Intervention Blues

by | Jun 9, 2008

Simon Jenkins has a good piece in the Sunday Times about the decreasing willingness to contemplate humanitarian intervention.  The humanitarian creed, he says:

can no longer override considerations of state sovereignty and the natural caution of diplomats and generals.

While opposing every intervention known to man, Jenkins goes on to lament:

This noble cause has vanished in the wind. Almost before it is put to the test it is gone. The failure to intervene in Darfur and the deference shown to the dictators of Burma and Zimbabwe indicate a pendulum swinging fast in the other direction.

It is not hard to see why the negativity. The West has failed to intervene in Burma and ships are now being forced to return after waiting in vain. The EU military mission in Chad was originally conceived by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner as a repeat of the U.S safe zone created in the Kurdish areas in Iraq. But instead of a mandate to go into Sudan, it has had to sit on the Chadian side of the border. Problems, of course, plague missions in Iraq and Afghanistan while Kosovo refuses to solve itself.

But Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan argued against this pessimism in the Washington Post last year.

America has frequently used force on behalf of principles and tangible interests, and that is not likely to change.

The duo behind the League of Democracies, remind readers that the U.S has intervened between 1989 and 2001 with significant military force on eight occasions — once every 18 months. This interventionism, they go on, has been bipartisan — four interventions were launched by Republican administrations, four by Democratic administrations. The implication: interventionism is here to stay. It is as much a part of international politics as state sovereignty.

I have to say I agree with Daalder and Kagan. The West is only temporarily numbed by recent failures, as well as being logistically constrained because of troop overstretch. True, in Europe few governments seem willing to spend the necessary funds on the required military and civilian capability. True, the U.S electorate is in a particularly sour mood, to the extent that more Europeans now support democracy-promotion than Americans.

But this will pass. And once a new U.S president begins a draw-down in Iraq – a policy I expect from both Senators McCain and Obama – and surge in Afghanistan – again something to expect form both – the balance of sentiment will be re-calibrated in favour of intervention. 

However, we need a re-definition of interventionism, a Chicago speech for the new post-Iraq millennium. And David Milliband is the man to give it, in my view.


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