Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The New Radical Humanitarian Interventionists

The United Nations General Assembly has begun debate on a proposal to adopt the controversial Responsibility to Protect, which would allow nations to use military force to prevent genocide and other humanitarian crimes against vulnerable populations. In reaction, several political and civil leaders are raising concerns that "R2P" will inevitably favor western influential nations like the United States, who could use the cover of humanitarian intervention to further their own geopolitical ends in developing nations. American historian Noam Chomsky and Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong'o were two of several panelists who presented their opposition to R2P at a recent press hearing in the UN. You can watch a video of the panel discussion here.

The UN debate is mostly focusing on the use of military force in cases where a genocide or war crimes are taking place. But there is no question that in the west there is a growing chorus of actors who would like to see the authority apply to an ever expanding definition of humanitarian crises. Some of these thoughts verge on revolutionary attacks against 20th century ideals of national sovereignty in the developing world in the name of assisting the world's poor.

A two-sided debate about intervention and development is in this months issue of the Boston Review as a part of a new forum in the magazine. Below are just a few descriptions of what the pro-interventionist believe the world would look like if richer countries did have such a right to intervene when necessary. The discussion is instructive for people considering the merits of "R2P".

Use Military Force to Oppose a Stolen Election

Peter Collier-
"So what could we do about a stolen election in Guinea-Bissau? The most radical suggestion is to use the provision of security as an incentive for accountability....To deter an incumbent from stealing an election, the consequences would need to be potent because the incumbent has so much to gain. We can reasonably assume that merely linking assessments of the conduct of the election to aid would not be sufficient. The president might genuinely despair a reduction in aid, but he will be more concerned for his own power. A link to security may, then, be more effective."

“The world's poorest countries have diverged from the rest of mankind. They will never tap their vast reservoir of frustrated human potential unless the international community provides basic public goods that go beyond the typical aid agenda.”
Nancy Birdsall (Center for Global Development)-
"First, find ways to foster sovereignty of the people instead of the incumbent government. Mo Ibrahim—the Sudanese founder of Celtel, the mobile phone service provider that has swept Africa—gives an annual prize to democratically elected African heads of state who step down (such as Mozambique’s Joaquim Chissano) when their terms end. Nicolas van de Walle, an Africa expert at Cornell University, recommends that donors make clear that they will halt aid where heads of state hang on beyond twelve years; that could apply today to Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Uzbekistan. Raghuram Rajan, while Chief Economist at the IMF, suggested that in post-conflict countries, voters might like the option of electing a non-national for one transitional term. For example were Somalia to settle down, Somalis would almost surely elect Nelson Mandela or Kofi Annan over any one of their warlords."

Replace State Sovereignty With International Security/Accountability

Peter Collier-
"Why is outside intervention necessary? The countries of the bottom billion are, paradoxically, too large to be nations, yet too small to be states. They are too large to be nations because, with rare exceptions, too many different peoples, with too many distinct ethnic and religious identities, live in them...If countries of the bottom billion are structurally unable to supply security and accountability, then some form of international supply is required."
"But more commonly, ordinary people are still befuddled by an outdated rhetoric: international pressure for accountability is presented by threatened elites as a return to colonialism. Protected by this conveniently emotive assertion, presidents grandly claim that they are defending national sovereignty. However, since they are usually not accountable to citizens, what they are really defending is presidential sovereignty."
Stephen D. Krasner-
"The only answer—and the one that Collier and others have come to reluctantly—is for external actors to exercise authoritative control over some state functions...Ideally, the assumption of executive authority results from a contractual agreement entered into voluntarily by all relevant parties."

"Political leaders in these states have every reason to horde power, especially when there are natural resources that can be looted. Citizens are rarely in a position to make credible threats of revolt, which might encourage leaders to create more responsive institutions. But, if third parties play a more decisive role—for example, by conditioning aid on good governance—there is some hope."
You can read counter-arguments to the pro-interventionists in the "Development in Dangerous Places" debate in the Boston Review.