Monday, October 24, 2005

Humanitarian Intervention is Overhyped

The Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and now Darfur....Where are the blue helmets? What happened to legally binding international covenents like the Genocide convention? What happened to the importance of human rights, irrespective of where a human being lives? The UN has become useless because of politics within the security council (as if it ever was useful) and humanitarian intervention-- at least from the UN has been less than useful. We won't even get into the sexual abuse scandal of the blue helmets in the DRC. So what do we do with humanitarian intervention? Do we just let non-governmental organizations (NGOs) step in and pick up the pieces after a conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing? Robyn Z., and Laura S., this week's guest bloggers have some ideas below.
(The above comic is from the Guardian ONline, Steve Bell, 2005)

Humanitarian Intervention, a purely laughing matter (By Robyn Z.)
Genocide in Rwanda, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, another genocide in Darfur, these are all terms and places that we are familiar with. There have been countless stories in our nightly news or our daily newspapers, but even if the world has been aware of these atrocities, what has been done to stop them? The answer to this question brings up another term that we are familiar with, humanitarian intervention. There’s a problem, so let’s deal with it through humanitarian intervention, right? Wrong. Humanitarian intervention is over-hyped and in many ways a complete joke. The true is. If humanitarian intervention worked so effectively, then why would stories of genocides or ethnic cleansing, or any other kind of mass slaughter continue to grace our headlines on a regular basis?
Before we can call humanitarian intervention a laughing matter, it’s best that we define it, and yet defining such a thing is often quite problematic. After the NATO intervention in Kosovo, humanitarian intervention has become a new justification for military action. Nations have agreed to obligations to protect human rights, which is stated so eloquently in many covenants written and signed by members of the United Nations. So a broad definition of humanitarian intervention is an armed intervention in another state, without the agreement of that state, to address a humanitarian disaster, or the threat thereof, in particular caused by grave and large scale violations of fundamental human rights.1 In this definition there are two main components. Number one, the sovereignty of the state that is being intervened in must be breached. And number two. the desire to address human rights violations must be the driving force in the intervention.
Ok, so we’ve defined humanitarian intervention. Now let’s look at some cases where humanitarian intervention was supposedly used. First up is Rwanda. Many of us know that between 500,000 and one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were hacked to death by machetes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The international community was shocked by what happened in Rwanda, but what did they do about it? Since the nation gained its independence, tension in Rwanda has always run high between the Hutus and the Tutsis. So in 1994 when tension in the government continued to build, after peace agreements were signed, it was excused due to ethnic disagreements. Government officials of opposition parties were being assassinated on almost a routinely basis, but, “The UNAMIR force in Rwanda did nothing, it became clear to those in the Habyarimana regime planning the liquidation of opponents that they could act with impunity.”2 But according to our definition of humanitarian intervention there was no need to intervene, there was no large-scale violations of human rights. “But even after the slaughter began the actions of the west seemed to almost acquiesce in-and perhaps even further- the killings: western governments sent in troops only to save whites, then they withdrew.”3 So, in the case of Rwanda there was humanitarian intervention. Nations intervened long enough to get their people out, and then withdrew before anything bad could happen. Because let’s not forget, Rwanda portrayed Africa, and Africa was Somalia, and no one wanted to repeat the events of Somalia.
So, humanitarian intervention didn’t go so smoothly in the case of Rwanda, but we all swore never again. “Not on my watch, wrote President Bush in early September 2001, in the margin of a report on President Clinton’s limp response to the 1994 genocide…”4 And still irony strikes, because unfolding on Bush’s watch is another genocide that the west has turned their back on. Ok, maybe that isn’t entirely fair to say. President Bush has actually done more than any other world leader. The Bush administration has been instrumental in bringing about the December 31st permanent cease-fire. So there has been some helpful humanitarian intervention going on in Africa. However, if the humanitarian intervention is so effective, why does the body count in Darfur continue to rise every month?
The International Criminal Court has not completely stood idly by either. They created, with permission of the omnipotent Security Council, a commission to investigate war crimes in Darfur. The commission, however, “…stopped short of finding, ‘genocide’, an especially uncomfortable word for European leaders who-for all their human-rights rhetoric- have not lifted a finger to stop the atrocities.”5 The truth is that China and France are more interested in protecting their Sudan oil investments, and Russia rather protect its Sudan arms sales, than the Sudanese people. Even neighboring African states have refused to intervention. But that’s ok; it’s better to have self-interests in mind than to save the lives of thousands of innocent people.
So looking at these two cases, it doesn’t seem that this lofty idea of humanitarian intervention really works. But maybe it does, when we look at a country outside of Africa. In 1995, there was a humanitarian intervention in Bosnia. Although the intervention saved thousands of lives, it still begs the question of if it was the right thing to do. According to journalist Richard Holbrooke the answer is yes, “But even in Srebrenica, there has been progress since my last visit five years ago. Then only 10 brave-one might say recklessly brave- Muslim families had returned to their homes…Today 4,000 Muslims have returned...”6 So things have improved thanks to humanitarian intervention. There is peace in Bosnia, not just a cease-fire, so perhaps sending troops was the right thing to do. But sending the troops, even as part of NATO, took a great deal of political courage since there was a widespread feeling that the mission would fail. The mission worked though and proved everyone wrong, and without that intervention Bosnia might not have been able to survive.
So let’s give a big cheer because humanitarian intervention worked! Why then are two wanted war criminals still free to live their lives in public? Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic live their lives and remain free of any sort of punishment for their crimes in Bosnia. Yet, if these men are not brought to justice the international security force that is stationed in Bosnia may never be able to leave, and Bosnia’s goal of returning to a multi-ethnic society may be delayed or permanently prevented. Perhaps it’s a better idea to hold back that cheer for now.
So, humanitarian intervention, it’s a great thought, but obviously not a practical idea. It may have worked in Bosnia, but wanted war criminals still roam free. And it was a complete joke in Rwanda, where humanitarian intervention meant save the white people and then get out. The lives of thousands could have been saved if the UN had provided sufficient forces during the Rwandan genocide. So, we said never again, but what about Darfur? Doesn’t that fall into the category of never again? Everyone recognizes that there is thousands of innocent people being killed and in some cases have gone so far to label it genocide, but no one has actually done something to stop it. True, there is a cease-fire agreement, but people are still being slaughtered and raped in Darfur, so really nothing has changed. So, in summary humanitarian intervention is completely overrated and over-hyped. Perhaps it’s a better idea to call it what it actually is: humanitarian NON-intervention.

CSS Strategic Briefing Papers. Volume 5, Part 1, June 2000. ISSN 11757432.
Newbury, Catherine. Background to Genocide: Rwanda. A Journal of Opinion. Vol. 23 No.2, Rwanda, 1995. P. 16
Ibid., p.16
Taylor Jr., Stuart. Genocide in Darfur: A Crime Without Punishment. The Atlantic Online. February 22, 2005. P.1
Ibid., p. 1-2
Holbrooke, Richard. Forum: Was Bosnia Worth It? A service of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 24, 2005. P. 1

"Humanitarian intervention is over-hyped" (By Laura S.)

Darfur. Rwanda. Somalia. The call for humanitarian intervention is thrown out often in discussion of world crises. However, what people consider humanitarian intervention varies widely. For example, some considered the war in Iraq a humanitarian intervention, a statement I think many in our class would disagree with. The official definition, adopted by NATO in 1999, is "an armed intervention in another state, without the agreement of that state, to address (the threat of) a humanitarian disaster, in particular caused by grave and large-scale violations of fundamental human rights" (CSS). But the components of this definition, in my opinion, are what make humanitarian interventions so problematic (I think over-hyped is too strong an adjective). Too often, people talk of the need to "do something" without fully thinking about what needs to be done or the difficulty in doing so. I do not believe all humanitarian intervention is a waste of time, nor do I think that the United States should become isolationist and ignore the world's problems. But people forget the difficulties of humanitarian intervention, many of which the official definition hints at, in their calls for our government to take action.The first part of the definition says "armed intervention." This implies that any intervention needs some sort of power behind it. After all, compromise between two sides in a war, for example, happens "when both sides believe that they have more to lose than to gain from fighting.if compromise was not tolerable enough to avert war in the first place, it becomes even less attractive once large amounts of blood and treasure have been invested in a cause" (Betts 2). This is why some sort of force is usually necessary to achieve a desired goal. If one side or both sides felt the need to resort to arms in the first place, they are probably not going to be quick to lay them down. But even then, force behind an intervention is no guarantee of success. In Somalia, after the deaths of U.S. soldiers, Washington pulled out and left U.N. troops from other countries to finish the job (Betts 4). Even the might of the United States military does not guarantee success in another country's conflict or disaster.The next part of the definition says "without the agreement of that state." This brings up the question of sovereignty, always a touchy subject among nations. Most states recognize that "Without sovereignty as a fundamental principle, only international norms, balances-of-power, or domestic constraints would limit intervention in other states.preservation of sovereignty has been held up as an important component of a rules-based framework for international relations" (CSS). Because of the importance that is placed on sovereignty in world relations, states become much more hesitant to intervene in other state's affairs. This was one of the excuses given for lack of action in Rwanda (Lobel and Ratner).The third part of the definition is, "to address (the threat of) a humanitarian disaster." The threat of? This implies action should be taken before human rights violations have started or a disaster has occurred. Nations are reluctant to act even when violations have started, continued, and become genocide, such as in Rwanda. So nations are extremely unlikely to commit time, money, and manpower to the prevention of such a disaster. This unwillingness to practice disaster prevention is not just on the world level, as the failure of the levies in New Orleans in the face of Katrina illustrates. If we do not practice prevention in our own country, it is certainly unlikely we will be willing to practice it in other countries.Finally, the last part of the definition: "caused by grave and large-scale violations of fundamental human rights." What about China, North Korea, Iran, even Russia? All of these countries have participated in some degree of human rights violations. The State Department recognizes that Turkey has committed "flagrant" human rights violations against its Kurdish minority, yet the United States considers Turkey an ally in the Middle East (Lobel and Ratner). Yes, some violations of human rights are more grievous than others, such as genocide or torture. But arguments could be made for large-scale violations of human rights in these countries as well-are we willing to intervene?As I said above, I do not believe that the United States should become isolationist and ignore the world's problems. But a lot of careful thought needs to go into any action taken. According to Betts, the United States does not have a good track record in intervention because Washington has responded to the calls for intervention "by remaining mired in indecision and hamstrung by half-measures (Bosnia), facing failure and bailing out (Somalia), acting only after a long period of limited and misdirected pressure (Haiti), or holding back from action where more awesome disaster than anywhere else called for it (Rwanda)" (Betts 5-6). This is a rather harsh characterization of United States intervention, but it does illustrate the problems that can come about during prolonged involvement in other countries and the necessity of careful planning.

Betts, Richard. "The Delusion of Impartial Intervention." Foreign Affairs. Nov. 1994.

Heindenrich, John R. How to Prevent Genocide: A Guide for Policymakers, Scholars,and the Concerned Citizen. Praegar: Connecticut. 131-146.

"Humanitarian Intervention: Definitions and Criteria." CSS Strategic Briefing Papers.Volume 3; Part 1; June 2000.

Lobel, Jules and Michael Ratner. "Humanitarian Military Intervention."

Smith, Tony. "In Defense of Intervention." Foreign Affairs. Dec. 1994.