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The international community currently faces a global refugee crisis and mass atrocities in Iraq, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, and beyond. How should the West respond?
Proponents of humanitarian intervention – the use of force to halt human rights abuses – argue that the world’s most powerful militaries have a responsibility to protect innocent civilians around the world. Beyond saving lives, they argue, intervention deters would-be abusers and ensures global stability, thereby strengthening the liberal world order. But opponents argue that military intervention is thinly veiled Western imperialism, and subsequently, an assault on state sovereignty. And, it’s ineffective: the West, with its military might, increases the death toll and worsens the conflicts it sets out to solve. Further, given recent waves of populism in the U.S., France, and U.K., they suggest that Western nations should spend their time looking inward rather than policing activity around the world. This debate is presented in partnership with The German Marshall Fund's Brussels Forum, broadcast live from Brussels, Belgium.
“One might hope that our generals and politicians might have learned from their recent spectacularly disastrous interventions that inserting one’s metaphorical hand into such a strategic hornet’s nest and hoping for a friendly hornet might be a fool’s errand.”
“We need to get beyond appeals to false analogies: "remember Bosnia" – the Bosnian Serbs had the support of clapped-out Serbia – or "what about Rwanda" – the killers had no external support at all. We need to be absolutely clear, and clear now, what exactly we are trying to achieve and whether we can in fact achieve it.”
“Human rights are now paramount. Mass atrocities will not be allowed. Sovereignty will no longer protect states that violate these standards. So say well-meaning advocates of human rights. Don’t believe them.”
“The international community’s failures have dispirited many groups in the United States (to say nothing of the Syrian opposition): human rights advocates; adherents of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) doctrine; conservatives, neo and regular; and liberal internationalists.”
“Murderous militias and regimes can be reasonably confident about one or more of the following: that proposals for intervention will perish in the Security Council; that any force that is dispatched will be weak and hamstrung by restrictions—and withdrawn once the human and economic costs of sustaining it mount; and that the probability of being brought to justice is remote given multiple means of evasion.”
“Noting that the intervention of the international community almost invariably came too late, we sought to define a ‘responsibility to protect’ (‘R2P’) that imposed an obligation to act as early as possible in protection of human rights.”
“Fortunately, the UN, the African Union and the Arab League are here to provide us with a legal framework so that this momentary violence – under resolution 1973 – may serve to achieve real peace, surely preferable to a pacifism that would allow civilians to be slaughtered.”
When asked whether humanitarian intervention is effective, Bernard Kouchner responds, “Medical doctors cannot accept massacres, just cannot. But that’s why, for me, the humanitarian conception is always a bit political. Protecting the people is political and of course, the humanitarian access is difficult. My answer is: Yes we have to protect, yes we have to act by prevention and, yes we have to act by information and education.”
In discussing the founding of Doctors Without Borders, Bernard Kouchner says, “We discovered that there were people dying of starvation, they were dying of misery. Of course they were also dying from bombs… Every day there were violations of human rights, of course it was a civil war... So what were we supposed to do?”
“An intervention that seeks to create refugee camps within Syrian territory would take the pressure off neighboring countries. The United Nations estimates that six million Syrians are in need of urgent assistance, a full third of the population.”
“And I think actually after leaving Iraq and our halfhearted efforts in Afghanistan, we are actually going to need to put troops on the ground in order for other people to be willing to put troops on the ground.”
Almost halfway through a discussion on Iraq, Kori Schake discusses what she believes the U.S. should do there, and supports the idea that the U.S. has a strategy of promoting, inter alia, human rights.
“The willingness to use armed force is also inevitably influenced not only by the desperation of the affected population but also by geopolitical factors, including the relevance of the country to the world community, regional stability, and the attitudes of other major players, say experts.”
“The question of whether it is legitimate to wage war to protect people in other countries from tyranny has a long history,” and “humanitarian intervention is as likely to be conducted by non-Western states as it is by Western states.”
“Syria rests on the brink. South Sudan teeters on the edge of disaster. And all across the globe, fires rage and the threat of humanitarian crisis looms large. But how should the United States respond to these conflicts abroad?”
“Some may also protest that the United States cannot give up on humanitarian intervention since it is the only country with the capability to project power around the globe. This may be true, but it would be a relevant concern only if other countries or nongovernmental organizations were already devoting sufficient resources to nonmilitary forms of humanitarian aid.”
“It is imperative for policy makers to identify or formulate strategies of ‘humanitarian intervention’ without instigating further violence, fueling crimes against humanity, genocide, factors leading to further deterioration of the host state.”
“Stopping the world's worst wars is not always practical or worth the cost--sometimes our efforts will only produce a temporary peace. But we should have intervened in Rwanda, Sudan, and probably Liberia. In addition, we were right to get involved in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.”
“With such ramshackle fiscal and foreign policy alike, Americans might be forgiven for being uncertain whether and where our government is at war, how long it has been there and how much the whole thing will cost us.”
“But reducing the risk of conflict more directly through peacekeeping is, the authors maintain, even better value for money. If the total cost of war to a country and its neighbours is $60 billion-$250 billion, then each percentage-point reduction in the risk of renewed violence is ‘worth’ $600m-$2.5 billion.”
“Today’s tragedies illustrate that much more is needed. It is time to commit to a new global order, one in which the Responsibility to Protect extends to us all — as the protectors and, perhaps, as those who someday may need to be protected.”
“And make no mistake: President Trump cannot on the one hand sensibly launch missiles against Assad for his brutality toward Syria’s innocent children, while simultaneously imposing his own overbroad blanket ban upon the entry of those same children and their parents into the United States under his revised March 6 travel ban…”
“The relationship between refugee crises and humanitarian interventions remains unclear. On one hand, the use of brute and indiscriminate force appears to be a deliberate tactic by the Assad regime to displace locals and create refugee flows, thereby raising the costs for outside powers like Turkey to either provide humanitarian assistance or intervene militarily. But this tactic could also backfire, prompting calls for greater military involvement by the West.”
“Initially opposed to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), China has become a consistent advocate of the principle, endorsing its application in multiple countries while urging a constrained, multilateral approach to the use of force.”
“China hasn't been known for establishing military bases in Africa - or even beyond its immediate sphere of influence. This is changing following its decision to build a military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.”
“Over the past two decades, the United Nations Security Council has responded more strongly to some humanitarian crises than to others. This variation in Security Council action raises the important question of what factors motivate United Nations intervention.”
“The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely, the UK, US, France, China and Russia, have a veto right that allows them to stop any resolution from being adopted. It is an extraordinary privilege of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. However, this privilege is directly responsible for stopping the UN Security Council from taking real steps concerning the Syrian Civil War.”
“By his policy choices, Mr. Maduro has created and is dramatically magnifying the enormous human tragedy in Venezuela. This conduct constitutes a prima facie case of crimes against humanity under the category of ‘other inhumane acts’ that intentionally cause great suffering or death.”
“The UN says $2.3 billion is needed by Yemen in humanitarian aid this year, only 41% of which has been funded. But what good even is humanitarian aid when the very suppliers are also fueling the fire causing the need for aid in the first place?”
“As stated in the UN Security Council resolution authorizing force in Libya, the goal of intervention was ‘to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.’ And this is what was achieved.”
“Civilians suffer in all wars, but the suffering of Iraqi civilians in this war is particularly unfortunate because one of the main justifications for the war was humanitarian: to rescue suffering Iraqis from a tyrant."
“… At a time of renewed interest in humanitarian intervention, the Iraq war and the effort to justify it even in part in humanitarian terms risk giving humanitarian intervention a bad name. If that breeds cynicism about the use of military force for humanitarian purposes, it could be devastating for people in need of future rescue.”
“Beyond counterterrorism interests, there is a humanitarian case for remaining in Afghanistan. The Taliban oppose women’s rights, religious tolerance, education for girls and general liberal democratic values. Preventing such a group from gaining power helps Afghans.”
“Until Congo gets a government able and willing to protect its people, rather than prey on them, the UN will be needed. Yet its presence seems sure to prop up a government that is one of the main causes of its people’s misery. And so the mission goes on, endlessly.”
“But if the west had wanted to act morally in the Balkans and to protect the people in Kosovo there were solutions other than war with the Serbs, and options other than backing the KLA – the most violent group in Kosovan politics.”
“Contrary to widespread criticism, the air campaign achieved every one of its goals. Having seriously underestimated allied resolve, Milosevic accepted the alliance's demands on June 3. After 77 days, with no casualties of its own, NATO had prevailed. A humanitarian disaster had been averted. About one million refugees could now return in safety. Ethnic cleansing had been reversed.”
“Perhaps American inaction in the Rwanda genocide, five months before, was on Clinton’s mind when he said: ‘I know that the United States cannot, indeed we should not, be the world’s policemen. And I know … Americans are reluctant to commit military resources and our personnel beyond our borders. But when brutality occurs close to our shores, it affects our national interests. And we have a responsibility to act.’”
“Though progress has been made, to many observers the lessons learned have not always been followed by action. Violence in places like Syria and the Central African Republic indicate that the world has yet to overcome its divisions and indifference in the face of atrocity.”
“This much is manifest: no massive intervention in a failed state--even one for humanitarian purposes--can be assuredly short by plan, politically neutral in execution, or wisely parsimonious in providing "nation-building" development aid.”
“So far the [African Union] has only sent forces in at the request of the state in need. Theoretically it can intervene against a nation's wishes, which is part of the remit of the new rapid-response African Standby Force.”
“Current conflicts disproportionately affect women. It is conservatively estimated that 70% of those killed in today’s conflicts are civilians, many of them women and children, who become especially vulnerable when law and order break down.”