Tag: humanitarian intervention (Page 1 of 3)

#BringBackOurGirls, Feminist Solidarity & Intervention – Part Two

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 12.52.27 PMMy first post on the Duck focused on the emergence of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and campaign, pointing also to the ease with which hashtags can get appropriated and campaigns derailed. Yesterday, #BringBackOurGirls Nigeria (@BBOG_Nigeria on twitter) started a one week campaign to mark 500 days since the abduction.

Given the continuation of the campaign, in today’s post I want to dig a bit deeper in examining the urge to do “something”: Why do some events capture our attention while others fail to produce any kind of reaction? What kind of reactions are helpful? And – for whom?

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#BringBackOurGirls, Feminist Solidarity and Intervention – Part One

As a new Duck, who (like Cai & Tom) took a while to consider what to blog about, I finally decided – long-winded academic that I am – to write a series of posts on the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign. To this end, I draw on materials for a keynote I  just delivered at the University of Surrey’s Center for International Intervention‘s conference on “Narratives of Intervention: Perspectives from North and South” (#cii2015). Here I go:

Screenshot 2015-07-23 23.32.57

On April 14, 2014, 276 girls between the ages of 15-18 years were abducted from a school in Chibok, Northern Nigeria, days before they were set to take their final exams. A group named Jama’atu ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the abduction. The girls’ kidnapping, despite its spectacular scale, initially received sparse attention in the media. However, after local activists took to twitter with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on April 23, within a matter of days (by May 1, 2014), the hashtag was trending globally and the mainstream media began to cover the event putting increased pressure on the Nigerian (but also the U.S.) government to ‘do something.’

The impulse to demand that ‘something’ be done is of interest in the context of campaigns of global feminist solidarity in particular, because presumably well-meaning efforts often have adverse effects. The attention provided by global campaigns, such as the hashtag campaign for #BringBackOurGirls, brings greater awareness to the plight of women and girls around the world, but at what cost? Is awareness, even if it is based on simplistic narratives and promotes ‘solutions’ disconnected from the reality on the ground, helpful? Does it matter when celebrities hold a #BringBackOurGirls sign – or do we need a more critical stance, as Ilan Kapoor has argued? What does it mean for the first lady of the U.S. to remark on the abduction during her 2014 Mother’s Day address and to call for action?

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The Responsibility to Protect & Fear of Foreign Policy Failure

Last week I had the opportunity to partake in a workshop on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) at The Hague Institute of Global Justice (the Institute). The Institute is preparing to launch a project on R2P, seeking to bring academics, civil society and government/policy makers together to formulate insightful and policy relevant findings on R2P.   As the workshop was governed by Chatham House rules, I will only here note a few of my insights from the workshop, primarily insights about the connections between political will to uphold R2P and the theoretical and practical realities of foreign policy.

R2P is a very broad agenda with multiple loci of responsibility. The first covers the responsibilities of states to protect their own populations against war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing. A second locus of responsibility is the “international community,” for when states cannot protect their peoples or prevent these crimes, then, it also has an obligation to aid states, through various capacity building and preventive mechanisms. Third and finally, the United Nations Security Council possesses a particular responsibility. When preventive measures fail (or are not forthcoming), then the international community as represented through the United Nations Security Council has the responsibility to use all peaceful means to protect people from the four R2P crimes. If or when those peaceful means fail, then the Security Council has the responsibility to take “timely and decisive” measures, in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to protect populations. Such measures include military options, taken with or without the consent of a target state.

These three loci of responsibility track the three Pillars of the doctrine. Pillar One refers to the domestic state’s responsibility as outlined above. Pillar Two addresses the international community’s obligation and commitment to encourage and assist states (through capacity building) to uphold their Pillar One responsibilities. Pillar Three highlights the range of tools, from peaceful to non-peaceful and less coercive to more coercive, available to the Security Council and regional organizations. The pillars, it is thought, are not sequential, and some cases may only invoke or require Pillars One or Two. Regrettably, much of the debate concerning R2P tends to distill to questions about forcible intervention under Pillar Three.

This brings us to last week’s workshop. The brute fact of the matter is that R2P is a state doctrine, and much of the reality in international affairs is that states will only voluntarily undertake actions. In R2P parlance, this means that there is an ongoing question about the “political will” to uphold R2P. The discussion about political will, however, becomes blurred due to several related aspects. First and more generally, when any discussion of political will raises its head, it seems that almost everyone is working from the assumption of the political will to intervene militarily (the Pillar Three responsibility). Yet R2P proponents are quick to point out that R2P is more than this, as it includes early warning and capacity building.

This leads to a second point. States seem quick to lend rhetorical support for early warning and capacity building, but the discussion ends there. It seems, at least to me, that we ought to press them then to make more explicit commitments on these fronts. Development is linked to prevention, and perhaps we ought to change the background assumptions about political will from intervention to state building.

If this is too strong, as many states are unwilling to engage in prolonged state building enterprises, then there ought to be an open and pressing discussion about peacekeeping. If states are unwilling or unable to open their wallets, then perhaps they would be willing to provide troops. For example, as Perry and Smith note, North America and Europe have the lowest levels of troop contributions compared to Asia and Africa. A keen example is the United Kingdom, which consistently contributes around .5% of peacekeepers worldwide. Some might think that these countries are already fulfilling their obligations through foreign aid, so they are under no other or further obligations to supply peacekeepers, but this logic is unsound for a variety of reasons. Least amongst them, it overlooks the sad fact that we have no way under the current R2P doctrine to say who and who has not fulfilled their obligations or even how those obligations could be fulfilled. (See here, here and here for some discussions about this issue.)

Moreover, the gendered division of peacekeepers is also noteworthy and ought to be pressed upon from an R2P perspective. If one is looking for a way to not only keep the peace, but also to build capacity, then it would seem that including more female peacekeepers could kill two birds with one stone.   The level of gender equality is seen as a factor in conflict emergence, and if one could mitigate at least small levels of gender inequality while simultaneously saving lives, then this seems like an obvious win. However, looking at the data for female troop contributions, Crawford, Lebovic and Macdonald find that between 2009-2011 “86 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in all three years, and 99 percent of countries contributed no female personnel to an average mission in at least one of the three years, under consideration.” Capacity building and timely response seem inherently linked on this issue.

Though what is apparent from the discussions last week and the reality of R2P is that states are unwilling to commit themselves or their peoples to anything that may end up looking like foreign policy failure. Even if we can divide R2P along the three pillars, states implicitly understand that if they sign on to more than their own responsibility for R2P crimes, this may end up committing them to foreign policy agendas that they deem too risky or too costly.   As Feaver and Gelpi argue in their work, states are willing to take on costs, particularly costs in lives, if they are seen to be “winning.” Casualty aversion only becomes a key concern for states when they are losing their foreign policy battles. While the cases are different, Feaver and Gelpi’s findings are illustrative here. Whatever foreign policy goals states set for themselves, they must be able to formulate them in such a way that they can ultimately “win.” Given that R2P is so wide ranging, covering everything from developing constitutions, building infrastructure, advocating for open democracy, calling for inclusive education of citizens, as well as (non)coercive measures to force states to abide by their obligations, it is, in a sense, a foreign policy nightmare. No statesperson could adequately formulate a policy framework that could be operationalized in a way where states could show that they upheld their responsibilities, did what they could, as well as succeeded in their efforts, and were not also on the hook for more.

Some might object and say that there are R2P successes. To be sure, there are, but there are also so many “failures” that the variation in foreign policy responses as well as the success rate tell us very little about the conditions for states to act, let alone act and succeed. While states are willing to note that they and the international community have a responsibility to protect, they are unwilling to talk about the finer details, and it is my worry that this is because of the vast expanse of the doctrine itself. If states cannot be seen to win and succeed, then they will either refrain from embarking on an R2P activity, or they will choose to do so from the shadows. Risk of foreign policy failure is, then, inherently linked to the discussion of political will, and it is high time we see that the doctrine itself is breeding its own limitations.


The Responsibility to Protect: Israel & Gaza

gaza bomb

The London School of Economics Middle Eastern Studies Center recently advertised that it is going to hold a symposium on whether the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine applies to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. In particular, it is gathering a cohort of experts to debate R2P’s standing in the conflict, as well as if the norm is the correct framework to be “useful;” however, “useful” for what is not at all clear.

R2P, which holds that states have a responsibility to protect their peoples against gross crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing, is a contentious and nuanced doctrine. How it applies to the current situation in Gaza is not at all evident, given that this particular situation is not an “easy” case. The conflict is not “internal” in the way that Syria’s civil war is, and as such, few have called upon the parties to clearly uphold their “responsibility to protect.” Thus before anyone rings the death knell for R2P (again), we ought to consider the facts of the case. Continue reading


The Scarcity of Politics in Cosmopolitan Theory: Part I


Syria has raised several questions that pertain to morality, legality, and strategy in international relations.  Discussed extensively on the DuckOpinio Juris, The Monkey Cage, and elsewhere the situation in Syria has sparked a valuable debate on critical issues, both old and new. I would like to touch upon the implications of Syria for Cosmopolitanism. I think Syria has again highlighted the core dilemma of Cosmopolitan theory: the scarcity of politics. Protecting inalienable human rights requires applying normative cosmopolitan principles in practice. Application necessitates a departure from cosmopolitan normative theory towards cosmopolitan practice. And practice is inevitably political. Questions about when and how R2P applies, when intervention without Security Council authorization may be justified, and when a state looses its sovereign privileges when the government attacks its own people are about applied normativity. Cosmopolitan theory still offers relatively little on the politics of norm implementation.

At its, core, Cosmopolitanism asserts that there are “moral obligations owed to all human beings based solely on our humanity alone, without reference to race, gender, nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, political affiliation, state citizenship, or other communal particularities (Brown and Held).”  Taking the inherent moral worth of the individual as its starting point, Legal Cosmopolitanism calls for the institutionalization of key cosmopolitan normative principles. Versions of Cosmopolitanism abound. I bracket these debates for the time being and recommend Catherine Lu’s article for a useful and critically-informed review. But there is consensus among scholars that honoring and protecting the individual is the core principle shared by Cosmopolitans of all stripes.

From Cicero to Kant, Pogge to Taylor, a lot has been said about the promises as well as perils of Legal Cosmopolitanism. But as As Garrett Wallace Brown notes in a recent article, we still have not moved “from cosmopolitan normative theory to cosmopolitan legal practice.” I think this is one reason why Cosmopolitanism seems to have little to say on the implementation of R2P. Thou shalt not kill may indeed be a universal norm. Yet how it is applied in practice by people and institutions varies. Shibley Telhami noted that the U.S. should not expect a “thank you” from the Arab world for intervening. This does not mean the Arab public opinion supports the use of chemical weapons on civilian populations. But it does suggest that the Arab world has a different understanding of how civilians need to be protected and criminal actions punished.

Cosmopolitan theory generally has a hard time tackling normativity in practice. It talks about our obligations towards global compatriots and calls for reforming existing international organizations to institutionalize cosmopolitan ideals. Yet it does not always tell us what our obligations are in practice and how they relate to our other moral duties, including those to the nation. It also gives us little policy guidance on institutional reform and on the role of the state in cosmopolitics. And the political implications of applied cosmopolitanism for democracy, moral diversity, and individual autonomy, to name a few important issues, sometimes remain unexplored. Of course, progress has been made and there is growing interest in applied global normativity. But I think IR scholars could offer additional insights that will inform theory and facilitate empirical research. I will sketch out some of my thoughts in Part II of this discussion. (Image source: https://criticalworld.net/cosmopolitanism/M. Roberts)


Syria: in Defense of a Broad Military Authorization

Editor’s Note: as per my earlier announcement, I am phasing out of the Duck of Minerva. But my blogging won’t officially end for around another two weeks. That means that, although administrative inquiries should be sent to other team members, I have not gone cold turkey on the writing front.

I remain uncertain as to the wisdom of any kind of US-centered military action in Syria. But if the Obama Administration is going to act, then it needs a broad Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Indeed, today has seen significant concern about the breadth of the proposed AUMF. Jack Goldsmith writes that:

(1) Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to take sides in the Syrian Civil War, or to attack Syrian rebels associated with al Qaeda, or to remove Assad from power?  Yes, as long as the President determines that any of these entities has a (mere) connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and that the use of force against one of them would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  It is very easy to imagine the President making such determinations with regard to Assad or one or more of the rebel groups.

(2) Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to use force against Iran or Hezbollah, in Iran or Lebanon?  Again, yes, as long as the President determines that Iran or Hezbollah has a (mere) a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and the use of force against Iran or Hezbollah would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  Again, very easy to imagine.

As the history of the 9/11 AUMF shows, and as prior AUMFs show (think about the Gulf of Tonkin), a President will interpret an AUMF for all it is worth, and then some.  The proposed Syrian AUMF is worth a lot, for it would (in sum) permit the President to use military force against any target anywhere in the world (including Iran or Lebanon) as long as the President, in his discretion, determines that the the target has a connection to WMD in the Syrian civil war and the use of force has the purpose of preventing or deterring (broad concepts) the use or proliferation of WMDs in, to, or from Syria, or of protecting the U.S. and its allies from the mere threat (again, a broad concept) of use or proliferation of WMDs connected to the Syrian conflict.

Congress needs to be careful about what it authorizes.

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Intervention to Punish? Or to Protect?

stopsyriaTwo kinds of military intervention are being discussed and conflated by political elites (like Nicholas Kristof) and international diplomats. The first is an enforcement operation to punish a state for violating a widespread and nearly universal global prohibition norm against the use of chemical weapons. This is what Kristof refers to in the title of his Times op-ed, “Reinforce a Norm in Syria.”  The second is a humanitarian operation to protect civilians against a predatory government. This is what Kristof means when he compares proposed military strikes in Syria to intervention that happened in Bosnia and Kosovo and (tragically) didn’t happen in Rwanda.

Well, it’s useful to clarify which we are talking about since both kinds of operation involve very different tactics and different kinds of legal and moral reasoning. I discuss both at Foreign Affairs this morning:

[If punishing norm violators is the goal], the appropriate course of action would be to, first, independently verify who violated it…. Second, the United States would have to consider a range of policy options for affirming, condemning, and lawfully punishing the perpetrator before resorting to force, particularly unlawful force… Third, should the United States decide on military action, with or without a UN Security Council resolution, it would need to adhere to international norms regulating the use of specific weapons in combat.

But such a strike should not be confused with military action to protect civilians.   Continue reading


If Syria Used WMD, It Violated International Law. But So Would a US Intervention.

In the New York Times yesterday, Northwestern University political scientist Ian Hurd lays down the law on Syria and intervention:

As a legal matter, the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons does not automatically justify armed intervention by the United States… Syria is a party to neither the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 nor the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993… Syria is a party to the Geneva Protocol, a 1925 treaty that bans the use of toxic gases in wars. But this treaty was designed after World War I with international war in mind, not internal conflicts.

[And] the conventions also don’t mean much unless the Security Council agrees to act. The United Nations Charter… demands that states refrain “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” The use of force is permitted when authorized by the Security Council or for self-defense  — but not purely on humanitarian grounds.

Of course ethics, not only laws, should guide policy decisions…  if the White House takes international law seriously — as the State Department does — it cannot try to have it both ways. It must either argue that an “illegal but legitimate” intervention is better than doing nothing, or assert that international law has changed — strategies that I call “constructive noncompliance.” In the case of Syria, I vote for the latter.

Hurd is right about a great many things: that Syria’s obligations under treaty law are weaker than people want to think; that there are legal tensions here that the US cannot and shouldn’t try to wish away; and that a decision must be made between doing something and doing something lawfully; and that the robustness of international norms around both R2P and chemical weapons are at stake in how the US and UK frame the discussion.

But I think Hurd is both under-stating the case about Syria’s international legal obligations, and over-stating the case about US options in framing a potential military intervention. International law indeed is “changing” – but the relevant changes he describes apply to Syria’s responsibility to its civilians, not to the US’ right to reinterpret the UN Charter. And ultimately, as he points out, even Syria’s violations of law don’t make it lawful for the US to intervene without a Security Council resolution – however ethically right such an intervention may be. The two are really separate legal questions so I’ll address them separately below. Continue reading


Questions about Syria

The US and UK are apparently preparing for air strikes against the Syrian Assad regime, claiming there is little doubt that it is responsible for horrific chemical weapons attacks. Syria has allegedly crossed President Obama’s ‘red line.’

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague claims that “We can not in the twenty first century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity, that people can be killed in this way and that there are no consequences for it.”

Several problems here:

This rush to judgment is happening before the UN has established beyond reasonable doubt who is responsible. Do we really need to be reminded that WMD-related claims are worth subjecting to a decent standard of proof before going to war?

There is a greater amount evidence from the UN to date that Syrian’s rebels, or at least some of them, may have also used chemical weapons, which has been substantiated though not conclusively found by a formal investigation. If so, they did it in the twenty first century, killed people and so far the US and its allies have not applied punishment.

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Taking Liberalism on Intervention Seriously: a 12-Step Program

500px-Coalition_action_against_Libya.svgEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tim Dunne. He is Research Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the University of Queensland and the past editor of the European Journal of International Relations. tl;dr warning: ~2400 words.

In a recent lively and provocative post, Stephen Walt argues that liberal imperialists are like ‘neocons’ only more human rights-friendly. They are alike in the sense that both ‘are eager proponents for using American hard power’. And combined, these two sets of protagonists have been responsible for bad foreign policy decisions ‘to intervene in Iraq or nation-build in Afghanistan, and today’s drumbeat to do the same in Syria’.

To help cleanse the US policy community of liberal imperialist tendencies, Walt offers ’10 warning signs that you are a Liberal Imperialist’. If you fail the test, as I did, then you have the option of (1) coming out as an interventionist (2) engaging in a form of realist immersion therapy by reading texts about why interventions fail. ‘And if that doesn’t work, maybe we need some sort of 12-step program’.

The question I want to pose is whether failing the test commits you to being a liberal imperialist? Or does the particular identity construction creak and crack under scrutiny, such that it is possible to adopt a liberal position on intervention that does not ascribe to the folly and naiveté that is attributed to it?

To help address this question I’m going to offer an alternative 12-step program that critics of liberal thinking on intervention may want to enroll in. My principle reasoning is that Walt’s ‘warning signs’ lump together – and obfuscate – critical debates and distinctions within liberalism, which is why many liberals opposed the 2003 Iraq War just as they oppose a military escalation in Syria today. Some even plausibly argue that Libya came dangerously close to an illiberal intervention on the grounds that the mandate of protecting civilians morphed into the goal of regime change. Yet what no liberal countenances is ‘another Rwanda’ in which the great powers (individually and collectively) failed to take the decisive action that was being called for by the UN force commander on the ground in Kigali. Avoiding the twin problems of indifference and recklessness has been the driver of the intervention agenda that the UN has embarked upon since the turn of the new century. And this agenda has been drive forward by the search for an effective capacity to respond to mass atrocities that is anti-imperialist. I develop this point in stages 9-11 of the recovery plan. Continue reading


Syria and the magic wand

Yesterday’s NYTimes had an op-ed from Michael Doran and Max Boot on five reasons why the U.S. should show some backbone and intervene in Syria now: 1) it will help contain Iran; 2) it will help contain the regional spread of conflict; 3) it will contain the influence of Al Qaeda and other extremists in Syria; 4) it will improve U.S. relations with regional partners; and 5) it will stop the humanitarian crisis.

Syria is tragic and complicated and I certainly do not want to contribute to the narrative that says nothing can be done to protect civilians. But, it is not helpful to pretend that external intervention is a magic wand. A little due diligence please.

Doran and Boot are not just talking about arming the FSA, they are talking about using U.S. ground troops, backed by US and coalition air power, to work with Turkish troops and Jordanian troops to move into Syrian territory to support the FSA. I have no idea how they think this could/would be done, but this is not a small-scale intervention.

I see a lot of parallels between Syria and Bosnia and there may be some plausible scenarios for the limited use of international force that might help stop or mitigate the violence against civilians in this case. But all these scenarios entail a significant degree of risk — especially those with the US out in front without UN backing.

Yet, nowhere in the piece by Doran and Boot — or the broader advocacy on Syria from McCain and friends — is there consideration of potential risks or costs that are almost certain to be significant in an intervention of this magnitude. All of this is going to happen with no opposition? No civilians killed by American or international forces? No backlash? No power vacuum or disarray if/when Assad’s regime collapses? No regional, Iranian, or Al Qaeda reaction? The simple application of American military power and Iran and Al Qaeda will cower, the violence will end, the world will celebrate America’s return?

Ten years ago this month, just as the congressional debate on Iraq began to move to center stage on the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I wrote a piece that ran in the Hartford Courant titled “Baghdad or Bust.” (A major national newspaper rejected it on the grounds that I was overstating the risks of military action). I argued that the Bush administration was

…so hyper-focused on Saddam as a threat that it has been unwilling and unable to consider the range of uncertainty or the potential costs of going to war. In this sense, the current war planning is reminiscent of the ideologically motivated wishful thinking that dominated American planning in Vietnam: The administration and the war hawk pundits simply believe this war will be quick, decisive and easy.

This optimism is dangerous. It is largely speculative, and it obscures very real risks…

… fighting a war on the other side of the globe is a perilous enterprise that defies absolute predictions. It is dangerous to think otherwise. Planning for war requires strategies for fighting and for managing the potential range of costs.

One might think that in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, we are in a different place. But here we are, ten years later and still in the midst of these disasters, and the same voices are again waving the magic wand of military force, discounting the likely costs of war, and going on about how only force begets respect — selling simple platitudes such as “wield it and they will yield,” “war on the cheap,” etc… We see it in Doran and Boot’s article. And, we see it the hawks’ demands on Iran.

It hasn’t and won’t go away.


Lessons from Syria…thus far…

The violence in Syria is spiking. 1,600 killed in the past week and 100,000 new refugees in the past month. After a year-and-a-half of violence, the UN reports that there are now more than 230,000 refugees, 1.2 million internally displaced persons, more than 2.5 million in need of humanitarian aid. Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN/Arab League envoy called the violence “staggering.” Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo yesterday condemned Assad’s “crimes against humanity.”

So what have we learned over the past year-and-a-half?

First, despite all the complaints about the era of hyper-interventionism and the fears of R2P run amok, the default response by the international community — especially in complex environments — tends to be restraint. Libya appears to be the exception, not the rule. Neither the Obama administration nor the U.S. military wants any part of an intervention in Syria, the Security Council is deadlocked leaving the UN Secretary General, his special envoy, and the UN observer missions little leverage to alter conditions on the ground. Lots of talk, lots of posturing, but not much effect. In all of these regards, Syria is no different than Bosnia in 1992, or 1993, or 1994.

Second, major external military intervention likely would have significant costs — the conflict would likely escalate and lead to spill-over effects.

Third, limited (or no) intervention also likely will have significant costs — the conflict has escalated and does havespill-over effects.

In other words, the best argument for the current international response to date is that its the least worst option. That may well change…

…because, fourth, it looks like Assad’s regime is likely to become even more ruthless in the weeks and months to come. All of our indicators of the likelihood of mass atrocity events are present in Syria — a minority regime that is under acute military, political, and economic distress and one that has engaged in prior mass atrocities/genocide. It really can get worse.

Jon Lee Anderson’s reporting on the gruesome events ten days ago:

What happened in Daraya follows a pattern that is becoming chillingly routine. Last Saturday, after a withering five-day bombardment, Syrian Army forces entered Daraya and conducted a “mopping-up” operation. What occurred there can only be imagined, but the results are visible in YouTube videos that have been uploaded by activists in the days since then: hundreds of bodies piled up inside houses, in basements, and in a mosque. Many of the bodies were those of young men of fighting age, but there were also children there, and at least one toddler. Many of the victims, as in so many other body-dumps showing up in the environs of Damascus in recent weeks, bore the telltale signs of bullets to the head, fired close-up, execution-style.

Finally, while tipping points are difficult to predict, Assad’s escalation of violence against civilians, if unchecked will generate a new wave of political demands on the United States and others to do more — probably a lot more. A lesson from Bosnia two decades ago is that conflict duration coupled with spikes in intensity of violence against civilians eventually alter the political, moral, and strategic calculations about intervention. This is where the new era of intervention does come in. It may make generals nervous and realists uncomfortable, but global attitudes and norms on civilian violence have changed. We may not live in a world where “Never Again” is sufficiently strong enough to mobilize preventive or early response, but we do live in a world where “Enough is enough” eventually is triggered — my sense is that it’s just a matter of time…and lives.


R2P and the “Double-Standard Problem”

Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer (writing at the Fair Observer) argues that there’s no double-standard problem because the Libyan intervention did not establish or reflect a generalized responsibility to protect.

The R2P is a slogan that has some media efficacy but a rather dubious legal existence. That does not prevent the majority of observers asserting that it was the basis of Resolution 1973, authorizing intervention in Libya. That is not true either. The Resolution reiterated the internal responsibility “of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population”, but nowhere did it speak of an external responsibility of the international community to intervene. This does not imply that the concept did not play a role in the motivations of certain permanent members, only that it is not considered as a consensual “norm” worthy of being explicitly mentioned. 

The military intervention in Libya did not represent an implementation of a purportedly universal “responsibility to protect”, but an ad hoc consensus among powerful states. Moreover, it was motivated by both humanitarian reasons and national interests, as British Prime Minister David Cameron explained in his March 18 speeches evoking the security risk for Europe, posed by terrorist threats and potential migration pressure. It is also a question of moral image and political gain. Nicolas Sarkozy used the intervention to consolidate his presidential calibre and keep the failures of French diplomacy in Tunisia and Egypt out of the limelight.

I definitely agree that the intervention was an ad-hoc arrangement where a combination of principles, interests, and opportunities facilitated intervention, but I’ll leave the rest to international-law scholars.

Check it out.


NATO intervention in Syria Wouldn’t be Easy

That’s the takeaway from a new working paper by Brian Haggerty, a doctoral student at MIT. His conclusion:

The United States and its NATO allies no doubt possess the capabilities required to achieve some measure of air superiority over northwest Syria and to maintain patrols over population centers to defend them from some incursions by Syrian forces equipped with heavy weapons. But as this analysis shows, an intervention to establish only three safe havens, in Homs, Hama, and Idlib, linked to each other and to the Turkish border via a humanitarian corridor, would be a substantial military undertaking. Given Syria’s air defense capabilities, the ubiquity of its tanks, artillery, rockets, and mortars, and tens of thousands of al-Assad-regime allies willing to carry out acts of repression, it does not require any heroic assumptions to suggest that such an intervention would require greater resources, face greater risks, and have a lower probability of success, than any of NATO’s previous air campaigns in response to humanitarian crises in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Libya.

This conclusion is derived from two major considerations. First, Syria possesses
an air defense system with enough mobile surface-to-air missile systems that any attempt
to defend safe havens from the air would require a major, sustained suppression effort for
the duration of the campaign. This would not simply require a large expenditure of
resources up front in order to degrade Syria’s integrated air defense system (although
such a large expenditure would indeed be required); Syria’s strategic air defenses could
likely be degraded or destroyed relatively quickly. The problem is that Syria would still
possess large numbers of tactical mobile SAMs (some quite advanced) that the United
States and its NATO allies have historically had little success in destroying outright when
adversaries have failed to be anything less than cooperative…..

Second, the al-Assad regime still maintains enough strength on the ground,
whether elite elements of the Syrian Army, the thousands employed by its security and
intelligence services, or its shabiha militias, to ensure that determined allies of the regime
could still carry out attacks against civilians that would perpetuate Syria’s humanitarian
crisis. Even if NATO were willing to deploy enough strike aircraft to maintain 24-hour
coverage over safe havens in the northwest capable of engaging significant numbers of
Syrian fielded forces within short periods of time, it would still have only limited ability
to detect and identify hostile elements from the air. Crews flying strike coordination and
reconnaissance missions would have little ability to prevent the infiltration of Syrian
forces carrying small arms and capable of carrying out many of the repressive tactics that
have thus far contributed to Syria’s humanitarian crisis (e.g., the massacres at Houla and

Thus, despite a decade of advances in ISR technology since NATO operations
over Kosovo, the problem of emerging target detection and identification would still pose
a major challenge for NATO air forces without help from boots on the ground, and was
so even in the relatively permissive airspace over Libya. The “true worth” of air power, then, still appears largely to reside in its effectiveness when combined with highly trained
and capable ground forces. To hope for air power as a “low-risk” alternative to the use of
ground forces in Syria or future humanitarian interventions would thus be to
misunderstand the basis for air power’s relative success to date. 

You should read the whole thing, as Haggerty provides a nuanced and thoughtful analysis. My sense is that he’s basically right. Degrading and suppressing Syrian air defenses would be a major undertaking; NATO would need a significant ground presence of some sort to leverage its air assets against Syrian army operations. Indeed, the best argument in favor of an “easy” intervention comes down to the claim that NATO’s airpower would deter the Syrian military. But that didn’t happen in Libya, a country with far less robust military capabilities and well-trained conventional forces.


Russia and Syria

Dan Drezner asks “Dear realists: please explain Russia“:

I raise all of this because a few days ago Charles Clover in the Financial Times wrote an interesting story about Russia’s foreign policy in Syria:

A respected Moscow-based military think tank has published a report that is likely to fuel more questions about the wisdom of Russia’s uncompromising support for the Syrian regime. It concludes that Russia really has few – if any – fundamental national interests to defend in Syria…. 

Russian support for Syria appears to be more emotional than rational, according to the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a consultancy with strong links to Russia’s defence community. It characterised the Kremlin’s Syria policy as a consensus of elites who “have rallied around the demand ‘not to allow the loss of Syria’ ”, which would cause “the final disappearance of the last ghostly traces of Soviet might” in the Middle East. 

“The Syrian situation focuses all the fundamental foreign policy fears, phobias and complexes of Russian politicians and the Russian elite” said CAST.
Russia’s actual stake in Syria is not massive, according to CAST. It described Russia’sarms exports to Damascus as a “significant, but far from key” 5 per cent of total arms exports last year, and characterised Tartus, Moscow’s last foreign military base outside the former USSR, as little more than a pier and a floating repair shop on loan from the Black Sea fleet.

Now, it sounds an awful lot like CAST is arguing that Russian foreign policy leaders are wildly inflating their interests and acting in a — dare I say it — neoconservative fashion towards Syria. 

To which I respond: it depends on the meaning of “realism.”

I suppose I could just stop there. We’ve known for quite some time that “national interest” is a slippery concept (a point I made a few hours ago, come to think of it) — if not best understood as a rhetorical element of the ‘foreign policy’ genre. But if we’re going to play this game, we might start with what I’ll call “realist materialism”– the view that security interests can be assessed simply by crude material indicators. This position is popular among some realists; it holds particularly widespread appeal to critics of contemporary realism.

From this perspective, it should be clear that Moscow has some security interests in Syria. For a country that can’t adequately capitalize its defense industry, five percent (apparently around $4b) isn’t a ton, but it isn’t exactly nothing. To the extent that Syria is Russia’s last ally in the region, that has to count for something as well. But the real question isn’t so much whether Russia’s “material” stakes in Syria are minor, but what costs Moscow faces for supporting the regime. My answer: virtually none. Pretty much all the Kremlin needs to is block UNSC resolutions. No great power is going to inflict material harm on Russia for its stance on the issue. Most of the costs people write about — to reputation — are pretty wooly if we live in realist-materialism land.

But what if we are less dogmatic in our crude materialism — and, I would argue, much closer to modal realism? Then we need to consider additional concerns. First, Russia has good reasons to oppose further erosions of sovereignty norms for repressive regimes. While Russia is a much more open society than many of the authoritarian states (electoral or otherwise) it often gets lumped together with, it is still quite willing to use repressive means to protect the regime and the state (cf. the North Caucuses, where a slow-burn civil war is underway). Second, Moscow is likely still smarting from the fact that it acquiesced to a UN resolution on Libya that quickly became a pretext for NATO-sponsored regime change. Unless something happens to change its calculations, I’m not sure why Moscow should want to do anything to promote western interests in Syria.

Finally, we might move to a more sophisticated realism — one that provides a more traditional, and accurate, understanding of the scope of realpolitik. The Kremlin, in many respects, has a very traditional view of what it means to be a great power. This includes having an acknowledged sphere of influence, extra-regional allies, and a significant voice in the “international community.” We could characterize these motivations as “emotional” or “identity-based” or whatever…. The fact is that they form a coherent, realist, approach to foreign policy. Being a “great power” — and being recognized as such via these trappings — directly enhances international influence, territorial security, and other power-political imperatives. 


KONY 2012: Bandwagon Empowerment

Invisible Children‘s “Kony 2012” campaign provides many of us professors with a unique opportunity to address and learn how students respond to such campaigns and engage with human rights issues. College is an opportunity for students to feel empowered by activism and knowledge that we partly provide, shape and encourage. We do have a responsibility to course correct this empowerment when the knowledge is incomplete or skewed and the call to action may be ineffective or counter-productive.

Invisible Children, founded and directed by youth inspired to help war-weary Northern Uganda, has made their advocacy bread and butter with young college students who donate to and participate in their campaign. “Kony 2012” encourage its supporters to buy an “action kit” of bracelets and posters to pressure primarily the U.S. government to further support efforts to arrest Joseph Kony, war criminal and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, with the assumption that he is the main impediment to peace in Northern Uganda. Putting aside IC’s flawed presentation of the conflict and its solutions, and the self-involved campaign film that profiles their own success at the expense of presenting the voices of Ugandans themselves, there is a fundamentally disturbing bandwagoning effect of empowerment taking hold. Among the stinging comments on this development is from the Wronging Rights bloggers, Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub, writing for The Atlantic:

“Invisible Children has turned the myopic worldview of the adolescent — ‘if I don’t know about it, then it doesn’t exist, but if I care about it, then it is the most important thing int he world’ –into a foreign policy prescription.”

If one were to course correct the bandwagoning empowerment, the following critiques of “Kony 2012” are most instructive.

First, advocacy can be ineffective or counter-productive. In this vein, many reference Rebecca Hamilton’s research in Fighting for Darfur as evidence of how celebrity and youth activism does not necessarily translate into solutions for complex political and humanitarian crises. Moreover, the assumption of “Kony 2012” is that if only the world knew it would not stand for such atrocities and impunity. Well, those that can affect change do know. The Ugandan government, in loose coordination with other central African governments, are militarily seeking to end the LRA, the U.S. has sent Special Forces assistance, and the ICC has issued arrest warrants for top LRA leaders. The policy change that IC advocates is no more precise than that these actors should worker hard at what they’re already doing.

Second, the campaign is rightly criticized for encouraging the “white savior” complex  – arrogantly empowering outsiders at the expense of acknowledging that those affected by violence have agency in peacemaking. Despite their good intentions, IC’s film is about them, not Uganda. Thankfully some media recognize the wave of criticism from Ugandan voices that see “Kony 2012” as poorly reflecting their lived reality and expectations for justice.

Finally, does the prescribed solution of taking out Kony achieve the outcome – wait – what is the expected outcome? Technically, Northern Uganda is relatively stable as the LRA and Kony have not been active there for six years. Is the outcome “justice” or “reconciliation” for Kony’s victims? The extent of the LRA’s perpetration of atrocities runs much deeper in Acholi communities than Kony himself and some even suggest that his further stigmatization or removal will hinder reconciliation. Notable Uganda scholar, Adam Branch, also argues that the “serious problems (Ugandans) face today have little to do with Kony.”

Back to the classroom. I addressed the issue in both of my classes, one of which is The Politics of International Justice so the students in this class already have a good understanding of the justice and peace issues in Northern Uganda. Most expressed the view that awareness raising is fundamentally good and well intentioned, but that they also had a uneasiness with the film’s presentation of the conflict and were skeptical of the advocacy approach and public response. Several students said that it was frustrating for them to see friends distributing it by social media, “liking” and “sharing,” when they doubted that their friends watched the whole film or truly understand the issue. Another said that he found the bandwagon effect to be as irritating as the self-righteousness of those who opposed it. Another said that she hoped it would at least encourage students to learn more about the conflict on their own, using “Kony 2012” as a starting point.

All of this points to the cynical conclusion that “Kony 2012” accomplishes little more than raising awareness, albeit of a narrow view, of the issue and gives a false sense of empowerment to those participating in the activism of social media, emailing politicians and celebrities, and buying action kits can change can affect the future of Northern Uganda. But as posters and bracelets begin to dot campuses it’s worth encouraging, not disempowering, student’s knowledge and activism with some humility.


Retrenchment & Liberal Internationalism don’t really Fit Together (2): R2P


Here is part one, where I argued that international relations as a field has become increasingly uncomfortable with the America’s post-Cold War hegemony and the level of force used in the GWoT, but…

2. We’re drifting toward R2P

Simultaneously, we are elated that the Libya operation worked, (against all odds given the Iraq experience and what we know about foreign intervention in LDCs generally). Lots of Duck writers supported the intervention. (I found Jon Western’s arguments last spring particularly persuasive; some of my writing on Libya is here and here.) Even if you didn’t support it, and worried that it meant more ‘empire,’ it still tugged at your heartstrings to see Libyans fighting and dying against a nasty tyrant. So you probably supported the NATO intervention even though you didn’t want to.

We realize that dictatorships are extremely vulnerable only in short windows which the regime will close as quickly as possible with as much blood as necessary. If there is anytime that Syria or NK might switch to more humane governance, it looks like now, when the center is weak. As with Libya, there is a window of opportunity that is deeply tempting, despite our broad sense that the US is doing too much and killing too many people. But given how rare revolutions like Libya are, it feels ridiculous, almost immoral, to miss such a unique, human rights-improving opportunity on behalf of a generalized principle like retrenchment (‘make me a non-interventionist, but not yet’).

Further, there is growing body of evidence that intervention can actually work pretty well and most crucially reduce the killing. How many more times can you teach the Holocaust or Darfur or the Khmer Rouge or ‘rape as a weapon’ in class before you personally agree with R2P? For me this has been fairly central. I worry a lot about US ‘empire,’ but I find teaching the material that we do in IR to be so disturbing sometimes, that it makes me an unwanted interventionist. I often wonder how undergraduates must think of us as we calmly explain the ‘nuclear calculator,’ or how to gauge who is history’s worst genocidaire. So even if we broadly want US retrenchment, we are keen enough to realize that R2P is genuinely appealing and that the opportunities for it to be effective are both rare and short. Ie, if we don’t move quickly to help places like Libya and Syria when the rare opportunity arises, we leave them to yet further decades of repression. Who wants to explain that away? And realistically the only state with the ability to push through meaningful R2P interventions is the US.

In brief, the bulk of IR scholars today normatively wants two things increasingly at odds, I think: 1. a slowdown, if not end, of the GWoT – torture, indefinite detention, Guantanamo, drones, Islamophobia, national security state overkill, domestic militarism, and the relentless killing. 2. R2P – taking advantage of the momentary weakness of truly awful regimes to push through desperately needed liberal changes in the name of humanitarianism. The former results in the (much-wanted) demilitarization of US foreign policy and domestic culture, while the second requires a large, interventionist US military, because honestly, no one else can do really R2P besides the US.

I guess if you are Walt or Layne or Ron Paul, these aren’t in conflict. Realist ‘retrenchers’ think the second goal is fairly illusory, so they are comfortable foregoing it to get the sorely needed de-militarization of US life. But the work of Pinker, Goldstein, Western, the democratic peace, even the end of history, makes me more confident that humanitarian action can work and that at least minimally liberalized states can get along without killing each other or their own people. It is awfully tempting to think that just a little bit more exertion, a little more defense spending, a little more covert assistance could help push through desperately needed change in places like Syria or Zimbabwe…

But that’s exactly the ‘utopian’ attitude toward force that realists from Morgenthau to Walt would disparage, right? One small step leads to another to another, and pretty soon you’ve got US empire to handmaiden democracy everywhere all the time, with all the militarization, killing and other unintended consequences such a project must inevitably entail.

Does anyone else see these goals as an irresolvable dilemma? And what is the answer?

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.


Humanitarian Intervention

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Joshua Goldstein and I make the case that humanitarian interventions, as part of a broader set of civilian protection mechanisms, are contributing to a reduction in mass atrocity events.

To some extent, widespread skepticism is understandable: past failures have been more newsworthy than successes, and foreign interventions inevitably face steep challenges. Yet such skepticism is unwarranted. Despite the early setbacks in Libya, NATO’s success in protecting civilians and helping rebel forces remove a corrupt leader there has become more the rule of humanitarian intervention than the exception. As Libya and the international community prepare for the post-Qaddafi transition, it is important to examine the big picture of humanitarian intervention — and the big picture is decidedly positive. Over the last 20 years, the international community has grown increasingly adept at using military force to stop or prevent mass atrocities.

The doctrine has become integrated into a growing tool kit of conflict management strategies that includes today’s more robust peacekeeping operations and increasingly effective international criminal justice mechanisms. Collectively, these strategies have helped foster an era of declining armed conflict, with wars occurring less frequently and producing far fewer civilian casualties than in previous periods.

The article is juxtaposed with a thoughtful piece by Ben Valentino. Although our articles are set up as a debate, I absolutely agree with him that there are far more cost effective ways to protect civilians with early prevention efforts.

The argument Joshua and I make about humanitarian intervention is about what needs to be done when those preventive efforts have failed and when we face an imminent threat to civilians. I am firmly committed to the idea that external military intervention cannot be taken lightly and should only be used as a last resort. Pillars one and two of R2P focus on the state’s responsibility to protect its own civilians and on the international community’s responsibility to help states do so. It is only if those efforts fail, that pillar three comes into play with the pledge that the international community is prepared to take action. (Parenthetically, it is all three pillars that constitute R2P — there is no way the UN General Assembly would have unanimously supported paragraphs 138 and 139 of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document if this was simply an intervention doctrine).

Even under pillar 3, however, the obligation is for the international community to respond with a wide range of instruments of statecraft prior to considering military intervention. In Libya, UNSC Res. 1970 was an effort to forestall a mass atrocity event without military intervention. As I argued in earlier posts, when that effort failed, and an attack on Benghazi was imminent, the UN Security Council authorized the use of force in UNSC Res. 1973.

Many still contend that it is too early to tell if Libya was a “success” of intervention because there may be difficulties to come. I agree that many challenges still exist. I have just finished co-editing a book with Patrice McMahon titled The International Community and Statebuilding: Getting Its Act Together that will be published in David Chandler’s Series on Intervention and Statebuilding from Routledge early next spring. The volume build’s on an earlier piece that I co-authored with Patricewritings on Bosnia on the long-term difficulties of consolidation post-conflict stability and peace.

Yet, as Joshua and I argue in the current article, the broader point is that mass atrocity events have been averted during recent interventions — something that has not happened in cases where the international community has hesitated, acted feebly, or failed to act:

Contrary to the claims that interventions prolong civil wars and lead to greater humanitarian suffering and civilian casualties, the most violent and protracted cases in recent history—Somalia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia before Srebrenica, and Darfur—have been cases in which the international community was unwilling either to intervene or to sustain a commitment with credible force.


Qaddafi, Intervention and R2P

I’ve been in the throes of finishing a book and other matters so I haven’t had a chance to blog much lately.

A couple of quick observations on the death of Qaddafi (assuming the reports are confirmed). First, he died with almost all of the country opposed to his rule and celebrating his death. Second, he was killed and his forces were defeated by indigenous forces with the support of NATO. While we have seen a good deal of criticism of NATO, US Libya policy, and of R2P (as a neo-imperialist enterprise) in the past several months, that criticism has tended to dismiss or diminish the fact that the effort to overthrow Qaddafi was fought by a broad coalition of Libyans with widespread Libyan public support –not just a handful of NATO states.

So let’s be clear, we would not be witnessing a celebration in Tripoli, Benghazi, Misratah and elsewhere today without the combined efforts of the Libyans themselves and the international community — motivated by the concept of R2P and the norms embedded in it. Qaddafi clearly had lost domestic as well as international legitimacy. As his forces converged on Benghazi in March a global coalition concluded that a mass atrocity event was imminent. That coalition included the Arab League, leading human rights and humanitarian organizations, as well as much of the rest of the world, and they backed the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. That coalition demanded and endorsed a robust NATO-led intervention to protect civilians and their collective efforts empowered local forces to resist and ultimately to prevail.

It is true that NATO angered many by moving beyond the mandate of UNSC Res 1973 and declaring regime change as one of its key objectives in the pursuit of protecting civilians. But, regime change was not only the objective of NATO, it was also the objective of what appears to be an overwhelming majority of Libyans. Many of whom believed that if Qaddafi had been able to stay in (or later return to) power he would have slaughtered his opponents, including those civilians sympathetic to the revolution.

Critics of the Libyan intervention == or any intervention tend to dismissively proclaim that its important to “Let the Libyans decide it for themselves.” That’s a cop out. What exactly does that mean? In the absence of NATO’s air campaign we would not be witnessing the celebrations today. The Libyans wanted to, but probably could not have, settled it by themselves.

Joshua Goldstein and I have a piece on humanitarian intervention that will be out in the next issue of Foreign Affairs — due out in the next day or two — in which we argue that there is a broader aspect to Libya and to humanitarian intervention. Intervention along with R2P, peacekeeping, and a broad range of civilian protection mechanisms and norms have contributed to a dramatic decline of violence around the globe. Joshua presents this more explicitly in his new book, Winning the War on War and Steve Pinker pads that discussion in his excellent book. In short, there is a reason global violence is down — and the ideas and norms embedded in R2P, peacekeeping, and transitional justice are working.

For what its worth, R2P at its core is a concept that articulates a redefinition of sovereignty. It entails responsibility as well as rights. When a leader commits crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or genocide, the rights and protections of sovereignty are lost.

This is a revolutionary idea. It is also remarkably young. Most of us who teach IR Theory begin with Realism and teach Thucydides and the Melian Dialogue. Realists like to use Thucydides to emphasize the enduring dimensions of Realist logic across a range of international orders and 2,500 years of history. I use it to demonstrate the remarkable youth of civilian protection mechanisms in global society.

I’m not so pollyanish to believe that the death of Qaddafi will lead to full compliance with R2P or that R2P will be able to end genocide or all atrocities. But it will and has stopped many. Critics point out that we still see Assad and Bashir acting today with impunity. Yes, but most of the world recognizes that their conduct is abhorrent. And, we no longer see Charles Taylor, Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic, or Arkan. And after today, we no longer see Qaddafi. This has all happened in a remarkably short period of time. History may not have turned, but it may well be changing.

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