On the news, you hear about yet another regime oppressing its own people. Maybe they’re being gassed to death, like the Kurds of Iraq. Maybe there’s a multi-sided genocidal war, like Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Maybe there’s an ethnic cleansing campaign going on between two countries, like the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. What should your country do? Who, if anyone, has the right to protect the millions of victims? How does the answer depend on whether your country is the world superpower or an economic basket case; on whether the offending country is a heavily militarized nuclear power or a small island nation?
The Evans article describes the development of a “right to protect” consensus in the UN, which gained traction remarkably quickly (2005-2009). He summarizes it better than I could: “First, that the primary responsibility to protect its own people from large-scale human rights violations continued to lie with the sovereign state itself, and it was only if it was
unable or unwilling so to act that any responsibility shifted to the wider international community. Second, that when such a shift did occur, coercive military intervention was only something to be considered as the absolute last resort, with the overwhelming responsibility being to prevent the harm in question occurring at all, and by means that were supportive and persuasive rather than coercive. Third, that if coercive military intervention were ever to be justified, it could only be when multiple criteria—going to
both moral legitimacy and international legal authority—were satisfied. The emphasis throughout was not on ‘right’ but ‘responsibility’, not on ‘intervention’ but ‘protection’, and on that protection involving not just reaction after the event, but preventive and rebuilding strategies to stop it occurring, and recurring.”
Evans points to a successful case of the international community intervening (through non-violent means) to stop ethnic violence and broker a political compromise in Kenya in 2008. Wikipedia has an article on this, but I can’t link to it because new users are limited to 2 links per post.
On the other hand, Kuperman 2013 describes a particularly disastrous case of military intervention: NATO intervention in Libya. Kuperman argues that contrary to most reporting, the protesters were violent from the very beginning; that the police only resorted to using live ammunition after trying non-violent crowd control; and that the NATO intervention was justified based on protecting civilians, but quickly turned into a regime change mission. As the government was close to complete victory when the intervention started, the intervention actually caused many more civilian deaths than the do-nothing alternative. In the aftermath of the war, weapons from Libyan fighters flowed to Middle Eastern terrorists, Libya fractured along ethnic lines, a second civil war erupted, and ISIS set up shop in the country.
I’ll actually be impressed if anyone reads this far, so if you see this and your name is not Eduardo or Dylan, please reply with “Stanley hates Singaporean Raffles” so that I know.
Hope you all give this some thought. See you this Wednesday, April 24, at 6 pm on Sovereignty Lounge, BBB B101.