By Torgeir E. Færtoft
The perceived success of the NATO bombing to prevent mass murder by Gadaffi has revived the idea of humanitarian intervention, as set out in my previous blog input. Humanitarian intervention now emerges as an option in Syria as violence persists and destabilization and disintegration looms.
But humanitarian intervention is still an intervention, with the risks and unintended consequences now especially evident in Iraq and Afghanistan, both failed attempts at social engineering by invasion.
Are there alternative policy options to the fatalism of non-intervention and the impotence of social engineering by force?
There are now some encouraging signs that regional political frameworks may be emerging to stem the threatening chaos in the practically contiguous belt of looming social and political breakdown from Somalia, over Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Somalia the AlQaida affiliate AlShabaab, who exploited the political vacuum left by the failed state, is forced on the defensive by a combination of Kenyan, Ethiopian and an African Union troops. As a result, there is now the prospect of a first functioning central government since it broke down in 1991. Across the narrow stretch of sea and pirate infested waters, in Yemen, where a Somalia like scenario has loomed for some time, the regional organization of the Gulf Arab states, the Gulf Cooperation Council, has engineered a political solution, which, if imperfect, is still a step in the opposite direction from chaos, violence and a heaven for organized crime and terrorism. The GCC countries will now at an upcoming summit consider further integration steps. In the case of Syria, Turkey holds the key to a regional framework for a political solution. In Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, now backing different sectarian factions, would need to cooperate. In the case of Afghanistan, a regional political solution needs Iran, who supported the anti-Taliban Northern alliance before it became the vehicle for the Western invasion, and then supported the Pashtu-based current regime. Iran must be joined by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, which must keep the rivalry with India over Kashmir from spilling over to Afghanistan.
Why would the regional powers cooperate rather than undermine each other by proxies? Greg Gause points out the temptation to exploit politically trans-boundary identities, ethnic and religious, with potentially backfiring effects. Often the temptation to undermine the adversaries outweigh the concerns about the destabilizing effect, but perhaps not now. Both Somalia and Afghanistan, and to some extent Yemen, are victims of superpower rivalries during the Cold War. Today their instability has repercussions beyond their borders. Such repercussions, inevitable in all internal conflict leading to social and political breakdown, create incentives for the regional cooperation necessary for stability. Without stability development is not possible and human misery will persist.