The debate around military intervention for the purpose of human protection rests mainly on the infringement of state sovereignty that results from the act of intervention. The examples of Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia and Somalia help to explain the intervention dilemma. Even when intervention was used by the world community, there were questions asked about the legitimacy and intention of the actors involved. Rwanda stands as a blatant example of the dangers of inaction where the UN virtually stood and watched while wide scale genocide was taking place (Chapter1, The Responsibility to Protect, 2001, p.1). The fact that intervention in an armed conflict can actually exacerbate the scale of the problem is somewhat ironic as the intended purpose was to mitigate human suffering, not to augment it.
The very formation of the Commission was an effort to achieve some form of political consensus, given the millions of lives at stake. The Commission has used diversity of opinions including people directly affected by armed conflict and views of intergovernmental and non- governmental organizations. The Commission highlights the importance of developing credible and consistent measures that can serve to guide states in their collective action to prevent loss of human lives.
The Commission considers the traditional language used in the intervention debate as obstructive, as the phrase ‘right to intervene’ has negative connotations. It sidelines the human suffering and highlights the transgression of national sovereignty by using the word’ right’. Therefore, it only makes sense to change the wording to ‘the responsibility to protect’, a term that bridges the divide between intervention and sovereignty. This concept implies that the world community can only intervene when the state directly affected has failed to alleviate human suffering. This acts like a lifeguard for millions of otherwise helpless individuals stranded in the midst of violence. The responsibility for intervention can be traced to specific legal obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law. The responsibility to protect does not only involve reaction but it also encompasses the responsibly to prevent and the responsibility to rebuild.
The world today is very different from that of 1945, with the birth of new states and the rise of transnational actors like terrorism increasing the complexity of the international society (Chapter1, The Responsibility to Protect, 2001, p.3). This increased diversity of opinions has made it all the more difficult to reach a consensus. The end of the Cold war has resulted in the birth of new internal conflicts which coupled with modern technology, have made the war more prone to armed violence.
In light of the growing incidence of armed conflict, prevention of a conflict is perhaps the most feasible result the world community can accomplish through collective action. Military intervention should be used as the last resort, employed only when all other peaceful methods to diffuse the conflict have failed. Intervention only makes sense when there is the threat of a large scale loss of human life and when the intervention does not aggravate the extent of human suffering. Also, Security Council authorization of the intervention provides the legitimacy deemed crucial in an increasingly globalized world.
Membership in the UN itself was a seal of recognition for sovereign states as it meant that it was now the obligation of the organization to protect the territorial integrity of its member states. The conception of state sovereignty fosters international peace and order as the sense of fairness engendered by the concept of each state, irrespective of size and power, as exercising complete domination in its territory, gives an equal footing to all states. These founding principles led to a dilemma, as the increasing intra- state violence meant that international peace was jeopardized at the cost of national sovereignty. An organization that was formed to protect the sovereignty of its members now found out that doing so led to the undermining of its other fundamental goal- maintaining international security. The solution to the clash of these two fundamental principles comes from an understanding of the fact that sovereignty involves a degree of responsibility. State sovereignty does imply a dual responsibility which includes respecting the rights of citizens in addition to respecting the sovereignty of other states. By signing the UN charter, the member states have effectively agreed to protect and safeguard the lives of citizens. The changing of the definition of sovereignty is a central element of the Commission’s work.
The definition of human security has become broader with the passage of time, allowing for not only the physical safety of the citizens but also for their economic and social well being. The traditional definition of security does not fully capture the true magnitude of human suffering. Increasing expectations about human rights can be traced to evolving international standards of conduct for nations in their treatment of citizens. This is intricately linked to the emergence of international institutions with the sole purpose of monitoring human right violations. It is worth noting the influence of the information revolution and global mass media which have made it difficult for governments to condone cases of ethnic cleansing or genocide in even remote areas of the world.
The emerging guiding principle that military intervention is warranted when the state is unable or unwilling to stop conflict involving significant human loss is supported by an array of legal sources. This is, in essence, the growing realization in the world community of the responsibility to protect citizens when in danger. The commission believes that the increasing evidence points out that the Charter’s disinclination to endorse military intervention is no longer so acute as to completely rule out intervention as an option.
Edward N. Luttwak makes a strong case against inconclusive intervention which he advocates prolongs the scale of human suffering by allowing both sides to recuperate after the initial outburst. He argues that there is a natural course of war which ultimately leads to peace after both sides exhaust all of their resources and have no other option but to disengage fighting. This self destroying characteristic of war is not all that bad as it allows for emergence of lasting peace and stability.
Luttwak provides examples of countries like Sri Lanka and Sudan where the conflict is confined to a particular region, allowing for the perpetuation of the war as the unaffected areas can provide much needed supplies (The Curse of Inconclusive Intervention, Turbulent Peace, 2001, p.265). This results in protraction of the war which in turn increases the human death toll. Luttwak makes the point that the ultimate destruction wreaked by any conflict is in some ways crucial to its very termination and the subsequent surfacing of peace and stability.
Luttwak also provides two exceptions to the general rule and goes on to show explain them. In these cases, internal wars have continued without the self effacing feature of conflict coming into play. The first reason that Luttwak provides for this eccentricity pertains to the fact that in most African conflicts, two sided armed fighting is rare. Instead, in most cases, we see one armed group attacking unarmed civilians incapable of defending themselves. This, by definition, does not constitute armed conflict and it also means that there is no weakening of any of the warring factions. His second explanation centers on the natural resources that are used by the perpetuators of aggression to finance the conflict. The fact that these resources can be extracted even with the absolute destruction of infrastructure aids in our understanding of why wars in Africa persist.
A war normally involves a goal so magnificent that the sacrifices of blood, sweat and money are not considered a waste in the process of achieving the desired result. In many cases, the great sacrifices of the war can only be tolerated if the aim used to justify war in the first place is grand enough. This provides an incentive for the group to extend conflict in the hope of finally achieving the aim. Such behavior is intricately linked to human psychology as the human desire to reach out for all that symbolizes splendor is a reflection of the rapacious side of human nature, despite the tremendous physical and economic cost that accompanies such a course of action. Luttwak defines this desire as the strengthening of the political commitment to continue fighting.
That said, if the war goes on without traces of any sign of victory, then humans resort to their rational side. As rationality reigns supreme, the emphasis shifts to minimizing the losses and ending the conflict as nothing rewarding can be possibly achieved. It may seem ironic that this is the stage where conditions needed for lasting and durable peace are engendered. Luttwak asserts that untimely intervention can disrupt the process that culminates in peace.
Luttwak is highly critical of the United Nations; an organization which he believes impedes peace and prolongs war by arranging ceasefires and armistices. He provides us with the example of the Arab Israeli war of 1948-1949 where the ceasefire merely served as a breathing space for the combatants, allowing them to rearm and resume the bloody conflict after the momentary respite (The Curse of Inconclusive Intervention, Turbulent Peace, 2001, p.267). Luttwak likens an armistice to a ‘frozen war’ owing to its ability to prolong armed conflicts. In the absence of great power wars, these two are mainly used to end wars between lesser powers. It is somewhat tragic that the only reason why these great powers feel compelled to take some sort of action is because of the increasing power of the global media which lays bare the terrible inhumanity of war on television. He also castigates the UN peacekeeping contingents for choosing to safeguard their own lives over those of the defenseless civilians. Instead of providing protection to the civilians, their very presence leads to a false sense of security, thus deterring the civilians from escaping their inevitable deaths. The already bleak picture is further dimmed by the inclusion of multilateral organizations that increasingly intervene in armed conflicts around the world. Humanitarian relief agencies are also culpable for exacerbating the scale of human suffering. Consider how the higher living standards in the camps established by UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) paved the way for the camps becoming into permanent homes as opposed to a transitory residence for the Palestinian refugees. (The Curse of Inconclusive Intervention, Turbulent Peace, 2001, p.270). These camps keep afresh the memory of the 1948 Arab – Israeli war, thus prolonging the conflict. Perhaps the most egregious of all is the work of some NGOs who feed the very conflict they aim to alleviate. In order to attract attention that ultimately leads to more and more donations, these NGOs protract war for their narrow minded interests by providing material aid to the combatants.
Luttwak’s approach is rather eccentric as he allows for innocent lives to be lost until the mutual exhaustion begins to weigh in to terminate the conflict. In an increasingly globalized world where the media is very powerful, such an approach is rendered impotent as the global outcry at the merciless slaughter will be too loud for any country to ignore. The exhaustion of resources may take years, even decades to ensue and it is inconceivable to allow all the bloodshed in the hope of achieving peace after millions have been wiped out of the face of the Earth.
For me, the ICISS's Report on the Responsibility to Protect gives a better understanding of intervention; although it too is not bereft of conspicuous flaws. In its appreciation of the real world difficulty of intervention over national sovereignty, the ICISS report tries to seek solutions to what is perhaps the most important issue in the realm of intervention. Its wide base and diversity of opinions give it the credibility deemed imperative in a world of varying and often contrasting opinions. The responsibility to prevent is a central theme of the report and which I feel is the real answer to the burgeoning armed conflict in the world. If we were to understand the root causes of the conflict and work on them, then speedy resolution becomes a possibility. That this happens without the loss of precious human lives makes prevention the best tool in our armory to counter armed conflict. Also, the effective changing of wording from ‘right to intervene’ to ‘the responsibility to protect’ is very astute as it shifts the focus to the millions of people under imminent danger from the outbreak of war. By aligning sovereignty with responsibility, states are themselves made the primary guardian of their citizens.
The ICISS report also has some blemishes. The responsibility to react, prevent and rebuild amounts to a serious amount of work and given the plethora of armed conflicts around the world at any given time, it becomes difficult to see how the world community can possibly commit itself on such a large scale. The idea of moral force and collective conscience as causing nations to help distant countries is overblown and hardly applicable to the real world where national interest reigns supreme.
Intervention and State Sovereignty, International Commission on, (2001). The Policy Challenge. The Responsibility to Protect, 1-8
Intervention and State Sovereignty, International Commission on, (2001). A new Approach: “The Responsibility to Protect”. The Responsibility to Protect, 11-16
Intervention and State Sovereignty, International Commission on, (2001). The Responsibility to Prevent. The Responsibility to Protect, 19-23
Luttwak, Edward Nicolae, (2001). The Curse of Inconclusive Intervention. Turbulent peace: The Challenges of Managing International Conflict, 265-272.