Monday, July 14, 2003

Steve Gillard at DailyKos is stunned by Tony Blair's latest pronouncement: that western democracies should be able to intervene whenever and wherever they wish:

Tony Blair is appealing to the heads of Western governments to agree a new world order that would justify the war in Iraq even if Saddam Hussein's elusive weapons of mass destruction are never found.

It would also give Western powers the authority to attack any other sovereign country whose ruler is judged to be inflicting unnecessary suffering on his own people.

A Downing Street document, circulated among foreign heads of state who are in London for a summit, has provoked a fierce row between Mr Blair and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.


The document echoes his well-known views on "rights and responsibilities" by saying that even for self-governing nation states "the right to sovereignty brings associated responsibilities to protect citizens".

This phrase is immediately followed by a paragraph which appears to give the world's democracies carte blanche to send troops anywhere there is civil unrest or a tyrant who refuses to mend his ways. It says: "Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect."
This is, of course, the humanitarian/interventionist variation of Bush's "preemptive strike" doctrine, and is likely intended to provide some moral/ethical cover for a war in Iraq that was not fought for the reasons that it was supposed to be fought for. It's one stage in the ongoing attempt to redefine what the war was about: a process that began right after the U.S. failed to secure U.N. permission and has only accelerated as the "imminent threat" justification has unravelled. That Blair said it instead of Bush means little, as Blair's career is on the line as well.

Unfortunately, this sort of doctrine faces the same problems that any pre-emptive doctrine does, no matter how desirable. It faces the very realist problem of power, and the reality that if a country is both well armed and a violent dictatorship, it will not be affected by this pronouncement in any way shape or form. China is not going anywhere, no matter what Mr. Blair says, and as long as China (and North Korea) get to stick out as gaping holes in this doctrine nobody will take it seriously.

In addition, it raises the question of "who gets to decide what 'suffering', 'internal war', 'insurgency', 'repression', or 'state failure' are? These are questions that people who spend their lives studying international relations and politics in general cannot agree on, so what's the likelihood that states will agree to intervene in the absence of some independent body (such as the U.N.) to adjudicate? Certainly neither the U.S. or U.K. could do so- the whole point of many of the anti-war protests is that one state's interests can not and should not be mistaken for actions serving a higher purpose, because it allows for the possibility of those higher purposes being chained to base economic and strategic interests (or even just the desire for re-election). It's not like the U.S. and U.K. will be the only states using this excuse, either; every state across the globe will attempt to adopt these arguments as an excuse to declare war on their neighbours, which will only lead to more violence and suffering.

(Sure, it's supposed to be a right for "democracies", but let us kindly remember that even the U.S.S.R. dubbed itself a democracy.)

Yes, there are times when there should be interventions done in awful situations, but the problem is figuring out when to do it, and when not to do it, and what sort of reasons and logic should divide these. Historically we've seen that national security is one guideline, multilateralism another, and imperial interests another still. Grand but essentially contested concepts like liberty, democracy, stability and prosperity, however, are not. I don't want to see variations in interpretations lead to WWIII.

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