The politics of interventionism

We all recognise that if an international force on the scale proposed is committed to Somalia, against the opposition of the loco] warlords, then in effect you are seeing a takeover of a countiy by the international community. ---an unnamed US official quoted in Newsweek.

Published: Friday 15 January 1993

THE end of 1992, there was no dearth of Western libk vwring to the view that sovereignty, as a concept mming the interpersonal behaviour of nations, must be limited.

For instance, Jan Tinbergen, the eminent Dutch nowist who won the world's first Nobel Prize for economists and who has been a staunch supporter of his Labour Party, points out in a paper published pal in USA: "Great problems in today's world can on longer be solved by decisions of sovereign national terconnections among nations have grown to In extent that such decisions inevitably affect the of other nations. Too often, national decision processes fail to consider the welfare of other Today, many countries, especially large ones, don't accept interference with internal affairs', because ider themselves 'sovereign' nations. A necesessary crucial step in the creation of a peaceful world of each nation's sovereignty be surrendered to level of government. In principle, such transfers al sovereignty are needed for the welfare of modons to be taken into account."

It is obvious that the environment is one issue ations seeking to the welfare of their do not zens often &m. account the welfare tions.

But what is to be done a nation is unable to the needs and welfare citizenry?

This issue was raised by economist John Kenneth Galbraith in a recent lecture in New Delhi. "In the worst cases of internal disorde and cruelty," "we must have a new and internationally sanctioned suspension of sovereignty. Where there has been human cruelty and slaughter, as recently for long years in Lebanon, Mozambique and Ethiopia and now disastrously in Somalia and Bosnia, there must be effective action to arrest it. There must be a United Nations mandate for governing countries that do not and cannot govern themselves. No longer can domestic conflict and the associated starvation and death be protected by sovereign authority. Sovereignty must be suspended until peace is restored. This involves no slight change in public attitudes, but the change is now overdue."

That change in public perception is already beginning to take place, especially in Western nations. A highlevel group of world leaders, chaired by Helmut Schmidt of Germany and including UK's Lord Callaghan and Canada's Pierre Trudeau, stated its case as follows: "Universal standards and principles of democracy exist, but there is no uniformity or commonality of democratic practice. Democracy is inconceivable without pluralism. Yet, there is a universal dimension to values, first and foremost to the sanctity of human rights. It is the individual - and not the state or relations between states who ought to be fully recognised as the subject of international law. To protect human rights, a right to intervene is indispensable in the case of massive and sustained violations (emphasis in original)."

Willy Brandt's Foundation for Development and 4 Peace in fact hold dmeeting in November in "Towards Global Governance: From the Principle of National Sovereignty to the Necessity of Interference". The background paper for the meeting listed a number of areas where the protection provid ed by national sovereignty must take a back seat.

This is precisely the ation in Somalia: hungry and desperate peoplo aiul no semblance of a government in charge. It was undoubtedly an excellent setting to justify foreign intervention. With the UN's authorisation, USA sent in its troops to pave the way for speedy food distribution. India, too, has joined the effort to assist starving Somalis.

As a case, this may be acceptable. But where does this take us? When George Bush despatched 28,000 US troops to Somalia, he said his purpose was to "help them live", and added, "We do not plan to dictate political outcomes. We respect your sovereignty."

What does this mean? When is sovereignty to be respected and when not? When is interference justifiable and when not? Who will decide when to intervene and when not? Are there any mechanisms to control the hidden agendas, if any, of powerful nations? After all, the purpose of rules is to ensure the weak are protected against the powerful and to ensure consistency in the actions of nations.

Immediately, the question is raised: Why Somalia, and not Bosnia? The answer given by a commentator in the International Herald Tribune is that "Bosnia is not doable". The commentator goes on to argue: "Television pictures of starving Somalis summon an instinctive desire to do something. A government that is not reckless with the lives of its soldiers must enunciate some logic beyond instinct for risking those lives in a situation that does not remotely engage the national interest. Principle One of humanitarian intervention is: It must be doable. Bosnia is not doable. The mountainous terrain, the heavily armed factions, the history of prolonged guerilla war - all promise not just large losses but military failure. The US will not stand by if another people is dying and there is a way to save it. This may not be the loftiest principle of humanitarian intervention, but it is better than the rest."

So much, therefore, for consistency.

What about hidden agendas, and the fear that the legtimisation of intervention may once again bolster this faith of the powerful in their cultural superiority?

A researcher from the University of Oxford says in a letter to The Independent in London: "Since the origins of modem international law in the 17th century, interna- tional lawyers have provided the legitimating principles for Western intervention in its various forms, invoking such lofty principles as the Christianising mission, the spread of civilisation and the expansion of trade and wealth to terra nullius (empty land)..." But in reality, as the writer himself points out, these interventions were governed more by self-interest and a questionable faith in the West's 'better knowledge' of other peoples' best interests and idealistic principles. Will this current exercise of 'humanitarian intervention' not prove to have the same contours? An editorial in the Asian Wall Street journal, in fact, emphasises precisely this superiority as the reason behind the intervention in Somalia. The paper says that Somalia must be governed by the West until it is put on the road to a civil society. "We are not - repeat not -- pining for the return of colonialism," the paper assures. "We are, however, quite eager to repudiate much of the theory that the system erected after World War II capitalist, democratic, American-led, grounded in British traditions of contracts and property rights - was somehow 'not right' for the indigenous groups and cultures of what came to be known as the Third World. These theories failed, crushed mainly by Third World kleptocracies and international pirates such as Saddam Hussein, operating within no rule of law. Capitalism, American leadership and property rights look to be precisely what the starving people of Somalia want. The question is whether American officials - now or in the new presidency have enough confidence in the rightness and value of their own system to offer its best elements to others who would be eager for the offer."

So much, therefore, for the talk of 'pluralism' by Helmut Schmidt's group.

What then of a case where intervention is necessary, but the economic interests of powerful nations are involved?

Environment throws up numerous such examples. The carbon dioxide, for example, emitted by one country is likely to affect the sea coast or the climate of another. Who should reduce this carbon dioxide and by how much? Will the reduction be done in a way that gives property rights to all people in the atmosphere, and thus generate market forces that will provide disincentives to the polluters and incentives to the abstemious? Will there be a system of democratic checks and balances so that Bangladesh can block the entry of American cars because their emissions could drown half its land?

The Western nations have steered clear of such issues, even though markets, property rights and democracy are of what they are most proud. They have taken positions that essentially get them off the hook for their past production and consumption patterns and now seek to ram an inequitable system for future global environmental management down the throats of less powerful,nations.

Clearly, there is a need for the international community to intervene - collectively and humanely - in the interests of the weak and the poor and for the survival of all of us. But if the old order of sovereign nations is to give over to a new order of a more sovereign 'global community', then the new rules of the behaviour of nations must not only be crystal clear, but they should also protect the rights of less powerful nations and be enforceable against the powerful ones. Till then, the arguments for sovereignty must continue to rule.

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