word “invasion” lacks nuance. No one is suggesting that outside forces take Khartoum and oust the Sudanese regime. What is being argued for is the application of military force to prevent and deter the violence being carried out these last few years by the Sudanese government and its proxies against the civilian population of Darfur.


Tracy W 10.03.06 at 6:57 pm

Less triumphant Allies would have been as good for the world..

My understanding wasn’t that the problem was that the Allies were triumphant – it was that they weren’t thinking about the sum of their agreements.

Like if you wander through the supermarket tossing things into the trolley and then get a nasty surprise when the checkout operator tells you the total. I’ve done that a couple of times and from memory I wasn’t feeling triumphant when I was throwing stuff into the supermarket, I just wasn’t keeping track of the total.

The Allies didn’t intend at the outset to do so much harm to Germany. They just fell into it, in part as a result of Woodrow Wilson’s idealism and his right of self-determination of peoples.

Not every political mistake results from being overly triumphant.

And better negotiating skills would have been a far cheaper solution to avoid WWII than another few million dead if the war had continued another year.


Daniel 10.04.06 at 2:01 am

These are two separate tests.

I think this is the result of unclear expression rather than anythign else. “Better or worse” ought to be “better to act or not to act”. I think it’s clear that the underlying test is a consequential one.

Thus if – hypothetically speaking – some sort of NATO-backed force had gone in two years ago, the situation might well not have deteriorated to the point it has today.

I don’t agree with this at all. What geopolitical fact about Sudan would have been different? Since the option of intervening two years ago is not open to us because we are not Doctor Who, I’m pretty sure I don’t quite understand your point here, but on the factual question of whether a credible case for invasion (as opposed to any other kind of action) could have been made in 2004, my opinion is it couldn’t.

No one is suggesting that outside forces take Khartoum and oust the Sudanese regime.

Would that you were right. I went through this in a Guardian article. A number of the groups attached to the Day for Darfur were explicitly in favour of decapitation and several more to a constitutional solution for Sudan which would see it no longer existing as a unitary state.

What is being argued for is the application of military force to prevent and deter

Sorry, stop right there. I know this seems rude but I keep on quibbling about the use of “success-words” by the pro-intervention party because I think it’s the central flaw in their reasoning.

You aren’t allowed to use words like “prevent and deter” unless you can give some credible reason to believe that it is possible to put together a plan which will have that effect. My point is precisely that no such plan exists because it is more or less impossible. Everything we know from Somalia, for example, shows how difficult it is to stop violence.

Furthermore, I have a problem with “application of military force” here if it is meant to mean something different from what I bluntly refer to as “invasion”. Since the government of Sudan controls most of the territory of Sudan, you cannot put troops in Sudan without either a) getting the consent of the government or b) having a fight against the Sudanese army. If b) is the option, it is not possible to simultaneously carry on anything like the current humanitarian effort. It might be possible to carry out a substitute humanitarian effort by the military, but I haven’t seen this plan yet. I’m not particularly motivated by concern for the integrity of the Westphalian state here, more by the fact that this kind of operation has a really bad track record (even the big success story in Afghanistan owes a hell of a lot to luck with the drought and appears to be turning sourer by the day).


soru 10.04.06 at 7:08 am

Do you think this idea is worth exploring:

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a trade group representing 27 private companies, offers another take on a role for a private peacekeeping army in Darfur.
The Sudanese government refuses to accept U.N. peacekeepers because it fears a repeat of what happened in Kosovo, which gained de facto independence from Serbia through a U.N. intervention, Mr. Brooks said.
“What about a private company working under Sudanese law?” he asked.
“You’d have to have some safeguards, but in essence, you would get effective security. It would be neutral, so it would protect against both the rebels and the [government-backed] Janjaweed militia. It would pay taxes to the Sudanese government.
“You’d have to have safeguards to make sure the guys aren’t thrown into some kangaroo court for every alleged offense. But it’s something that they might be willing to look at.”
Mr. Brooks said his organization is attempting to broach the subject with the Sudanese government.
“We’ve had some informal contacts through go-betweens to see what they think about it and haven’t heard back,” he said. “But who knows?”


Karole 10.04.06 at 8:36 am

Soru, that’s a very interesting suggestion. I don’t know whether it’s possible in relation to Darfur but I believe I am correct in saying that private forces secured the capital of Sierra Leone on a few occasions before British troops arrived there. (I’m pretty Col. Tim Collins recounts as much in his book.)

Daniel, thank you for your considered response. I was incorrect it seems in claiming that “no one” was advocating a full-scale invasion of Sudan. It would be more accurate to say that I don’t advocate that, and I don’t believe it’s even remotely on the cards. I agree with you that arguments in favour of intervention must be premised on it being “possible to put together a plan which will have that effect”. Clearly that is correct. The closest comparison, in my mind, is with Bosnia. That was mostly carried out (correct me if I’m wrong) by air forces and had the effect of forcing the party carrying out the ethnic cleansing to come to the table and agree terms. Would you call what happened in Bosnia an “invasion”? It isn’t an invasion in the traditional sense – i.e. what happened in Iraq – although in a legal sense sovereignty could be sense to be ousted or invaded. But if I understand you correctly your objection is not based on a defence of sovereignty but on whether an intervention would have worse consequences than alternative courses of action. I have to say though that the prospects for diplomacy do not look good, given that the June ceasefire seems not to have been worth the paper it was written on.

I don’t put forward a detailed military plan because I am not an expert in such matters.

Do you believe, as Eric Posner wrote Sunday, that so-called humanitarian intervention is in the end a “myth”? ( Or is your argument based on the praticalities of the Darfur situation?

Second, two Clinton-era officials, and a Democratic congressman, have put forward ideas on how a campaign could be carried out. (

Third, you’re right that efforts must be made to stop neighbouring states becoming destabilised by what is going on in Darfur.


Daniel 10.04.06 at 9:12 am

Soru: I’m inclined to think that something like it ought to be considered as a possibility for smaller African states (like Equatorial Guinea, although I would prefer that Sir Mark Thatcher was not in charge this time), but Darfur is the size of France. The UN was talking about a peacekeeping force of 20,000 troops working alongside the Sudanese army. I don’t think (though am prepared to be gainsaid by someone who knows more about the industry than me) that there are that many mercenaries in the world, let alone available for this job. (Also, there would need to be some serious oversight and a lot more legal structure before it was really a viable idea; private security contractors have a deservedly horrible reputation for being very ill-disciplined and badly managed troops).

Karole: I see what you mean. I think that most of the distance between us relates to my imprecise use of language. I’ve got a lot of time for Eric Posner’s view but (this is implicit in my last CT piece on “Anti Which War When”) I have not wholly given up on the idea of humanitarian intervention in cases of imminent disaster; I’m not enough of a libertarian to be able to bring myself to believe in the wholly pessimistic view of the limits of government force.

To be honest my heart sank when I saw that “Clinton-era officials” were shooting their mouths off, as these are the wonderful people who brought you Somalia and Kosovo. They also don’t appear to have read anything about Darfur in the last month; in a number of places they talk about things that happened in August in the present tense. It looks like exactly the sort of sabre-rattling megaphone diplomacy that Malloch Brown was pleading against, and would certainly and definitely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths as it doesn’t contain any consideration of what to do with the refugee camps after the aid organisations were forced out – just bombing Khartoum and blockading Port Sudan is the exact opposite of a plan, it’s rather like suggesting that we should have solved the Lebanon war by bombing Damascus. It’s useful though, in that it shows exactly how catastrophically wrong I was four years ago to believe that the Democrats could be trusted to handle these wars sensibly.

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