Liberal intervention shouldn’t be confined to the West


 

Syrians are facing an onslaught from their own government, yet the West is unwilling, and realistically unable, to help.

Almost ten years after the invasion of Iraq our squares and embassies are witness to protestors asking for intervention not decrying it, people shocked at our government’s inaction not action.

Syria-tanksBut in a post-Iraq age the ‘policing’ of the world must be a shared burden – one that relies less on western foreign policy as well as the blood of western soliders – a burden that emerging and regional powers must step up to.

The expectation that intervention should be a western decision, or western led, must be abandoned. For every potential Iraq there is a Rwanda: Often the West is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. The guilt of inaction cannot be ours alone. Nor can the monopoly on humanitarian action be used to justify our own agenda.

The fallout from Iraq has severely dented the ability of the West to intervene where it is needed, not least because of the question of motive. Questions surrounding the reasons for our entry into Iraq continue to be raised in opposition to every intervention mooted since.

A more multilateral approach as epitomised by the UN sanctioned action in Libya suggests a new model for intervention. The situation must be bordering on calamity; there must be wide support internationally, regionally and internally; and a long-term occupation is not an option. Intervention should not be embarked upon lightly.

Nevertheless, even with such legitimacy the West’s involvement in Libya’s civil war was not without controversy.

Eleven years into the occupation of Afghanistan, the British and American public have grown war-weary, tired of the human cost on all sides, and, in a time of economic difficulty, ever conscious of the price tag attached to military action. Even with Benghazi facing an outright massacre, Britons were severely divided on the merits of intervention.

With entrenchment in Afghanistan, cuts in military spending and forces spread thinly the West lacks not only the willpower, but also the military power to always assist those in need.

If it’s unpopular at home, it can be more so abroad. With the civilian cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, the disgusting abuses and crimes committed by the few, and the perenial charge of ‘imperialism’ the West is often at risk of inflaming opinion against legitimate interventions.

The West suffers from contrasting traits of arrogance and moral obligation. When a crisis emerges we think ‘should we, or should we not intervene’, but never consider what the rest of the world should do.

So used to being the policeman of the world, we bear the financial and human cost of war or turn our own policy objectives into world policing with disregard to international opinion and real humanitarian need. Liberal intervention must be seen as entirely separate to western foreign policy.

Syria presents the ideal opportunity for the West to step back while other countries should step up. Our intervention there would undoubtedly inflame the situation. Almost every factor counts against American or European action. From geographic distance to geo-politics – western entry could escalate a civil war into an international one.

Turkey is in an ideal position to broker peace, and if necessary intervene. There is a moral case that other countries, particularly the emerging powers start to take their share of responsibility in a century where they will grow in economic and political significance.

As nations like Brazil and India grow in power they must realise that splendid isolation cannot be an option. The West must let go of the reins just as much as the newer powers must stop assuming that we alone can intervene. As they push for Security Council recognition they must themselves recognise the need to pitch-in, perhaps far more sucessfully than we could ever do.

Intervention isnt always the answer, but when it is we must let go of the presumption that the West alone can act, for right or wrong. The blame for lack of intervention cannot be solely put on us when there are democratic military powers around the globe who also refuse to act.

The Rwandan genocide could have been stopped by the West, but it could also have been stopped by any number of other countries.

A more pluralist, multilateral model of intervention – preferably under the aegis of the United Nations is a healthier approach to the humanitarian problems of the twenty-first century.  The West shouldn’t, and can’t always intervene, but that doesn’t mean that there should be no intervention at all.

It’s time for us to step back and let the other powers of the world step up.

See also:

Syria: There is no simple solutionGeorge Irvin, February 15th 2012

The World Outside Westminster – “If you do not help us, we will be killed”Chris Tarquini, February 12th 2012

Amidst the burning flesh of Homs, Syrians plead: “We are getting slaughtered, save us”Shamik Das, February 7th 2012

Anti-Assad activist: “We need help… We need a no-fly zone… ASAP”Shamik Das, February 1st 2012

Syria: When will the West act?Shamik Das, January 2nd 2012

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  • http://twitter.com/timbird84 Tim Holmes

    A disgraceful article, based on an outrageous premise. “[I]n a post-Iraq age the ‘policing’ of the world must be a shared burden”: the west, which “suffers from contrasting traits of arrogance and moral obligation”, can’t retain “the monopoly on humanitarian action”. But hang on: “The fallout from Iraq has severely dented the ability of the West to intervene … not least because of the question of motive.” In reality, of course, the “dent” is the result of the drubbing it received from an armed local resistance. But more importantly, since the “question of motive” was revealed as utterly tainted here, why on earth should we ever assume it is pristine elsewhere? Perhaps because “we bear the financial and human cost of war” – a fact you should try telling the average Iraqi without receiving a well-deserved shoe to the face.

    Anyhoo, “A more multilateral approach as epitomised by the UN sanctioned action in Libya suggests a new model for intervention.” Really? We know that Hillary Clinton brokered a deal with the Arab League that they could crack down in Bahrain in return for supporting the Libyan venture. And the terms of the UN resolution were repeatedly violated in the course of the war. That’s multilateralism? Great. “Even with Benghazi facing an outright massacre, Britons were severely divided on the merits of intervention” – because it wasn’t clear that this was even the situation.

    “The blame for lack of intervention cannot be solely put on us when there are democratic military powers around the globe who also refuse to act.” But why are +internal+ democratic standards of much relevance in the case of +external+ military action? (See Israel and the Occupied Territories for an instructive illustration.) You end up either licensing opportunist wars of aggression by anyone, anywhere, anytime, or farcically splitting the world into the “civilised” democracies, who may intervene, and the “barbarous” autocracies, which have no such right. As for the US-backed Turkish military entering Syria, that hardly circumvents the problems with US intervention (while adding rather a lot of its own). Yes, sometimes military intervention may be the least-worst option available. But can we at least address this question with our eyes open.

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  • Tom Parkinson84

    You seem to have wholly negated the premise that there are any objective standards of morality. If we simply evaluate each action based on that which will best maximise the well being of conscious creatures (Sam Harris) then you can quite easily evaluate forms of governance and governing parties historical records morally. In cases where action is severely detrimental to the well being of conscious creatures it logically follows that those with the capabilities can be argued to have a moral imperative to act. How on earth can you brandish acts as clear cut as preventing genocide as ‘disgraceful.’ The author is merely articulating a system in which the foreign policy objectives of any nation state are more staunchly maligned as reasons for action. Of course vested self interest has played an historical role in foreign policy but that doesn’t mean that it always has to. The most moral position is to systemically control intervention and lay a framework for its occurance. Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia etc… all present strong cases and indeed are far more salient examples than Israel/Palestine which for some reason you seem to pay undue attention to. The author tries to lay this framework by taking action out of the hands of the politically and economically homogeneous ‘West’ (which given the the divergence of interests which result from this you surely see as a positive counterweight to foreign policy driven intervention?). Possibly the worst single point in your relatively incoherent asinine drivel was the assumption that as motive was tainted in the past we should prima facie assume ulterior motives always. Are we to do that with every political system, theology, mode of though etc… because all have had their share of negative actions undertaken by ascribed followers. At some point the West needs to break free of the shackles of the perennial apology for Imperialism narrative and assess each situation on its own genuine merits. Only then will we ridicule absurd comments like the above and move on from the moral abyss of imperialism.

  • Tom Parkinson84

    Moral abyss of relativism * (though the last sentence stands alone as a comment I suppose)

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  • http://twitter.com/timbird84 Tim Holmes

    Well, that was quite a heady mix of confusion and incoherence. But to try and get some points out of it:

    1. I’m not a relativist, and I do believe in ethical consequentialism (which is really all that vile Islamophobe and self-professed sympathiser with fascist views Sam Harris is espousing, in his usual cack-handed way). Nothing I wrote above suggests otherwise.

    2. “How on earth can you brandish acts as clear cut as preventing genocide as ‘disgraceful.'” I don’t remember doing so. In fact, I called the +blog post itself+ disgraceful, which is obviously a little different. I also pointed out that intervention is sometimes the least-worst option.

    3. “The most moral position is to systemically control intervention and lay a framework for its occurance.” Well, quite possibly. We aren’t in much of a position to do so at the moment, though, and we shouldn’t naively pretend that we are (as in the example of Libya cited above).

    4. “Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia etc… all present strong cases and indeed are far more salient examples than Israel/Palestine which for some reason you seem to pay undue attention to.” A single (illustrative) mention of Israeli atrocities constitutes “undue attention”? So presumably “due attention” means not mentioning them at all. Which tells us something rather interesting about the implicit standards you’re bringing to bear.

    Anyway – in Rwanda the US and UK +did+ intervene, via UN negotiations, to reduce the size of the UN force and give a green light to genocide. In Sierra Leone interventions before and since the (probably justifiable) troop deployment helped empower some of the worst elements in the country. In Somalia, it was actually US-backed intervention (with EU complicity) by Ethiopia that recently fucked up the country, creating a humanitarian crisis “worse than Darfur”, according to the UN humanitarian spokesman John Holmes. The West’s record is appalling, and we should never forget it.

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