Tag: humanitarian intervention (page 2 of 3)

Conflict prevention and early warnings: closing the gap through communications?

The catastrophes of Rwanda and Bosnia led to a debate in the 1990s about the warning-response gap. Conflict prevention and early warning systems did not seem up to scratch. Third parties intervened too late, if at all. Spending was skewed towards mitigating the effects of conflicts, not on stopping them happen in the first place. The spread of satellite television brought conflicts into more immediate public vision. It was feared this created a CNN effect whereby policymakers were forced into military intervention for humanitarian causes to satisfy a more globally-aware public opinion. But this meant only those conflicts caught on camera would be responded to. The overall picture was a mess, it was argued. International relations lacked an effective system of warning-response.

A new study has cast doubt on these assumptions. This opens a space for a more analytical approach to how media, NGOs and intelligence agencies provide warnings and how states and international organisations can decide to respond. The Foresight project has spent three years analysing under what circumstances warnings are noticed, prioritised, and acted upon.  The team, led by Christoph Meyer, has looked at a series of case studies offering various degrees of warning and response, including Estonia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Macedonia, Darfur, and Georgia. They have interviewed responders from the UK, US, Germany, the UN, EU and OSCE and analysed media and NGO reporting around these conflicts. In short, they’ve done a lot of the empirical work that was missing from the 1990s debate. What have they found?

First, Rwanda could not have been prevented. Valid warnings only emerged when conflict was escalating, not pre-escalation. Those who suggest a lack of political will or ignorance on the part of decision-makers have misinterpreted the warning data available at the time. Second, those providing warnings anticipate what responders want to hear, and provide them with that. Decision-makers hate surprising warnings which don’t fit their mental models of how the world works. They are overloaded with situations they’re already dealing with and favour responding to emerging conflicts that look like ones they’ve dealt with before. Third, decision-makers are as likely to respond to warnings from preferred journalists or NGOs rather than intelligence from their own state agencies. They trust lone, grizzled hacks or aid agencies they might be funding. Fourth and finally, for all the usual factors of resource-availability, credibility of warning sources and so on, military and aid responses are often a matter of context and chance, neither of which social scientists handle particularly well. 
At a discussion of the findings yesterday, Piers Robinson, author of The CNN Effect, made the point that journalists cannot be relied on to provide early warnings in the future. The study indicates it is too dangerous, insurance is too expensive, and they are driven by news cycles in which what is happening trumps what might happen. Robinson also suggested that the Foresight project misses the systematic relation media and NGOs have to political power. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan all point to the fact that journalists only question a war when leading politicians have already expressed dissent. Journalists don’t lead, they follow. While the former BBC journalist Martin Bell might argue for a ‘journalism of attachment’ that ‘cares as well as knows’, mainstream media organisations do not employ journalists to undertake moral crusades to warn states that if they don’t act in Rwanda, Georgia or wherever, there’ll be trouble.
Will citizen journalism and data mining of social media conversations around the world lead to improved warnings? This is the question decision-makers have been asking recently.  They want to know how to integrate warning data from journalists, social media, NGOs and intelligence channels. In theory, the warning-response gap should shrink to zero.  The time between an event and the state knowing about it promises to disappear with the right technology and tools to mine Big Data. But decision-makers are often of an age or disposition not even to understand Facebook and Twitter: there is a generational anxiety they are missing out on something and the kids have all the answers, and a cultural faith that free information will lead to the best outcomes. No discussion can develop until someone has mentioned ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘if only we had known’. But anyone who has done social media monitoring knows it requires a lot of qualitative know-how and interpretive work to get any sensible findings.

And as the Foresight study shows, decision-makers will still pick up the New York Times or turn on the BBC and trust their favourite reporter, even though those reporters might no longer be able to go to the countries they’re reporting on. Hence, for all the promise of communication technology, foreign policy is still about the human factor and cognitive biases.  Understanding the warning-response gap in the next decade will involve some careful unpicking of the interplay over time of stressed, confused people in media, humanitarian and government agencies.


[Cross-posted from https://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/

War Powers, My Ass…

The House of Representatives recently just voted on a bill that would require the U.S. to remove its forces from Libya on the basis of the War Powers Act, arguing that the President had not received the Congressional go-ahead to keep the military in hostilities past a certain time threshhold. It earned the votes of 148 Congressmen of 435, 87 Republicans and 61 Democrats. The media presented it as demonstrating the muscles of the Tea Party libertarians defending congressional prerogatives against executive encroachment in true Jeffersonian tradition. I call bullshit and I have the crude data to prove it. Actually anyone with web access and a calculator could do the same.

I am always skeptical of these institutional arguments, having encountered them in my research. A common refrain in the literature on the domestic politics of the creation of the League of Nations, the UN, and NATO is that opponents were defending legislative rights. The truth is that these were almost always just cudgels for those who opposed the idea behind the treaties. If you don’t want to participate in collective security, you can tell the world to go to hell, or you can say that the President does not have the authority to make that commitment. Or you can say both. Most said both, but the latter was a disingenuous argument. In politics! Yes, I’m sorry. It’s true. Look away, child. Look away.

Of the 87 Republicans who voted for this bill, only 17 also voted against the extension of the Patriot Act. That’s only 20%. I personally do not get really vexed about whether the government knows what I check out at the library or listens to me on the phone, although I respect those who do. I am not checking out the Anarchist Cookbook and almost all my phone calls concern what to pick up at the grocery store. But if there is a true libertarian litmus test, that’s it. There are very few genuine libertarians in the world and even in the Tea Party. Not wanting to extend healthcare benefits to the uninsured does not make you a libertarian– it makes you a dick. I will give the genuinely libertarian House members a shout out, those who voted against the Patriot Act and for this bill (Amas, Bartlett, Brown, Campbell, Duncan(TN), Gibson, Johnson(IL), Jones, Kingston, Labrador, Mack, McClintock, Paul, Rose, Schweikert, Woodall, Young(AK). At least you have principles.


What this really boils down to is either 1) straight partisanship (giving Obama a hard time), or 2) ideological opposition anything that smacks of humanitarianism as not being in the national interest. I would put my money on #2. It is consistent with the impulse of Republicans of all types, libertarian or otherwise, which is not to care much about non-Americans. That is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Not everyone is an idealist in foreign affairs. So I wish they would just say it, Michele Bachmann style instead of hiding behind some red herring about the Constitution.

The Democrats who voted for were somewhat disingenous too. I think they genuinely don’t like executive power over foreign policy and war-making, but I think mostly they don’t like war. This was the left wing of the party. But at least they voted against the Patriot Act extension (although probably not against the health care act. Like I said, there are very few libertarians).

R2P, Louise Arbour and the Responsibility to Reality

She’s cool, but she’s wrong.

I have a short piece on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the October 2010 Review of International Studies Special Supplement on “Evaluating Global Orders” (that came out last week? I don’t get journals). It’s basically a reply to Louise Arbour, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) who argued in 2008 that R2P was becoming “a duty of care in international law and practice”.

For those of you who don’t have access to the journal (or just want a brief description) my argument is that Arbour’s line of reasoning is flawed.  Arbour rests her argument on the 1948 Genocide Convention and the 2007 Bosnian Genocide Case at the International Court of Justice. She suggests that because the Article 1 of the Convention states that states have a duty to prevent and punish genocide, and that Serbia and Montenegro were found to be in breach of this obligation, that stopping genocide/mass atrocity is becoming a legally enforceable norm.  Further, she argues that this does not only suggest that neighbouring states should intervene, but any state that has the ability to intervene (Psst: she’s looking at you, Western states!) is legally obliged to do so. (Clearly, I’m simplifying here. If you’re interested, read her article for the full argument.)

I found this argument problematic for a number of reasons – all well pre-Côte D’Ivoire and Libya. (I wrote this in March 2009, revised it in spring 2010.)

The first set of critiques has to do with Arbour’s reliance on the 1948 Genocide Convention and the decision in the 2007 Bosnian Genocide Case.

First, the decision in the Bosnian Genocide Case states that states are only obliged to intervene if genocide has actually occurred or there is a plausible risk of it occurring. Fair enough, but how do we know if/when genocide is happening or likely to happen? The ICC was unable to bring genocide charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on its first attempt because there wasn’t enough evidence that a genocide (which has a very particular legal definition requiring evidence of intent) was taking place. (The ICC prosecutor was successful in having these charges laid against Bashir on appeal.)

Secondly, the Court’s decision in the Bosnian Genocide Case was far more limited than what Arbour suggests in her article. The decision states that the Court did not “purport to establish a general jurisprudence applicable to all cases where a treaty instrument, or other binding legal norm, includes an obligation for States to prevent certain acts.” Yet this is exactly what Arbour is doing. She’s extrapolating from this case to make the case for a general obligation despite the fact that the Court was clear on where it put the limits of its judgement.

Thirdly, even if such a norm could be established, there is little guidance in either the ICJ’s decision or Arbour’s argument as to what “prevent” actually is. There is also no guidance as to who should make the determination that genocide is taking place (if states are to be held legally accountable, does it matter if there is international recognition at the emergence of a risk of a genocide occurring?) In fact, the only guidance offered in the Court’s decision is that something should be done “at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.” Not exactly a clear road map to action.

The second major set of critiques I have for Arbour relate to the fact that even if we could establish an obligation or “duty of care” in the international community, that this still doesn’t get to the “hard part” of R2P: actually getting states to do things. It is one thing to establish a law, principle or even a norm – it is quite another to change practices. If we have learned anything about international law in the last few decades, it is that its existence rarely delivers consensus.

In other words, even if everyone can agree that R2P as a legal obligation exists, this does not mean there will be agreement as to how it should be implemented. For example, should it be done through sanctions? Direct military intervention? Monitoring? There is no answer – and that is because these are the hard questions of R2P for which there is no easy answer. More importantly, these are the complicated issues which cannot be solved through law like Arbour seems to hope. Establishing an obligation does not help us to answer the much more difficult questions related to authorization and execution.

The third part of the article (somewhat rhetorically) suggests that we need to think about R2P with a “responsibility to reality”. In other words, while there can be no question that R2P is a revolution in the notion of ‘sovereignty’, translating this into a legally enforceable responsibility is, politically speaking, taking R2P to a whole new and probably unrealistic level. R2P ultimately comes down to a difficult political discussion between states. This means it is applied inconsistently, and where more powerful states believe there is an interest. Ultimately, as mentioned above, trying to solve this political problem with law is not going to work. Lawyers may want to remove themselves from the icky world of politics so that they may establish norms and principles from above, but the “reality” is that the future of R2P will not be decided at the ICJ, but in the closed door-meetings of NATO and the UN Security Council. At the very least, R2P’s future will not be decided through law, but the imperfect political international political institutions. Perhaps the best that international lawyers like Arbour can hope for is that R2P gives us the common language in which action may be debated and plans to help solve some of the world’s worst problems may be asserted. R2P may actually work – but it is difficult to imagine that it will work in such a way as to effectively trap states into obligations into which they have not given their consent.

Short version: Arbour is wrong, I’m right. HA!

Libya and the Threshold for War

Some questions about Libya.

To clear the decks, I’m instinctively uneasy with international interventions in civil wars, given the historical difficulties of keeping such interventions limited and the unintended consequences and moral hazards of such undertakings. Not to mention the burdens that states like the US and UK are now shouldering, with the constraints and pressures on our statecraft after Iraq and with Afghanistan, the global financial crisis, and the need to preserve what Walter Lippmann called a ‘surplus’ of power in reserve.

But the general strategic context aside, this post is about one specific issue flowing through it all: following on from Jon Western’s excellent post on Libya and the dynamics of wartime atrocities, there is clearly an unsettled issue here of what the threshold for war ought to be. On both moral and prudential grounds.

 By virtue of the fact of our intervention, we will never know what was going to happen in Benghazi. It seems there is little evidence that there was a plan for a ‘wholesale massacre’ or a ‘bloodbath‘, that would have taken ‘tens of thousands of lives.’

Equally, a civil war of that nature can produce massacres more spontaneous and smaller. So while there isn’t much evidence that the luckless folk of Benghazi were due for an atrocity on the scale of Srebrenica, a killing on the scale of Peterloo wasn’t impossible, as one smart interventionist reminded me the other day.

Alternatively, the brute fact was that an authoritarian regime’s forces were closing in on outgunned and outnumbered rebels, had threatened armed opponents with vicious language, and were heading towards a city. If Jon is right, this are conditions ripe for atrocity. If a bloodbath was even possible, to what extent is anticipatory intervention justified?

The issue here isn’t whether the Libyan regime is repressive or whether civilian innocents would be in grave danger in a setting of urban combat. If that was a sufficient basis for intervention, it would make the threshold for intervention irresponsibly low.

The question is whether Qaddafi’s forces were about to behave so brutally, however premeditated or circumstantial their behaviour, that the regime would be guilty of exceptional barbarity. Warfare can only really be justified if it is waged to create a better state of peace that is proportional to the suffering it inflicts, in Liddell Hart’s words.

This matters on the calculus of doing harm versus doing good. After all, if the magnitude of civilian suffering was likely to be far lower than the US, the UK, France and their supporters argued, at what point is it atrocious enough to override the likely deaths that follow from international intervention in civil wars?

One difficulty with liberal interventionism is the tendency (though not a universal one) for liberal hawks to characterise civil wars as clashes between predators and victims with the civil war dynamics overlooked, and to look past the wildness of war that slips easily off its leash to become not a tool of pacification but a force that can prolong and even radicalise a pre-existing conflict.

We do have foreknowledge that military intervention will result in innocent deaths. Particularly where the outside forces use standoff weapons and only have limited intelligence, it is almost certain that they will kill civilians.

In terms of higher politics, interventions ‘on the cheap‘ that lack the power to seize territorial control can prolong a conflict into a grinding stalemate, which is not necessarily a liberating experience for the inhabitants.

And victims can be strategic and brutal as well. The prospect of intervention can be exploited as the tail wags the dog. I don’t mean this pejoratively – its an observation about the understandable desire for weaker sides to internationalise conflicts to correct a power imbalance, and the problem of ‘moral hazards‘ is a theme taken up by Alan Kuperman amongst others.

None of these drawbacks necessarily means interventionism is always wrong. But for this distant observer, it does mean that the threshold for stepping into such a conflict should be very high.

Does Libya meet that threshold? Do my generic reservations about interventionism even apply in this case?

Benghazi: What were the signs?

Why did the Obama administration really intervene in Libya? Andrew Sullivan and Steve Walt both reject the administration’s claims (again) that we were on the verge of a mass slaughter in Libya if Qaddafi’s forces had been allowed to move into Benghazi. Walt also wants us to read Alan Kuperman’s op-ed “A False Pretense for War?”

As usual, Kuperman has an interesting take: First, he argues that there was no credible evidence of an imminent slaughter in Benghazi – and that, in fact, the signs point in the opposite direction – that Qaddafi has shown restraint with respect to attacking civilians. And second, because of this restraint, he contends we can infer that the real reason for the intervention was not humanitarian, but political — to save the rebels from defeat. Sullivan concludes something similar — that the Obama administration engaged in “fear mongering” to justify the war.

A couple of responses: On the first point, all of us agree that we don’t know for certain what would have happened in Benghazi because history was altered on March 18. This means that the evidence about what Qaddafi’s forces have done since March 18 doesn’t tell us much – for example have his forces shown restraint in Misurata because they are not predisposed to attack civilians, because they are not yet in a position to wage mass reprisal killings, or because they are being deterred by NATO? None of us know at this point. But, this is somewhat besides the point. We have to go back to the days in the run-up to the March 18 Security Council vote to analyze the situation as it looked from that point.

I’ve made my case on this here and here, so I’ll only add/reiterate a few points: Prior to my academic career, I was an intelligence analyst in INR at the State Department — in the office of Soviet and East European analysis. In 1992 and 1993, I served as the analyst for Bosnia, Croatia, and Poland. When the war in Bosnia broke out in March 1992, my portfolio was expanded to include the coordination of collection and analysis of war crimes and atrocities. Predicting a mass atrocity event in the midst of highly fluid events is not easy – and it certainly is not an exact science (all intelligence is probabilistic). Intelligence analysts and decisionmakers have to make judgments on the basis of incomplete information –made even more complicated by all the noise/propaganda in the system. I’m not privy to the intelligence assessments on Benghazi, but the factors that I would have looked for — the pace and flow of the battle, the disposition of the forces arrayed against Benghazi, the nature of Qaddafi’s regime, the nature of the rebel force and the fact that a large portion of it emerged out of a civilian demonstration movement, and the fact that the Benghazi uprising was the epicenter of the anti-Qaddafi revolution among others – all point to a credible (probabilistic) threat to the civilian population located there.

These factors also seem to have influenced the assessments of the human rights and humanitarian groups operating in Libya. For example, on March 16, ICG issued an open letter to the United Nations that began:

In light of the grave situation in Libya, we urge Security Council Members to take immediate effective action aimed at achieving a ceasefire in place and initiating negotiations to secure a transition to a legitimate and representative government. This action should be backed by the credible threat of appropriate military intervention, as a last resort, to prevent mass atrocities.

Finally, very few mass atrocity events are laid out according to some premeditated, master plan. More often than not – e.g. Sri Lanka, Guatemala, El Salvador, East Timor — they occur as a result of the exigencies of a particular battle or campaign and the reprisals that follow (or come near the) defeat of rebel forces.

The events of March 12 – March 18 included many signals that suggested Benghazi could have turned ugly very quickly. Whether or not that is the case, we’ll never know – but to summarily dismiss the potential threat is just wrong.

On the second point, Kuperman and Sullivan offer nothing more than simple conjecture about the administration’s motive for intervention — that it acted on false pretense and engaged in fear mongering to justify and sell the intervention. Again, we’ll have to wait for the record to be more fully revealed. For example, we don’t know how the intelligence community saw the situation and what they were telling the decisionmakers. We also don’t know exactly what the administration officials knew and believed — i.e., were they exploiting the humanitarian case or did they believe it? To date, we only have a few limited bits of data on what Obama’s advisers were thinking. Unlike Kuperman, Marc Lynch, for example, actually met with Obama’s advisers. His conclusion:

My conversations with administration officials, including but not limited to the one recounted by the indefatigable Laura Rozen, convinced me that they believed that a failure to act when and how they did would have led to a horrific slaughter in Benghazi and then across Libya.

So, it seems to me that there were credible (though certainly not absolute) reasons to conclude that we were on the verge of a mass atrocity event. And, we have several officials in the administration who apparently perceived that threat as imminent.

If this is the case, our task as analysts is to figure out how to reconcile the challenges and imperatives of preventing potential mass slaughter with the complexities, costs, and dangers of military interventions. It should not be to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the potential for mass violence doesn’t exist.

The Obama Undoctrine: A Response to My… Critic?

If I read him correctly, Armed Liberal thinks that I advanced an argument for intervening in Libya and that this makes some people who opposed the Iraq War a bunch of hypocrites.

Or that my description of Obama’s justifications are accurate and that those justifications don’t sufficiently distinguish Libya from Iraq.

I’m not entirely sure. Probably because I’m still kind of sick and I’m very tired.

Regardless, AL raises some key issues after quoting my post:

That kind of thing makes liberal hawks get all starry eyed. But what makes Libya different than most of the other places where tyrannical governments do nasty things to their citizens isn’t terribly Wilsonsian:
* Qaddafi’s rule over Libya is, on balance, a net negative for US interests;

* The US doesn’t care much for most of his friends either;

* He’s sitting on not insignificant fossil fuel deposits;

* He has no real support among the great powers; and

* The UK, US, and France really, really, really don’t like the guy

Well, gosh, that’s not very useful. because if that’s good policy, then invading Iraq made perfect sense – and as we all know, the smart kids have all determined that it made no sense (I’m remaining on the fence myself, but I’m neither smart nor a kid).

Here’s the issue; in my work I’m talking to people all the time about the difference between a strategy and a platitude. Platitudes sound a lot like strategies, but there’s a key difference – they don’t help shape action in a meaningful way. So just as science requires that a theory be falsifiable in order to be scientific, strategy has to cover certain actions and not others, and group actions into necessary, good, unnecessary and bad.

And unless the modern foreign-policy commentariat can a) make up a strategy that distinguishes Libya from Iraq (except by saying that for the fact that one is the product of a good president, and one the product of a bad one), or b) determine that Iraq was just as good a strategic idea as Libya – we’re flat out of strategies.

I  agree that, in some respects, Obama didn’t put an enormous amount of daylight between Libya and Iraq. He argued that the Libyan operation (1) is more multilateral in character, (2) doesn’t involve the deployment of major ground forces, and (3) conditions its success on outcomes short of regime change.

This last point struck many (or, at least me) as disingenuous, insofar as Obama made it pretty clear that the coalition wants Gaddafi gone. Thus, I’m not surprised to hear reports that the coalition is ramping up its covert and overt support for the rebels.

However, the more I think about these matters, the more I am convinced that Obama did—in substance if not  in his rhetoric—draw clear and sound distinctions between Libya and Iraq. Recognizing these distinctions, of course, does not require us to endorse either action. Rather, it assuages AL’s worry partisanship supplies the only warrant for disapproving of one but not the other.

1. The express justification for the Libyan intervention centers on preventing the imminent massacre of civilians and dissidents. This ties its legitimacy to responsibilitytoprotect norms. Although the Bush Administration invoked Saddam Hussein’s past campaigns of mass violence as grounds for the Iraq War, those campaigns had run their course by 2002. The major justifications for Iraq invoked rationales of preventive war (under the misleading label of “preemption”), i.e., that Saddam Hussein’s regime would, if not removed, acquire capabilities that it would direct against the United States.

2. It follows that one can rather straightforwardly argue for the Libyan intervention—on the grounds that it involves an imminent threat of mass violence triggering responsibility-to-protect obligations—and against the Iraq War—on the grounds that both no such basis existed and that the preventive-war criteria failed to withstand both normative and factual scrutiny. Indeed, the major humanitarian grounds for invading Iraq—which were not a central justification for the war, even if some have retconned them as such—rested on different moral claims than those at stake in Libya: namely, that military force (and military occupation) ought to be used to promote democratic regime change.

3. Thus, even if the Operation Odyssey Dawn results in Libya becoming more democratic, and even if we approve of this outcome, that does not make the strategic rationale for the Libyan intervention identical to that of the Iraq War.

4. The pragmatic considerations that I invoked in my post also provide a basis for distinguishing between Iraq and Libya. And here I refer not to the bullet points AL quotes—which I intended primarily to distinguish Libya from Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Syria—but to both explicit and implied arguments in the rest of the post, i.e., that the military risks posed by the intervention in Libya are orders of magnitude lower than those posed by Iraq. For example:

  • The US is not contemplating the occupation of Libya;
  • A power vacuum in Libya does not advantage a regional rival of the United States;
  • There are existing rebel forces on the ground that seek a unified post-Gaddafi Libya; and
  • The intervention, at least so far, smacks more of assisting ordinary Arabs then of imperial occupation.

Some of these differences may disappear in days or weeks, and others may not seem persuasive, but I’m fairly confident that the first two provide a significant basis for distinguishing Libya from Iraq on criteria of US national interests.

Theses on Consistency and Intervention

 Since Stephanie has quoted me on the subject, I thought I’d share some thoughts on intervention and consistency.

1.     Consistency is a virtue – but it isn’t the only virtue. Sometimes good judgement points us in the direction of inconsistency; this is so in personal life as well as domestic and international politics. We (most of us) overlook failings in our friends which would upset us in our enemies.  In the realm of sexual politics, we (most of us) cut some slack for Bill Clinton in a way that we wouldn’t, and didn’t, for Clarence Thomas. We (most of us) were prepared to see force used to expel Saddam from Kuwait, but looked the other way when India took Goa or Tanzania overthrew Idi Amin. These are judgements that involve inconsistency but they are, I think, easily defensible on other grounds.
2.     The only consistent approach to intervention is ‘don’t intervene’.  Those with the capacity to act can’t act everywhere and there is no algorithm that will tell us which of the numerous bad things going on in the world deserve the attention of the well-meaning powerful, and which don’t. If consistency is crucial, the only way to achieve it is by not acting.
3.     Many people are happy with the idea of universal inaction; after all, that way there is no collateral damage from enforcing no fly zones, no accidents that have to be apologised for, no need for an exit strategy and so on. But bystander status doesn’t give us clean hands. If those who have the power to act sit and watch while atrocities are committed which they could have prevented then they share at least some of the responsibility for what takes place.

4.     It is interesting that many people on the left are happy to make this argument when it comes to famine relief or the responsibility to act to combat world poverty; they are also happy to use the argument in those cases where no intervention takes place.  But when states actually intervene rather than stand by and watch they are accused of imperialism. No pleasing some people. Of course, the powerful are indeed morally-responsible bystanders in those cases where they don’t intervene. There is no way round this – but it isn’t a reason for being a bystander everywhere.
5.     Actual interventions are never simply ‘values-bases’; they always involve old fashioned, selfish, national interests. There is no reason to be ashamed of this; mixed motives are the norm when it comes to state as well as personal behaviour. No state is going to risk the lives of its soldiers or incur the financial costs of action for altruistic reasons alone.
6.     This does NOT mean ‘it’s all about oil’. If it were all about oil, the logical thing to do would be to look the other way while the Colonel re-establishes control and continue to do business with him as we have in the past. The reasons for acting in Libya as opposed to Côte d’Ivoire, is certainly partly because the former has more oil (and oil is important to all of us) but it’s also because Libya is a Mediterranean country which means that the fallout from a catastrophe is much closer to home for the Europeans who have pushed for action, and because if the Colonel remains in power it is a racing certainty that he will return to his old terrorism-supporting ways – indeed he’s already threatened as much. These are all good reasons that act to support the desire to prevent a massacre in Benghazi and elsewhere and to pressure Gaddafi and sons to take a long holiday in Zimbabwe, and they are all morally legitimate reasons.
In short, intervention in this case may or may not be a good idea – on balance I think it is a good idea – but, either way, arguments about consistency are beside the point.

Grand Doctrine and Very Large Strategy

Sir Thursday, Garth Nix

I’m tired of demands for an articulated “Obama Doctrine.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I think it would be nice if the Obama Administration had an overarching vision for US foreign policy. It might even be a good thing if it could produce something resembling a coherent document on the subject instead of the stream-of-consciousness bureaucratic filler it tends to publish.

What I emphatically reject is the idea that Obama ought to, in effect, retcon Libya by articulating an ex post facto grand strategy that makes sense of his decision to intervene.

Why did we intervene in Libya? For a number of reasons, many of which aren’t usually found in sweeping foreign-policy visions. Yes, NATO gets to assist a beleaguered popular uprising and prevent a massacre of people quite publicly clamoring for international assistance. That kind of thing makes liberal hawks get all starry eyed. But what makes Libya different than most of the other places where tyrannical governments do nasty things to their citizens isn’t terribly Wilsonsian:

  • Qaddafi’s rule over Libya is, on balance, a net negative for US interests;
  • The US doesn’t care much for most of his friends either;
  • He’s sitting on not insignificant fossil fuel deposits;
  • He has no real support among the great powers; and
  • The UK, US, and France really, really, really don’t like the guy.

I might be wrong, but I don’t consider the “Humanitarian-intervention-against-militarily-weak-fossil-fuel-producing-countries-in-strategically-important-regions-that-are-also-located-near-many-large-NATO-military-bases-and-are-run-by-dictators-who-kind-of-piss-us-off-and-have-no-powerful-allies Doctrine” the stuff of Grand Strategy. But if you read between the lines, that’s pretty much the gist of what Obama had to say tonight.

Now, I’m sympathetic to the argument that capital-D Doctrines are all about legitimation. James Poulos, for example, argues that Obama needed to provide a grand-strategic vision in order to justify the Libya air campaign to the American public. Some time ago PTJ explained that:

Instead, a doctrine is a rhetorical commonplace, a widely-shared and vague notion on which speakers can draw when attempting to justify courses of action. A foreign-policy doctrine doesn’t tell you what to do as much as it makes particular courses of action possible — and makes others more difficult, if not impossible.

But, as far as I’m concerned, that’s precisely the problem. Doctrines profoundly shape the contours of foreign-policy debates. Even within the US government, policymakers deploy the content of high-level speeches as warrants for the policies that they advocate. This means that the last thing we want from our leaders is the development of general principles around specific cases.

Besides, the details often matter more than anything else.

UPDATE: also what Steve Saideman says.

Morality, R2P, the nature of conflict and the emerging “Obama Doctrine”

There’s been some really interesting posts here on R2P in the last few days. At the risk of kicking a dead horse – although I hardly think this horse is dead – I’d like to raise a few points. (I’ve actually been writing this post over the past few days, and was going to post it later in the week, but Obama’s speech tonight made me want to post it earlier. You know, because hasty blogging is always a good thing.)

Most of my thinking has been on the issue of consistency/inconsistency with regards to R2P. I think I agree with Charli, there is no consistency requirement when it comes to R2P. For better and for worse, the case presently being made for R2P in Libya is that the international community is acting where it can when it can. The better part of this is that it’s relatively easy to protect civilians from conventional military forces (tanks, planes, etc) and this is why I think we see the action in Libya. Boots on the ground are not required, and if they were, it’s clear that they’re probably not coming. As Obama said tonight, boots on the ground would entail a situation where the “dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.”

The worse part of this, as implied by Obama’s speech, is that it is still very hard to end civil wars/ethnic strife (such as that of Rwanda – which provoked so much soul-searching about humanitarian intervention in the first place). And this is why we aren’t really seeing any intervention in Côte d’Ivoire – because everyone knows it would be a hot mess.

This is unfortunate. As the International Crisis Group has indicated in a letter to the UN Security Council today specifying that things are going very badly, very quickly in Côte d’Ivoire.

The security and humanitarian situation in Côte d’Ivoire is rapidly deteriorating. Civil war in the country has been reignited; we are no longer warning of the risk of war, but urging swift action to halt the fighting and prevent ethnic cleansing and other mass atrocity crimes.
… the Security Council should immediately authorise military action to ensure the protection of the population by UNOCI or other authorised forces and to support President Alassane Ouattara and his government in exercising authority over the armed forces and ensuring the territorial integrity of the state….
According to the UN, 440 people have been killed and 500,000 have been forced to flee their homes. This toll is still growing. There are reports of sexual violence, summary execution and individuals being burnt alive. Gbagbo’s militias continue to perpetrate violence and organise road blocks controlled by armed men, and elements in the Ouattara camp have also been implicated in targeting civilians.

I think this situation answers the question that Jon raises in his post as to whether a threshold to act has been crossed. (Incidentally, I also agree with his conclusions on Libya, that it was likely a mass-atrocity by Gaddafi forces was about to be raised.)

So how can we morally defend the inconsistency of intervening in Libya and not Côte d’Ivoire? Is Obama’s pragmatism really a sufficient answer?

Well, as suggested above, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire are very different conflicts. Libya has been determined to be a conflict that can be solved from 10,000 feet. This is something that Western militaries are far more comfortable with because it clearly is much less of a risk to them AND they can avoid the very bad and messy pictures of boots on the ground which lend themselves to critiques of imperialism – if not just more images of western troops in another Middle Eastern country.

But I wonder if this means that R2P only lends itself to this kind of conflict? That we’re good to go for interventions where western forces can effectively bomb a conventional army into oblivion, but conflicts that require more direct and inherently risky intervention become an entirely different proposition. I think this is an obvious point – but it does point to the fact that anyone who seeks to make R2P a consistent norm is basically out of luck? That our inclination to “prevent, respond, rebuild” is going to be determined by the nature of the conflict rather than the need on the ground?

Certainly this is a concern that Obama alluded to and sought to answer in his speech:

In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all – even in limited ways – in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.
It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground…

The question is whether or not this then jeopardizes the morality of the norm. Obama’s pragmatism suggests that we have a responsibility to protect, but only where it’s convenient. Only where (American) lives are not at stake. What kind of norm is that? As one commenter argues:

If the “responsibility to protect” is a sacred principle, shouldn’t it be applied everywhere? What about those peaceful demonstrators who are being shot at by the Syrian army? What about the civilians threatened by the fighting between partisans of Alassane Ouattara, the opposition leader who was elected president of Ivory Coast in November, and those of Laurent Gbagbo, who lost the election but refuses to leave? What about the Shia majority in Bahrain whose aspirations to social equality are brutally repressed by a Sunni dynasty with the help of Saudi Arabia?

In this sense, I think many of our (their) hesitations about R2P are about consistency. We worry about consistency because we like check-boxes. We like certainty. Perhaps it offers predictability. Or, as guest-Duck blogger Chris Brown has written (in his collection of essays) “one of the reasons why so many people look to developing rules that will constrain action is precisely because they do not trust the judgment of those who hold the great offices of state in the Western democracies” (adding that after Iraq, there are understandable  reasons for this mistrust.)

Worries about inconsistency suggest that we’re actually really worried about something different – than rather than circumstances, R2P occurs because of different motivations. Libya has oil and Côte d’Ivoire has cocoa. It’s not surprising that there are accusations of something fishy going on here.

I’m not sure what to say – is this a sorry comfort kind of post? We can only intervene where we can be responsible; only where it’s pragmatic. Sub-Saharan Africa, you’re probably out of luck. Fans of Obama and R2P are going to have to work out the very difficult morality of that.

Ultimately, for me, just because no one is likely to do anything in Côte d’Ivoire doesn’t mean Libya is illegitimate. However, the fact that another bloody and brutal war is clearly getting underway in another poor African country is also reminder of the very real limits of R2P, which neither compels states to act nor solves many of the central problems of HOW, WHEN and WHY we carry out humanitarian intervention. And that such interventions are never going to be consistent.

Libya and the Responsibility to Protect

I see there’s some naysaying about the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. Among various refrains is the claim that “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine lacks moral strength if applied selectively: the
international community can’t legitimately go after Qaddafi if it won’t/can’t also go after every other dictator.

So just a reminder that the doctrine, as laid out by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty and acknowledged as a legal principle in several multilateral documents, actually promotes military force for civilian protection not in every case where it might be merited, but rather only in limited circumstances mapping roughly onto just war theory.

The criteria include just cause (which I agree would be fulfilled in a case like North Korea or Bahrain) but also right authority (which in R2P requires multilateral consent – not feasible in Bahrain) and proportionality (requiring a judgment that the overall good to civilians outweigh the potential harm – unlikely in North Korea). In cases not meeting this threshold, the doctrine urges merely non-coercive protection measures, including humanitarian assistance and diplomacy.

In fact one of the key critiques of R2P is that the threshold for the use of force – which is in some cases the only effective response to unfolding crimes against humanity – is so unreasonably high as to render the doctrine useless for the cases in which it is most needed. So it was actually reassuring to see the international community act so relatively swiftly in the case of Libya, in contrast to its months and years of dithering in Kosovo and Bosnia, respectively, or its ultimate inaction in the case of Darfur. R2P as currently constituted includes no normative requirement of consistency.

Now whether or not the intervention was caused or facilitated by the R2P norm itself, that’s another question. Erik Voeten thinks not and is not even sure there is such a norm. My students will be writing their mid-term over it this week, and we’ll see what they come up with.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

Libya: R2P or Regime Change?

On CNN this Saturday morning, the day after the United Nations Security Council voted for Resolution 1973 (2011) to authorize a “no-fly zone” in Libya, the debate has centered around whether or not the United States and its allies want regime change in Libya. After all, a few days ago President Obama said “It’s time for Qaddafi to go.” Similarly, British Prime Minister David Cameron has declared: “It is almost impossible to envisage a future for Libya that includes him. Gaddafi must go, he has no legitimacy.”

Yet, to me, this seems like a very odd and unhelpful framing of the situation.

Certainly, opponents of the no fly zone want to frame the debate around regime change in order to question the legitimacy of the intervention. For instance, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies asserts that “it’s widely understood that a no-fly zone is most often the first step towards broader military engagement.” However, I would challenge that view. The U.S. for many years helped enforce a no-fly zone in Iraq that was eventually controversial and certainly was not the key stepping stone that legitimized war in Iraq. The Bush administration likely would have pursued war on Iraq even without a no fly zone. And much of the world opposed the war in Iraq precisely because it violated international norms about the use of force.

Bennis also worries about the authorization of “all necessary measures..to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.” She sees this as a virtual blank check for broader military intervention, though she overlooks the last clause. Contrast this provision to the much broader language in UNSC Resolution 678 (1990), which authorized the Persian Gulf war:

Authorizes Member States co-operating with the Government of Kuwait, unless Iraq on or before 15 January 1991 fully implements, as set forth in paragraph 1 above, the above-mentioned resolutions, to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.

The more recent Resolution focuses narrowly on protecting civilians, not the far broader goal of restoring international peace and security. That goal seemingly required ground troops in Kuwait since that is where Saddam Hussein’s forces had gone.

Bennis blames the US for the inclusion of the “all necessary measures” language, as America worried that a simple no fly zone really would not protect civilians on the ground. She overlooks the fact that this is a completely valid point. The no fly zone in southern Iraq after the Persian Gulf war concluded did not stop Saddam Hussein from slaughtering civilians. In this case, simply keeping Libyan government planes out of the air might not protect any civilians. The new resolution authorizes air strikes against tanks or other government ground forces that would otherwise attack civilians.

Put differently, this is more like Kosovo 1998 than Iraq 2003. In that successful application of military force, NATO intervened with air power, but the UNSC did not pass a supporting resolution. Presumably, UN cooperation this time will help assure limits on enforcement actions. That’s hardly a blank check.

Indeed, as CNN analysts pointed out, the U.S., France and NATO partners know that the Arab partners in the military intervention — reportedly Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan — likely do not support external intervention to pursue regime change in Libya. Likewise, the 1991 enforcement action against Iraq did not include regime change exactly because the Arab member-states would have opposed it.

Moreover, President Obama himself has already said that U.S. intervention in Libya will be quite limited, which likely makes any regime change something that will be left up to competing forces within Libya.

I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal — specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.

Could that be any clearer?

In the discussion I heard, some CNN announcers strongly implied that French President Sarkozy supports regime change. For evidence of this, they offered Sarkozy’s call for fairly direct intervention in support of the Libyan rebels:

“Our air force will oppose any aggression by Colonel Gadhafi against the population of Benghazi,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking after an international, top-level meeting in Paris over the Libyan crisis.

“As of now, our aircraft are preventing planes from attacking the town,” he said. “As of now, our aircraft are prepared to intervene against tanks.”

Yet, this framing completely distorts the facts. Sarkozy explicitly does not advocate regime change:

“We are determined to take all necessary action, including military consistent with UN Security Council resolution 1973 to ensure compliance with all its requirements, ” Mr Sarkozy said.

He said the aim of intervention was not regime change but to “allow the Libyan people to choose their own destiny”.

“We are protecting the population from the murderous madness of the regime.”

That too seems fairly clear.

I think this entire discussion would be more useful if the U.S. and international media framed the debate around the Responsibility to Protect. UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon certainly used this framework:

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), “a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

“Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community’s determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government,” he said.

Though Obama did not use the R2P phrase, his speech about the latest UN action also largely used this frame.

Our decisions have been driven by Qaddafi’s refusal to respect the rights of his people, and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians. It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it. We are coordinating closely with them. And this is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law.

The problem critics share, I suspect, is that the Bush administration often used humanitarian claims to justify its intervention in Iraq. R2P was not completely undermined by their rhetoric, but the recent experience does make some members of the the international community and many policy analysts skeptical of great power claims about R2P or humanitarian intervention.

Ultimately, I think some skepticism is healthy and will help assure the limits of the authorized intervention. Perhaps this would be a good time to recall the Blair Doctrine, if that is still helpful post-Iraq. UK PM Tony Blair specifically argued that this kind of international intervention might occasionally be necessary — but it should be strictly limited by something like just war principles.

First, are we sure of our case? War is an imperfect instrument for righting humanitarian distress; but armed force is sometimes the only means of dealing with dictators. Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance, as we have in the case of Kosovo. Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake? Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies. But having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over; better to stay with moderate numbers of troops than return for repeat performances with large numbers. And finally, do we have national interests involved? The mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo demanded the notice of the rest of the world. But it does make a difference that this is taking place in such a combustible part of Europe.

Blair was calling for workable international action. “If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation,” he argued, “then we have to support the UN as its central pillar.”

I think that’s the case here. It would have been better if the states could have crafted a truly unanimous resolution, rather than one that led some key states to abstain. Nonetheless, the UNSC has authorized a limited form of humanitarian intervention into Libya in hopes of preventing government slaughter of civilians.

Similar timely action in Rwanda might have saved at least 100,000 lives — if not several times that many.

If the operational aims broaden or the implementation is bungled, then reluctant supporters like me are certainly free to demand fealty to promised limits.

Libya: West Running Out of Time?

If recent reports are correct, NATO is running out of time if it wants to use a no-fly zone to tilt the balance in favor of the rebels. The Russians and Chinese may eventually agree to a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution authorizing a no-fly zone, but efforts to secure their agreement will take time. And it is not at all clear that a no-fly zone will prove sufficient to overcome Gaddafi’s better-trained and equipped forces.

Thus, the debate over NATO (or NATO member-state intervention) needs to explicitly include the following issues:

  • Should NATO implement a no-fly zone in the absence of UNSC approval?
  • If it should, at what point does the cost of delay outweigh the value of UNSC approval?
  • If a no-fly zone cannot save the rebellion, what further measures should NATO be willing to undertake to oust Gaddafi?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. I haven’t seen a slam-dunk argument for or against various forms of more pro-active NATO intervention. But I have seen a lot of arguments against intervention that should embarrass their sources. i.e., that do not frame the moral context in terms of a tyrant attempting to eradicate a popular uprising against his regime. There are many good reasons to still reject any form of foreign intervention given that context, but arguments that implicitly rely on deferring to the popular sovereignty of the Libyan people number not among them.

UNSC Resolution 1970: Wait, did the UN just kinda do what it was supposed to?

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970 is a pretty amazing document. Over the last few days I’ve found myself trying to decide if this a rare example of the UN Security Council doing what it was originally designed to do – or an example of an international organization working because there is a relatively powerless state with no allies involved. I suspect it’s probably both.

Still, I’ve been following The Multilateralist blog over at Foreign Policy and I think David Bosco has it just about right:

Last night, the UN Security Council passed unanimously a resolution imposing an asset freeze and travel ban on Libya’s ruling elite, and also referring the situation to the International Criminal Court. None of these measures is unprecedented: the Council has used asset freezes and targeted sanctions with increasing frequency in recent years, and it referred the case of Sudan to the ICC in 2005. But the scope, speed and unanimity of the resolution are remarkable.

I think this last line is a very significant point – even if it’s about a relatively straightforward situation in Libya, 1970 is a comprehensive resolution that was passed quickly and unanimously. Even more remarkably, China, Russia and the United States voted for it (no abstentions) even if it has the power to potentially put Gaddafi on trial at the ICC – an institution they’re not all entirely chummy with.

Clearly this will not solve all of the problems in Libya, but I also don’t believe it is merely an impotent angry-worded letter that critics often speak of. And there are a few things in here that I think are interesting and worth highlighting…


First, the ICC referral. On the surface this isn’t unique, but (as I mentioned above) it is still rather interesting that ALL states on the UNSC agreed to it. The operative clause goes that the UNSC….

4. Decides to refer the situation in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya since 15 February 2011 to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court;

But the reasons why China, Russia, the US, India, (etc) probably found this acceptable can be found in the 6th clause of the resolution:

6. Decides that nationals, current or former officials or personnel from a State outside the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of that State for all alleged acts or omissions arising out of or related to operations in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya established or authorized by the Council, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been expressly waived by the State;

In other words, if a citizen of the US, Russia, China, India (etc) is somehow involved in crimes against humanity, the ICC will not have jurisdiction over them (or any non-ICC national.) It will be interesting to see if this results in anyone getting away with some nasty stuff.

Additionally, Bosco makes an interesting observation on this point:

But it is notable that the resolution references (although in a non-operative paragraph [ed: this means in the preamble, before ‘Action under Chapter VII]) Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which gives the Council the power to suspend ICC investigations if it believes doing so would advance peace and security. It’s not immediately obvious to me why a resolution referring a situation to the court would emphasize this provision. It’s possible that China, the United States and others particularly skeptical of an untethered ICC simply wanted to emphasize the Council’s power to reel in the court. But it could also be a signal that the Council would consider stopping the ICC process in exchange for the peaceful transfer of power.

This is interesting. There has been some criticism of the ICC that its activities in Africa are actually hindering rather than helping resolve conflicts. So would the threat of a prosecution actually give any incentive for Gaddafi to surrender? And would ICC advocates be satisfied if such a deal was made – transfer power peacefully and we’ll leave you alone? I have my doubts.

Then again, if I was Gaddafi, I’d probably rather have my fate decided in sombre environment of The Hague than at the armed and rather angry mob that is headed his way. (If nothing else, surely this would give him another platform for crazy speeches and more elaborate hats?)

Second, there are references to “The Responsibility to Protect” in the preamble of the resolution, and in the comments of the representatives of those who voted on it, but not in the ‘meat’ of the resolution. This is not a big surprise, given how rather toothless the concept has become since 2005’s World Summit Outcome Document (see articles 138 and 139). However, this kind of does seem the ideal time, if ever there was one, to invoke the principle.

Finally, the voting and accompanying statements. According to the press release, when speaking on the Resolution, the Chinese representative said the following:

LI BAODONG ( China) said that China was very much concerned about the situation in Libya. The greatest urgency was to cease the violence, to end the bloodshed and civilian casualties, and to resolve the crisis through peaceful means, such as dialogue. The safety and interest of the foreign nationals in Libya must be assured. Taking into account the special circumstances in Libya, the Chinese delegation had voted in favour of the resolution.

Three points here: First, it’s clear that China agreed to the resolution because of “special circumstances” rather than suggesting it was something they would normally support.

Second, it’s also clear that he is against an armed humanitarian intervention and is not alone on the Council. The Russian representative, while supporting the 1970, spoke out against “counterproductive interventions” that other states might be tempted to engage in.

Third, when Russia and China are voting for sanctions against you AND supporting an ICC investigation in your country, it goes to show you just how freaking isolated you are. I suppose at this point it might be the result of neither country having substantial material interests in Libya and realizing they had nothing to lose (and potentially something to gain in terms of UN ‘street cred’) if they voted for it. (Certainly a sentiment, along with hypocrisy, expressed in this cartoon in the Economist.)

Ultimately, it’s a very interesting resolution and I’ve been using it in my teaching all week. Is it a rare example of the UN doing what it was designed to do in the first place? Even if not, I suspect that scholars will be interested in the reasons for the content of the resolution, the speed at which it was passed, and the effect it eventually has on the crisis – if any.

PS: Oh and I see that the UN has now thrown Libya off of the UN Human Rights Council. Way to act, guys! 

Going to court

Serbia is going to the World Court today to ask for an advisory opinion on the independence of Kosovo. The US and most of the EU has recognized a new Kosovar state; Russia, Serbia, and most of the rest of the world has not. The Serbian Foreign Minister observed that the decision to go to court marked a “paradigm shift…the first time in the history of the Balkans that somebody

has decided to resolve an issue of significance using exclusively peaceful means.” That’s a bit of a stretch. Serbia’s ambassador to France said that Kosovo’s declaration, as well as its recognition, “is a challenge to the international legal order, based as it is on the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He’s right.

That’s really what’s at issue here. A Serbian friend of mine constantly reminded me during the Kosovo War that what NATO was doing was a violation of fundamental legal norms, and while he was right he never quite grasped that his point may be increasingly irrelevant. The norms are changing. What are the new norms, and how will they emerge? An advisory opinion of the ICJ isn’t going to settle these issues, but it might have some influence on the debate. Keep watching.

Russia and the Responsibility to Protect

Cleitus the Black has left a long comment in the thread about my Georgia War report commentary that requires a response longer than I can give there. (For someone who appears to be on permanent hiatus from his/her own blog, CTB certainly seem to find time to leave lengthy dissertations in comments on other people’s…)

CTB asks:

“What is the international standard for an ‘acceptable’ number of Russian (or American, etc) citizens living in a foreign country that may be killed before the parent state intervenes without a UN mandate?

The EU report shows that ‘only’ 850 people – Georgians, Russians, and Ossetians were killed in the course of the entire 5 day conflict… We may surmise that of that total, perhaps as few as a hundred were killed in Georgia’s initial attack on the South Ossetian capital…

But then again, in the first day of the Rwandan or Bosnian genocides (in the first day of ANY historical genocide, for that matter) how many people were killed? I am quite certain the answer is comparatively few, and the deaths are mainly among the fighters of the weaker group as the stronger group moves to assert control. The real killing begins once control of the target population has been gained.”

First, I think CTB is mixing metaphors, since intervening to protect one’s own citizens is not the same as intervening to protect the citizens of another state. But let’s assume that Russia genuinely went in to protest S. Ossetians, not Russians per se. Would this be acceptable under the Responsibility to Protect doctine?

By way of answer, I will refer readers back to a post by CTB’s own colleague Diodotus, who also seems to have vanished from the blogosphere since, penned last August. Diodotus analyzes whether Russia’s claim to a humanitarian intervention was substantiated based on the facts of the case, drawing on the R2P report put out by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty.

Diodotus points out that even if we take CTB’s claim at face value – that even a few dead civilians should meet the threshold requirements for an intervention, there are a few other criteria to take into account:

“The R2P doctrine is not simply a green light for great powers to violate small states’ territorial integrity whenever they can reasonably claim civilians are at risk. Rather, it carefully balances humanitarian concerns with the UN Charter regime. Intervening governments must not only demonstrate just cause, but they must meet several other criteria as well:

Right Intention: The primary purpose of the intervention must be to halt or avert human suffering…

Last Resort: Every diplomatic and non-military avenue for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the humanitarian crisis must have been explored.

Proportional Means: The scale, duration and intensity of the planned military intervention should be the minimum necessary to secure the humanitarian objective in question.

Reasonable Prospects: Military action can only be justified if it stands a reasonable chance of success, that is, halting or averting the atrocities or suffering that triggered the intervention in the first place.

Anyone can see that Russia’s intervention satisfied the last of these criteria quite nicely. And although the jury is still out, for the sake of argument let us accept Russia’s claim that the Georgian government’s crackdown on separatists in S. Ossetia was indiscriminate and thus constituted just cause for an intervention. Even if so, it is hard to argue that Russia’s means have been proportionate to its goals, that Russia exhausted any non-military avenues first, or that Russia has actually acted solely out of humanitarian objectives.

Perhaps most importantly is the question of right authority: who decides on the legitimacy of such a move? The Commission recognized the validity of such arguments, then made by Russia and China, that a humanitarian intervention norm would create a slippery slope toward the dissolution of the non-aggression norm entirely. So they devoted an entire chapter to the question of the authority to determine whether such an intervention should take place. It first stresses that to be genuine, humanitarian intervention must be multilateral, not unilateral; that it ought to be endorsed by the Security Council; and failing this (as it did in the case of Kosovo and now Darfur) could be legitimized under a Uniting for Peace resolution in the General Assembly. Point being, a single state exercising this “responsibility” on its own, without even a discussion among its peers, would negate the concept entirely.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Marc Bowden says that Somalia is in the grips of a worsening food crisis.

Somalia faces a worse situation than Darfur, Mr Bowden says.

Contributing to the crisis are fighting between rival militias, successive droughts, sharply rising food prices and a collapse of the Somali currency.

Mr Bowden says that during the course of the next three months the number of people needing emergency food relief will climb by about one million from the current 2.5m.

Aid agencies trying to get food into Somalia face extreme difficulties.

The task is made more difficult because fighting and violence has displaced a million Somalis from their homes.

Mark Bowden says Somalia has become one of the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises.

Somalia’s recent history is, indeed, a sorry one: political collapse in the wake of the Cold War, a botched humanitarian intervention, Islamicist forces bringing harsh rule and some stability in the south–but also a new stage of civil war, US-backed Ethiopian intervention, and now a complete breakdown in food supplies and distribution.

Some consider Somalia a critical front in the “war on terror,” but I doubt that’s enough, in the shadow of 1992-1993, to motivate concerted action by the international community.

Still Soveriegn After All These Years

Madeline Albright’s op-ed in the NYT yesterday bemoans the fact that

the concept of national sovereignty as an inviolable and overriding principle of global law is once again gaining ground.

I think she doth protest too much, as the claims of sovereignty’s demise seem to have been slightly exaggerated.

Albright, of course is thinking back to the heady days when she was Secretary of State, when

the international community would recognize a responsibility to override sovereignty in emergency situations — to prevent ethnic cleansing or genocide, arrest war criminals, restore democracy or provide disaster relief when national governments were either unable or unwilling to do so.

The rhetorical slight of hand here, though, is to assume the “international community” where in fact no such actor exists. After all, what is the international community but for a group of powerful states who are able to intervene when they deem it appropriate. Namely, the US and its key allies. The examples she cites are all US led, US-supported interventions:

The administration of George H. W. Bush intervened to prevent famine in Somalia and to aid Kurds in northern Iraq; the Clinton administration returned an elected leader to power in Haiti; NATO ended the war in Bosnia and stopped Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of terror in Kosovo; the British halted a civil war in Sierra Leone; and the United Nations authorized life-saving missions in East Timor and elsewhere.

Its not that the International community is ignoring Darfur–there have been European calls for action, and African peacekeepers dispatched to the region, but they are lacking the muscle, legitimacy, and systemic power that serious US involvement brings to the table. The obvious reason for this is Iraq–the US is too bogged down there to do much else, and the ‘international community’ is now very wary of any further US interventions following Iraq.

Albright does end on an important question, though.

At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. Is it just a collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled together by governments to protect governments? Or is it a living framework of rules intended to make the world a more humane place?

But she deliberately creates a false dichotomy here. Missing? Maybe the world is simply a collection of states seeking to protect themselves from other states by amassing what power they can. Or, maybe the world is really an American show, and as America changes its rules for intervention and identity in the eyes of the rest of the world, so too does reshape its ability to muster an ‘international community’ to bring wayward governments into compliance with its rules.

All that aside, I think she raises some good discussion points, and I’m thinking of adding this article to my syllabus for my freshmen in Intro to World Politics this fall.
(And we’ll see how smart they are, if they can find this blog post when we discuss it in class!)

Who said it?

Can you tell the difference between the views expressed by a human rights activist who worries mostly about humanitarian emergencies in Asia and those stated by a prominent neorealist American academic?

1: Realist thinking versus liberal talk:

A. “…oil and strategic interests are what dictate Western policies, not their professed liberal values. All the talk of humanism or humanitarianism is just for public relations.”

B. “…public discourse about foreign policy in the United States is usually couched in the language of liberalism. Hence the pronouncements of the policy elites are heavily flavored with optimism and moralism…Behind closed doors, however, the elites who make national security policy speak mostly the language of power, not that of principle…In essence, a discernible gap separates public rhetoric from the actual conduct of American foreign policy.”

2: What should be done about humanitarian emergencies?

C. “Now I chime in on the side of those who want to invoke the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine or humanitarian intervention because the suffering on the ground is massive and the regime leadership responded with extraordinarily mad behavior—holding this referendum on the graves of at least 70,000 Burmese cyclone victims.”

D. “…the Clinton administration…was filled with people who extolled the virtues of human rights regimes and the importance of the international community intervening to prevent mass murder, and so forth and so on. In the event, when there was evidence pouring in that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda, a real genocide, they behaved in the most despicable fashion. And this is consistent with how we have behaved over time. The fact of the matter is…states talk a good game when it comes to values, but they actually behave in a…rather cold and calculating manner when the money is on the table.”

3: American interests and intervention.

E. “Human rights interventions in the developing world…tend to be small-scale operations that cost little…The American intervention in Somalia between 1992 and 1993 is a case in point. Furthermore, the United States could have intervened to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which certainly would have been the morally correct thing to do, without having jeopardized American security.”

F. “I do not believe that under any circumstances should the United States go to war for the purposes of protecting the United Nations or simply making sure that United Nations’ resolutions are carried out. The United States should go to war under one set of circumstances, because you want to remember here, we’re talking about sending Americans to die. Right? We go to war when it’s in the American national interest. Right? When there are good, strategic reasons to put American lives on the line.”

Answers:

For 1 and 2:

A & C are from “Zarni, a former Burmese activist who founded the Free Burma Campaign in the US and led the successful PepsiCo/ Burma boycott that resulted in Pepsi cutting all ties with the Burmese regime in 1997. He now lives in England where his research at Oxford University is focused on Burma’s political and economic developments.”

B and D are from Professor John Mearsheimer, a realist political scientist at the University of Chicago.

For 3:

It’s a trick. Both E & F are from Mearsheimer.

For more fun with neorealism, see this.

Glitterati Power

From USA Today: “Darfur Benefit Party Brings Celebs Out in Force

While Forest Whitaker chatted with a refugee, his wife, Keisha, worked a table selling her line of lip gloss, with money going to the IRC. Her top seller: the shade she named Forest.

Whitaker, who arrived directly from the Toronto set of Repossession Mambo, said issue-oriented films remain high on his agenda. In March, he’ll shoot Hurricane Katrina-related The Patriots, to be directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four).

Shopping for jeans and dresses, Heather Graham said she was disappointed “that our country isn’t doing more for Darfur. Africa’s one of those places that really needs help.”

It’s easy to make light of the glitterati for this self-serving humanitarianism. (For another example, click here.) Celebrities use causes to brand themselves.

But so what?

Governments do the same thing when they tie foreign aid to official recognition of their beneficence. And whether it is Bono peddling poverty reduction, George Clooney advocating for Darfur, or Leonardo diCaprio condemning conflict diamonds, celebrity sponsorship seems to go hand in hand with public awareness of global issues.

But scholars of humanitarian affairs should be asking: under what conditions are these humanitarian players effective in practical terms, and at what? Is theirs an agenda-setting effect: can the rise of new issues in the transnational primordial soup be traced to celebrity influence? Or do they essentially bandwagon on issues that have already gained prominence? If so does this at least have a catalyzing effect on transforming campaigns into mass movements? Do they exercise power, as Dan Drezner’s recent National Interest piece argues, through social networks of access to policymakers and donors – civic activism plus? Or, is the power of celebrities not their personal crusades but the stories they tell on screen?

MSF’s Foreign Policy

It is a time of political transition in Europe. While Tony Blair is not leaving his post as the UK’s PM until next month, Jacques Chirac has already been replaced as French President by Nicolas Sarkozy.

A few weeks ago, Sarkozy’z UMP party of the center-right beat Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal 53% to 47%. However, Sarkozy has just named Socialist Bernard Kouchner as his Foreign Minister.

What will this mean for French foreign policy — and perhaps US-French relations?

The former is perhaps easier to predict. Kouchner is best known as a founder (1971) of Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), the Nobel-winning transnational medical organization. Most of the cofounders had worked for the Red Cross in Biafra in the late 1960s and were critical of the agency for being too deferential to international law, political neutrality and state sovereignty.

That history provides a huge hint as to Kouchner’s priorities and ideas. In 1987, he published a book with a title that also strongly signals his priorities: The duty to intervene. He declares simply, “mankind’s suffering belongs to all men.”

As a politician, Kouchner has continue to be both a humanitarian and an interventionist. He served as French Minister of Health during the 1990s and Minister of State for Humanitarian Action 1988-1991. From 1994, he was a Member of the European Parliament and President of its Committee on Development and Cooperation.

Over the years, these posts provided Kouchner frequent opportunities to advocate western intervention in humanitarian crises around the world. In Somalia in 1992, the AP reports, Kouchner “fumed about ‘rich people everywhere … who do nothing’ in the face of misery.” Later, he headed the post-war UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) from 15 July 1999 through 12 January 2001.

Experts guess that Kouchner is likely to make Darfur his top foreign policy priority.

As for French-US relations, Kouchner apparently speaks English very well, worked with the US in the Balkans in the 1990s, and like President Bush, has declared his personal and political opposition to tyranny and dictatorships everywhere.

In advance of the Iraq war, the AP says that Kouchner told interviewer Charlie Rose: “I’m really, clearly, strongly in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, because of the suffering of the Iraqi people.” Though he hoped that conflict could be avoided, he criticized Chirac for linking French foreign policy to German pacifism, threatening to veto a second Iraq resolution at the UN Security Council and thereby undermining ties with the US.

Let me offer two possible futures.

First, Condi Rice’s dream: If the US can somehow successfully reframe the Iraq war as a humanitarian operation, which would likely require ending the counter-insurgency campaign, then perhaps Foreign Minister Kouchner will be able to convince the UN and his fellow European ministers to help the US solve its Iraq problem.

Second, Kouchner’s more likely dream: He pushes for the west and the UN to intervene in Darfur, urging the US to put its material might behind its political rhetoric.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2019 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑