Posts Tagged 'Humanitarian intervention'

Coping with crisis: intervention versus regional cooperation

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.

Humanitarian intervention: after Libya what about Syria?

By Torgeir E. Fjærtoft

After the air campaign in Libya to protect civilians against the murderous intent of Ghadafi, what about protecting Syrians against Assad?
This question involves the difficult trade-off between two competing principles: national sovereignty versus individual human rights.  When the special envoy, the former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, now is charged with the daunting task of restraining the violence in Syria, he brings with him the discussion he initiated as UN Secretary General in the 1990’s on humanitarian intervention. He then urged that when a state fails to protect the human rights of its citizens, the regime forfeits its right to sovereignty and the international community must intervene.
This discussion is as old as the United Nations. An important principle at its founding after World War II was decolonization, or anti-imperialism, in other words the right to self-determination and respect for national sovereignty. This principle is even visibly embodied in the lay-out of the UN building in New York when you ascend the escalator and face the three chambers symbolizing the ideas upon which the UN was conceived: The Security Council, the Economic and Social Council – and the Trusteeship Chamber, envisaged dealing with decolonization.
This principle of national sovereignty, with the ensuing principle of non-interference, suited old and new dictatorships. But at the same time a campaign was launched by activists in the democratic member states for a competing principle, individual human rights, leading to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The end of the Cold War created a freedom of manoeuvre in which the competition between these to principles surfaced in the 1990’s. The impotence to prevent genocide in Rwanda spurred the discussion of international humanitarian responsibility, leading to military interventions in Yugoslavia and Somalia.  The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, by calling for humanitarian intervention, then called into question the very concept of national sovereignty upon which the UN was built. But he went even further. When the Security Council was deadlocked by superpower veto, he called upon regional organizations, such as NATO, to assume the responsibility to protect.
The principle of humanitarian intervention was discredited by the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the British Prime Minister Tony Blair explicitly and the US President George Bush implicitly invoked it. The invasion was widely seen as illegitimate and the consequences as disaster. (The invasion of Afghanistan is a more complicated case and beyond the scope of this input.)
Then the 2011 aerial campaign in Libya, an archetypal humanitarian intervention in the spirit of Kofi Anan, was seen as successful (even if the long-term effects remain uncertain), revindicating the principle set forth in the 1990’s.
But as mediator in the case of Syria Kofi Anan does not yet call for humanitarian military intervention. In addition to the obvious political risks and inevitable collateral damage of bombing like in Libya, there are other considerations. The principle of humanitarian intervention works most effectively when kept as an option of ultimate recourse, a threat if the ruler fails to show restraint in violence. Also, short of war, the international community, for practical purposes the West, has other effective tools of pressure, as Kofi Annan himself pointed out while UN Secretary General.  Sanctions have a bad record of effectiveness, but targeting individual power-holders with freezing their funds abroad and restricting their right to travel has proven effective and should be applied at a much earlier stage. After all, by accepting assets and allowing travel governments can become accessories to abuse considered criminal in the countries where the Ghadaffies and Assads keep their money and go to relax or – ultimately – escape.