Monday, April 11, 2011

Good Wars Gone Bad


All wars, conflicts and assorted accoutrements are tricky and risky. Chock full of funintended consequence or as vClausewitz could have written - 'foggy frictions'. Wars to rescue the tormented or genocide'd doubly so.

Perhaps the most essential volume in any interventionists library is the incredible "Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Interventions"

Stuff like exit strategies, force constraints, time limits, multi and unilateralism or ROE's go way back to the mid 1800's when the Concert of Europa rocked out and launched a military humanitarian intervention to save Syrian Xians from slaughter in the Ottoman Empire.

That mission and others are pregnant with lessons for today too:

"...What seemingly counted most in Libya was that civilians in Benghazi might, as 44 said last month, “suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

"...This raises the first inevitable problem: Since the goal is the defense of humanity, and there are humans facing violence in many places, how do you intervene in one spot and not another without drawing accusations of hypocrisy?

"...And if the threat to innocent human life in Libya was so great that it justified emergency violations of national sovereignty, then why settle for half-measures such as a no-fly zone

"...A major reason for limiting the number of interventions — and for giving each intervention a limited mission — stems from a second classic problem: Western democratic leaders have powerful political incentives to do humanitarianism on the cheap. Sarkozy, spectacularly unpopular at home and facing a presidential election next year, may score political gains for his leadership, but there is more for politicians to lose if the intervention goes badly than there is to gain if it goes well.  

Indeed, the very success of a humanitarian intervention can undermine its rationale and public support. 

"...100,000 people might have been slaughtered in Benghazi. But since those kinds of gruesome headlines have been forestalled, all anyone can see are the problems of an ongoing war. And once a one-sided slaughter becomes a two-sided war, it is easier for butchers to try to imply a moral equivalence — as when Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic complained that NATO leaders were the real war criminals for bombing Belgrade in 1999.

"...The result is a third recurring quandary: Humanitarian interventions tend to use limited means, while flirting with maximalist goals.
"...This leads to a fourth perennial problem: Humanitarian wars, like all wars, tend to escalate. In Libya, the shared original objective might have been to protect civilians, not to overthrow the regime, but what if Colonel Khadaffy retaliates against outside intervention with terrorism or by killing more civilians, after the U.N. Security Council has approved action precisely because he was killing civilians?

Pic - "And this struggle we face now cannot be won by staying out; but by sticking in, abiding by our values, not retreating from them"


jay said...

Wow, I could almost actually read all the way through this post.