Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Humanitarian Warfare

by rdf Fri May 16th, 2008 at 10:44:30 AM EST

The foundational principal of the UN is that what occurs within a state is a "domestic" problem and not subject to international interference. This was, of course, the "dictator job protection" requirement demanded by some of the worst examples at the time.

Over the past twenty years we have seen numerous example of entire countries brought to ruin by insane leaders who have used this principle as a shield. There is a slight difference between the modern version and the earlier cases. Crazed dictators like Stalin or Hitler had extra-territorial ambitions which (theoretically) gave a justification for intervention by third parties. And they were doing their most harm before the lessons of WWII were formalized. Once the concepts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide were formalized the framework changed.

If we look at the scene now we see several examples of what can only be considered internal genocide. Two in the news at the moment are Zimbabwe and Burma, but there are other less prominent ones in the rest of Africa and in several former Soviet Republics.

I'd like to suggest designing a set of criteria that could be used to evaluate regimes in countries is such a way that when some threshold is reached the rulers must leave. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but some possibilities:

  1. The regime holds power without the consent of the governed.
  2. The proportion of the population in misery has increased to an "unacceptable" level.
  3. The wealth of the nation is being siphoned off by the elite and moved elsewhere.
  4. Minorities or certain ethnic groups are being mistreated.
  5. A large number of internal refugees or displaced persons have been created.
  6. A civil war or equivalent is underway or imminent.

The tricky part is defining just how much is "too much". For example, the level of misery in the US has increased over the past decade, but obviously not to the extend that has occurred in Zimbabwe. The actions of Milosevic satisfy criteria 4, but what about the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII? One was genocide and the other an abridgment of civil liberties. How do we quantify this?

Let's suppose we solve these issues, then what do I mean by "warfare"? Obviously the US invasion of Iraq, while it might meet some of the criteria listed above (genocide against the Kurds, for example), is not the way to improve things. "Warfare" has to mean something other than flattening a country. We don't want a repeat of the Vietnam era: "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."

The international community has tried economic sanctions to force a regime change in the past, but the success rate is low. Baby Doc Duvalier left Haiti and enjoyed his ill-gotten gains in France (whether he is still wealthy is an open question). Charles Taylor bolted Liberia when things got too hot and was arrested when pressure on his protectors got too strong. There is a rumor that Saddam Hussein was offered $1 billion to leave (or that the offer was squelched by the Bush administration). Perhaps the "warfare" consists of making the ruling elite an "offer it can't refuse". In Zimbabwe and Burma it is clear that removal of, at most, a few 100 people would change the political dynamics of the situation. What is not clear is who would replace this group and how such a transition could be handled without creating civil strife. A place like Lebanon seems resistant to any sort of peaceful power sharing arrangement - the factional differences are just too great.

Bringing in an international oversight group to manage things during the transition is also fraught with problems. Most people would regard this as a form of neo-colonial interference and the external group would not have adequate knowledge of the local situation to deal effectively with conditions. In both Iraq and Afghanistan those brought in were exiles who had their own agendas or were mistrusted by locals, the results have not been good.

Humanitarian "Warfare" thus suffers from three difficulties. It is hard to define the criteria as to when action should be taken, it is hard to define a set of non-violent procedures to get dictators (and their flunkies) to leave, and it is hard to devise a transition process that won't make things worse. Even though these issues exist, I think discussing the removal of the "dictator protection" axiom from international relations is a worthwhile topic.

Humanitarian Intervention is a strange beast, often talked about but never seen.
Do you have any examples of Humanitarian Warfare?
by generic on Sat May 17th, 2008 at 07:00:52 AM EST
I think it's hard to justify. There have been many occasions when I would have like to see armed interventions, then we go into Iraq and you realise that nobody is prepared to do these things out of the goodness of their heart.

It's too expensive. Unless, like Bush/cheney,they are driven by psychotic tendencies that would be best dealt with by heavy psycho-active drugs and a rubber room.

They need a profit motive else it's never gonna happen

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 01:05:03 PM EST
Actually I meant "warfare" ironically, but quotes don't show up properly in diary titles.

There is much discussion right now about delivering aid to Burma without the consent or participation of the ruling junta. Both British and French officials have hinted at such action.

As for real intervention, the situation in Rwanda remains the biggest blot on the humanitarian record of the past several decades. Darfur is getting some aid, mostly despite the fake cooperation of the central government.

Then there is Clinton's (called NATO's as a face-saving measure) intervention when Serbia's crazed leaders went too far. I think most observers who don't have a stake in the outcome think this worked out better for most people.

We shouldn't let the mixed motives, poor planning and excessive militarism used in Iraq deter us from discussing better ways to deal with oppressive regimes in the future. Just because a problem is difficult doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed. There are lots of smart people in the world and sometimes one of them comes up with a novel idea.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 02:28:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh without doubt it's hard. But the locals will always have numerical supremacy and if the local govt decides they're not welcome things could get messy.

Our modern military supremacy is very good at destroying cities but as we've found in Iraq, not so good at targetting militias hidden amongst populations. It's a more level playing field, the americans couldn't achieve anything in somalia because of that.

Peacekeeping means there has to be a peace to keep. We might as well suggest that NATO goes in to enforce the '67 border in Palestine, ain't gonna happen.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun May 18th, 2008 at 03:17:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would add a zeroth clause:

There should be a better than even chance that the measure will work, and the worsening of conditions in the worst-case scenario should not outmatch the potential improvement.

In other words: If you are going to gamble with other people's lives, make sure that you are going to win, and make sure that even if you lose you won't lose catastrophically.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon May 19th, 2008 at 10:28:13 AM EST
Who decides when your criteria are met, and how?

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 29th, 2008 at 05:14:10 AM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]