Interventions – humanitarian or liberal?

by Conor Foley on March 23, 2011

´The trouble with this intervention, and with liberal interventionism itself, is not with the abstract principle but the concrete practice´ writes Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian. Well maybe so, and there has been a very interesting discussion in response to my last post about the current situation in Libya, which pretty much spans the spectrum of the debate about its rights and wrongs.

But I was writing about a ´humanitarian intervention´ (ie a UN authorized external military intervention in an ongoing humanitarian crisis with the specific and limited aim of protecting civilians whose lives are threatened). People can agree or disagree about the principle and the practice, but at least we all know that we are taking about the same thing. If you google the term ´humanitarian intervention´it takes you straight to what is widely accepted as its dictionary definition. The parameters of what constitutes a legtimate ´humanitarian intervention´can certainly be debated and issues such as ´threshold level´, ´right authority´ and ´proportionality´ continue to be discussed in great detail.

If you google the term ´liberal intervention´, by contrast, it takes you to a list of polemical articles discussing the rights and wrongs of a hawkish foreign policy that is most closely identified with George Bush´s and Tony Blair´s invasion of Iraq. The reason for this is simply because the term has no fixed meaning and so can be used to justify whatever the person using it chooses to mean.

My understanding of the term is that it is a military intervention, without the authority of the UN Security Council, to overthrow a sovereign government and occupy all or part of its terrritory until after a new government has been elected under the auspices of a provincial authority appointed by the invading powers. The rationale for this intervention/invasion is that the previous government lacked democratic legitimacy and had committed human rights violations of a sufficient degree of seriousness as to justify an action that prime facie constitutes a crime of aggression in international law. Supporters of ´liberal intervention´often call for the ´reform of international law´ to legitimize such acts.

I think that this is quite different from a UN-authorized ´humanitarian intervention´, but I can see why opponents of such interventions (and supporters of the invasion of Iraq) would wish to muddle the two terms.

Maybe I am missing something though. Can someone give me an alternative reasonably authoritative and widely accepted definition of the term ´liberal intervention´ to the one that I outline above?

Hugo Nominations

by Henry Farrell on March 23, 2011

They close tomorrow. I’m not eligible to vote, but if I was, I’d be nominating the following.

* Felix Gilman – The Half-Made World. See here for my thoughts, and here for Cosma Shalizi’s.

* Ian McDonald – The Dervish House. Very good and interesting near-future book on Turkey – blending together historical conspiracy, complexity theory, theories of religious experience and politics. It somehow works. “True wisdom leaks from the joins between disciplines.”

* China Mieville – Kraken. Not his most intellectually challenging book, and a little bit baggy, but enormous fun.

I’d also recommend Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty (which has surely _already_ won the Hugo in the alternate reality that spun off when _Gravity’s Rainbow_ won the award in 1973 (ok – it was the Nebula – but Artistic Licence!)), but I would prefer to wait on that recommendation until its US publication (sometime this year, I think). I also enjoyed Hannu Rajaniemi’s _The Quantum Thief_ (which also gets published in the US this year), but not as much as many others – the intellectual pyrotechnics are dazzling, but it’s still a fairly straightforward caper novel underneath it all. Feel free to add others, agree/disagree etc in comments.