Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Have Military Interventions by the Western States, in response to humanitarian crises since the end of the Cold War, been motivated by moral considerations?


Since the end of the Cold War the world has observed many military interventions, mainly by the Western states towards the Third World, in response to humanitarian crises. Human rights play a great role in modern politics and international relations. Since their birth, after World War II, they have moved to the centre of world politics. “The new international discourse of human rights activism no longer separates the spheres of strategic state and international aid from humanitarianism”[1], but the two are integrated within foreign policy, ethically and morally.
            Tony Blair in 2004 made a remark which is important in understanding how the world has changed and will continue to transform in a more humanitarian manner, emphasising the decreasing importance of sovereignty; “what is needed, he said, is a different philosophy in international relations from the traditional one that has held sway since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648”[2].  Here one can see that there is a debate in international politics on whether humanitarian intervention is acceptable, since it underestimates the sovereignty of the states, especially the ones which exist in the Third World. “States are all formally equal and must refrain from interfering in each other’s domestic jurisdiction”[3]. However, due to the emphasis given to humanitarian values and morals this is today challenged.
            In this article some key points will be analysed, understanding how humanitarian military interventions function, what truly motivates them. Through paradigms, especially from the post Cold War era, will be stated, such as Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Somalia. Below we see the universal acceptance of Human Rights, the importance of the media, which manipulates the states’ decisions, the different opinions on whether military intervention is morally driven, the pre-emptive intervention, the disagreement about moral values by the states and how morality is emphasised and centralized to justify many actions in international relations.    


            Since the end of World War II the world has changed, international politics have transformed and so have moral values. Because of the prevalence of the Western states and their way of life we acknowledge the globalization of liberal values. Under these, one can find “The International Bill of Human Rights”[4]. This is the moral basis for any military intervention by the West due to violations of human rights.  Although this is the theory, in practice we see that this is in many cases far from the truth. Interventions are also driven by economic, political, geopolitical and military factors. “The political ends are redefined as ethical...humanitarianism became an ambiguous concept capable of justifying any form of external intervention”[5].This is why this idea has many supporters and critics.
            Before analysing the humanitarian intervention we need to understand how the non-western world understands and accepts or not this idea, born in the West. Although the declaration talks concerning universal human rights, freedom of speech and many other liberal ideas, these are not accepted by many sovereign nations; they see it as another way of expressing and realising Western imperialism in the modern global political sphere. For example the Middle East and many Asian states have “criticized the UN and Western policy for its imposition of Western values”[6].This is why since 1981 we notice the enforcement of the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, 1990. The main critics against humanitarian intervention are the Muslim, Asian and African states; in general the post colonized states which see anything from the UN and the West as imperialistic. Nevertheless, through the above two declarations one can identify the universality and dominance of human rights, which refer specifically to the individual.
Human rights are popular within Western countries and this is highlighted by the media which manipulates the states and its citizens to take action.  Hunger, famine, pain are all presented in a way that would convince the public and the political actors that they have to act. They control the manner with which help is given and to whom it is donated. “Journalists and media editors knew in advance what a ‘humanitarian story’ looked like”[7]. Facts and events are broadcasted in a structured way, so the viewer will not stay neutral; this again is done in an ‘inhumane’ manner; when journalists look for victims and the extreme circumstances, for example raped women in Kosovo, they do not show the whole picture and the true events, setting aside the political background of these atrocities. By emphasising on the extreme paradigms the truth and the facts are hidden since they do not satisfy the presenters and the journalists, who are more interested in selling a story and making numbers, than giving the facts that need to be given. This in a sense dissolutions the states who intervene in Third World countries; and again the media here plays a great role, in showing the Western states as messiahs, who come and rescue the citizens of other countries against the cruel and oppressive rulers and governors. Media is not in any case objective. This power that the media obtains is called the CNN affect, meaning that the war is broadcasted live, showing part of the truth, the part which justifies the states policies.   
Are these military interventions motivated by moral considerations? We can say that they are, up to a certain point. Humanitarian intervention, according to Welsh, is “coercive interference in the international affairs of a state, involving the use of armed force, with the purposes of addressing massive human rights violations or preventing widespread human suffering”[8].  However, the main motivations are economically and politically driven, as Marxism would see it; especially when we have statements like the one given by President Nixon in 1968, where he testified that: “the main purpose of American aid is not to help other nations but to help ourselves”[9]. A great example of the prestige the USA had to uphold was after the failed intervention in Sudan, by also intervening in Rwanda, pointing out that their main goal was not the protection of human rights but to show the world their capabilities.  Concluding this part we understand that in the modern epoch, as “David Rieff has contended, in the post-cold war era it has become virtually impossible for a Western democracy to wage war without describing it to some extent in humanitarian terms”[10]. From this view it is recognized that humanitarian intervention is another name and manner of going to war against another state in the modern international anarchical arena. Belloni stresses that “Western governments can cynically take over the humanitarian vocabulary and use it for their own narrow-minded political interest”[11]. Nonetheless, today military intervention and humanism “is no longer an oxymoron because military action has increasingly been justified through defending human rights goals”[12]. The main goal is to help the victims, it is seen as unimportant the way with which this is realized. 
An additional central point which has been identified in many interventions, such as Somalia, is the inadequate forces that are sent to prevent the humanitarian catastrophe. “Major Powers declare themselves in favour of human rights, but refuse to seriously commit to their defence”[13]. The West will not send in armed forces which can be endangered or killed. They prefer to fight from the sky, bombing cities, strategic buildings and towns from a long distance. This is a major moral issue, waging war, fighting battles when at the same time the soldiers are safe from harm, killing people on the ground. Peacekeepers and humanitarian workers are despatched to find a solution, just like in Bosnia. A key problem that arises in many humanitarian interventions is the terrible coordination between the UN and the most important states which help, in most cases the US; for instance in Somalia, where “American leaders trying to get in and out of Somalia as quickly as possible, simply postponed the problems that logically followed from the intervention. The United Nations was left to confront those ramifications and inevitably found the going rough”[14]. All of these facts are also shown in the Hollywood movie ‘Black Hawk Down’, which emphasises the air strikes and the inadequate military presence in Somalia.   Wrong decisions have been dramatic in the course of many interventions. Generally “Americans and others need a much clearer idea of what humanitarian intervention entails and how they are realistically going to achieve their goal”[15].
An additional example is Rwanda. The states which could prevent the mass killings did not recognize the importance of the situation, until it was too late.  The US and UN held back “from action where more awesome disaster than anywhere else called for it”[16].  Yugoslavia is a similar instance, where the split of the country unfolded without any intervention. From this we have the humanitarian interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. The last one was seen by the West, especially by Clinton and Blair as a “moral responsibility to stop the terrible atrocities taking place in Kosovo”[17]. The Bosnian Muslims suffered the most; however, again NATO and the UN are blamed for not acting decisively, just like in the cases of Sudan and Rwanda.
What should not be forgotten is the fact that states, the UN and NGOs, which intervene due to humanitarian factors, support certain groups. An example is the Serbian case, where NATO supported the Albanians; nevertheless, “after the war the Alliance let Albanian extremists take revenge against Serbs and Roma civilians”[18]. Humanitarian intervention here seems not to be motivated by moral consideration, but it is mostly driven by politics and economics.
The previous paradigms emphasize the crucial critical concerns that many scholars, citizens and states have, concerning the military intervention. “A group of states explicitly justify their use of force against another state on humanitarian grounds in a context where there was no explicit Security Council authorization”[19]. In the future the world might witness many instances where powerful nations attempt exactly this, due to economic and political gains.
A ‘moral reason’ for intervening in the post 9/11 era is that any humanitarian violation is considered as a breach in international peace and security. “As Simon Chesterman observed the terrorist acts of 2001 brought home to Western states the reality that instability within or collapse of a state anywhere in the world can have implications that reach far wider than that particular region”[20]. This factor has given birth to a fairly new idea which has justified many interventions up to now, the “pre-emptive intervention”[21]. Although there is no direct threat to the US or the world we see that wars like the one in Iraq are validated through this idea.
“Disagreement about moral values”[22] is a significant issue here. Although this is true, especially between the Western and the non-western states; we acknowledge that human rights are universal, as Henkin describes: “Human rights is the idea of our time, the only political-moral idea that has received universal acceptance”[23],  that is why there is a wide acceptance of them, even though many states violate these rights within their jurisdiction, such as “China, which has kept the language of international recognized human rights, seemingly as an inescapable precondition to its fully recognition as a great power”[24].
  Morality is emphasised and centralized to justify many actions in international politics. Prime Minister Tony Blair in one of his speeches said that “there was no conflict between upholding humanitarian values and protecting national interests...values and interests merge”[25].  Humanitarian interventions via military force are thus validated due to morality and prevention of any catastrophe, recent example is the military intervention which was announced by George W. Bush as being an “action of generosity of America and our allies in the aid of the oppressed people of Afghanistan”[26]. While one can identify the negatives and accentuate them, the world has to accept them because even though there are limitations and imperfections it is a sign that the modern world cares for the universal values and rights that the individual has. Humanity tries and in certain circumstances achieves the well being of civilians around the globe and the prevention of mass murders and genocide. This can be seen as a positive indication, despite the prevalence of interests in the process, which can shape the developments. 
Even though there is a positive side within a military intervention by western states in response to humanitarian crises and many have been motivated by moral considerations, one can easily identify the oxymoron. States which are “involved in the humanitarian business”[27] are those which are also selling weapons to other regions of the world.  Military intervention in the future should be more organized; the main institutions and states such as the US and the UN should be more cooperative because this concerns the well being of innocent civilians, who are just caught up in awful inhumane situations, such as mass murders. Whatever the reasons are for a certain state to intervene for humanitarian reasons, political, economic and geopolitical, it is also motivated by moral considerations. This is reassured by some examples, but again partially. In any case lives are saved, genocides are prevented, totalitarian regimes are been destroyed. The first article of ‘The International Bill of Human Rights’ emphasises: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”[28]. This brotherhood, felt by all the nations is what morally justifies any intervention, even military, when it is truly motivated for humanitarian reasons.    


[1]  Chandler, D. ‘The Road to Military Humanitarianism: How the Human Rights NGOs Shaped A New Humanitarian Agenda’, HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 23/3 (August 2001)- EJOURNAL, p. 678
[2] Thompson, H. ‘The Case for External Sovereignty’, EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 12/2 (2006), - EJOURNAL, p. 252
[3] Belloni, R., ‘The Trouble with Humanitarianism’, REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 33/3 (July 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 451 
[4] United Nations, HUMAN RIGHTS A Compilation of International Instruments, (New York, United Nations Publications), 1978, p. 1
[5] Chandler D., From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, (2006), p. 48
[6] Halliday, F., ‘Relativism and Universality of Human Rights’, HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 29/2 (May 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 152
[7] Chandler, D. ‘The Road to Military Humanitarianism: How the Human Rights NGOs Shaped A New Humanitarian Agenda’, HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 23/3 (August 2001)- EJOURNAL, p. 690
[8] Welsh, J. (ed.), HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 2004, p. 3
[9] Chandler, D. ‘The Road to Military Humanitarianism: How the Human Rights NGOs Shaped A New Humanitarian Agenda’, HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 23/3 (August 2001)- EJOURNAL, p. 687
[10] Welsh, J. (ed.), HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 2004, p. 182
[11] Belloni, R., ‘The Trouble with Humanitarianism’, REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 33/3 (July 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 458 
[12] Chandler  D., From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, (2006), p. 49
[13] Belloni, R., ‘The Trouble with Humanitarianism’, REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 33/3 (July 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 458 
[14] Clarke, W. And Herbst ‘Somalia and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention’, FOREIGN AFFAIRS 75/2 (March/April 1996)- EJOURNAL, p. 75
[15] Clarke, W. And Herbst ‘Somalia and the Future of Humanitarian Intervention’, FOREIGN AFFAIRS 75/2 (March/April 1996)- EJOURNAL, p. 85
[16] Betts, R. ‘The Delusion of Impartial Intervention’, FOREIGN AFFAIRS 73/6 (November/December 1994)- EJOURNAL, p. 30
[17] Wheeler N., Saving Strangers, Humanitarian Intervention in International Society, (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 2000, p. 266
[18] Belloni, R., ‘The Trouble with Humanitarianism’, REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 33/3 (July 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 472
[19] Wheeler N., Saving Strangers, Humanitarian Intervention in International Society, (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 2000, p. 242
[20] Welsh, J. (ed.), HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 2004, p. 181
[21] Owens Patricia, ‘Beyond Strauss, Lies and the War in Iraq: Hannah Arendt’s Critique of Neoconservatism’, Review of International Studies, Vol. 33, no. 2, 2007, p. 277
[22]Hurrell Andrew, ed. Dunne Tim and Wheeler, Human Rights in Global Politics, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press), 1999, p. 297
[23] Chandler D., From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, (2006), p. 1
[24] Donnelly J., ‘The Relative Universality of Human Rights’, HUMAN RIGHTS QUARTERLY 29/2 (May 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 289
[25] Wheeler N., Saving Strangers, Humanitarian Intervention in International Society, (Oxford, Oxford University Press), 2000, p. 267
[26]Chandler  D., From Kosovo to Kabul and Beyond: Human Rights and International Intervention, (2006), p. 1
[27] Belloni, R., ‘The Trouble with Humanitarianism’, REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 33/3 (July 2007)- EJOURNAL, p. 474 
[28] United Nations, HUMAN RIGHTS A Compilation of International Instruments, (New York, United Nations Publications), 1978, p. 1

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