fallibilist

"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Posner, war and humanitarian aims

Eric A. Posner of Chicago law school (son of Judge Richard Posner) wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday that humanitarian intervention - in other words, using military force for ultimately humanitarian purposes, such as preventing or ending crimes against humanity or genocide - is an "oxymoron". It is not necessarily an original criticism. And his argument is not particularly watertight. For one thing, it's probably incorrect to say that humanitarian intervention as defined above was the motive or justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Of course, the invasion was intended to have positive humanitarian consequences, but it was clearly dissimilar to the Kosovo campaign in 1999, or the U.N. force recently ratified for Darfur in western Sudan. This is true, notwithstanding Posner's statement that "one of the main justifications for the war was humanitarian: to rescue suffering Iraqis from a tyrant". Humanitarian intervention as usually construed - as far as I was aware anyway - referred to preventing, deterring or ending imminent or ongoing humanitarian atrocities. This was the case in Kosovo in 1999; it would be the case with a 2007 intervention in Darfur. Of course, such interventions are usually without the authority of the state carrying out the atrocities. (The U.N. resolution mandating the Darfur force does not meet this test.)

None of this is to deny that Posner is correct when he says that "[c]ivilians suffer in all wars". Also undeniable is the statement that: "Military weapons inevitably kill civilians, and smart tyrants foil smart bombs by using their own civilians as shields. Dictators understand that a war premised on humanitarianism fails if they can make the invader kill their citizens." Furthermore: "Removing the dictator risks civil war, which is almost always worse than the original abuses." This is a point many have made against the Iraq situation, although that war was not fought on the same ground as the Kosovo or Bosnian air campaign in the 1990's, which were humanitarian interventions in the narrow sense defined above, in so far as any state will ever commit its forces to any theatre for purely altruistic reasons.

The bottom line is that each military intervention by U.S.-led coalitions in the psot-Cold War era was based on a mixture of motivations and justifications. The missions in Bosnia and Kosovo have not produced perfect situations. If they had not been carried out, the situations may well have worsened and the costs of intervening later could have been much higher. Intervening at the times and in the manner they did, the coalitions preventing such deterioration. This Posner seems entirely to ignore. He also fails to factor in that the interventions in the Balkans had important security benefits for Europe. Had they not happened, the Balkans could have disintegrated in violence. This has so far been avoided. (The fact that the initial military operations were carried out almost solely United States forces should not cloud the fact that Europe was the principal outside beneficiary in terms of national security.) The state-sponsored campaigns against the Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians (also Muslims) were ended and have not re-started.

The question is not solely whether country A is better off before or after choice A (e.g. a decision to intervene militarily, but the logic applies to all decisions made by states - and, incidentally explains why Reagan's 1980 campaign speech, as parroted this decade by Angela Merkel was logically flawed), but whether it would have been better or worse off had choice B been made instead. When the choice involves a proposed military intervention against a regime harming its own population this test must read: whether the national security interests of the outsiders, as well as the humanitarian situation of the population being harmed by the state in question, would have been better or worse off had choice B been made instead. This is the complex calculus which faces any outside response to events such as the Serb campaign against Bosnian Muslims, the Sudanese campaign against the civilian population of Darfur, or to the Taliban or Saddam Hussein regimes. Eric Posner's premises do not justify his conclusion that interventions aimed at ending humanitarian abuses can never be justified, much less that it is an "oxymoron". He also makes no effort to put forward any preferrable course of action that should have been taken in one of the cases towards he which he directs sceptical comment: Kosovo.

Of course, the aftermath of any intervention in which the outside forces commit themselves to changing the state's constitutional framework is usually where most of the dangers lie. This has been seen in Iraq, and it must be remembered in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and in all such cases. But that does not mean that democratic states should simply turn a blind eye.

6 Comments:

Blogger Michael Larkin said...

It often confuses me that so many on the supposedly humanitarian left are so opposed to the concept of humanitarian intervention. Fair enough, if one genuinely believes it's impossible, then obviously I wouldn't expect support. But it seems to me that a good proportion of people dismiss the idea simply because of the people who advocate it. Hypocrisy to say the least.

Mon Oct 16, 05:36:00 PM GMT+1  
Anonymous KC said...

Respectfully, I think you should re-read the article. Having read your post before reading Posner's, it became clear that you have misconstrued much of what he wrote. Perhaps you should try falsifying some of your own hypotheses?

Wed Nov 01, 07:03:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Karole said...

Thanks for your comment.

I didn't willingly misconstrue any argument. Having re-read Posner's piece and my own, am pretty confident I didn't do so accidentally either. If you were to tell me where it is I went wrong in my post, I'd be happy to admit any error(s).

Thu Nov 02, 01:35:00 PM GMT  
Blogger tortoise said...

nice blog

Sat Nov 18, 01:28:00 AM GMT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good idea. Similar to a discussion I saw on this Disney Travel.

Thu Dec 07, 06:16:00 AM GMT  
Blogger Omni said...

Excellent post!! :-)

Tue Mar 06, 03:09:00 AM GMT  

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