Monday, 8 December 2008


With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still raging, a common opinion expressed in the media and amongst the commentariat (particularly, but not exclusively that of a more liberal slant) has been that interventionism is dead. The view goes that the US (and by extension the UK) has sacrificed its moral authority on the world stage and therefore cannot intervene in the affairs of other nations - instead we have returned to the area of non-interventionism, particularly in regards to military intervention.

I believe that this is a short-sighted viewand one which the destruction of Zimbabwe is highlighting all too clearly. US foreign policy under President George W. Bush has been roundly criticised as being triumphalist, militaristic and aggressive, yet it is far more firmly located in the tradition of US FP than many would care to admit. The interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq are open to debate as to their appropriateness and competency, however they are not a huge break from the policies followed by President Bush's predecessors, such as President Bush snr's interventions in the Gulf and President Clinton's interventions in Somalia and Bosnia.

Indeed, President Clinton was criticised for not doing enough to intervene in the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda, where the world tacitly allowed the genocide of a ethnic grouping. Criticism was levelled that the US didn't deploy military forces - the world's accusation being that the US did not do its duty.

And this is the paradox at the centre of world politics - a requirement that the US, as the world's last remaining superpower, intervene in situations where disaster is unfolding coupled with a resentment that it can and does. In an ideal world, the crisis in Zimbabwe would be dealt with by the African Union and in particular by South Africa - if political leadership and common endeavour didn't drive their motives, then surely self-preservation would. However, South Africa has demonstrated an inability, and indeed unwillingness, to fulfil that role despite the implications that a failed, cholera-ridden Zimbabwe on its doorstep has for the nation.

Interventionism (and I am focussing on humanitarian crises here, other interventionism is a topic for another blog) is not just a legitimate policy tool, I believe that it is a fundamental responsibility of the 'Western' world. Zimbabwe's collapse is being played out on the TV screens in our homes - we have contributed to the disaster and we must contribute to the recovery.

The UK has a unique role to play in this crisis due to the historical link between ourselves and Zimbabwe. We must respond to the cholera epidemic with appropriate aid whilst at the same time continuing the pressure on Mugabe's illigitimate and dangerous regime. We are limited in our potential military response due to geography and the overstretching of our armed forces, however we must make clear that in the case of the requirement of intervention by foreign troops (ideally led by the African Union) we will provide as much logistical and hardware support as we can.

The sovereignty of the nationstate is important, however the collapse of the state and oppression of its people invalidates its rights. Rwanda was the demonstration of the necessity of humanitarian interventionism - since that time we have watched it continue to happen around the world. Humanitarian intervention is a responsibility and a necessity - as our forces in Sierra Leone demonstrated, it can make a crucial difference to the stability of a nation and the countering of genocidal actions.

The US and its allies have a unique place in the world and therefore have a unique responsibility. It is a responsibility we must live up to, and which we must demonstrate in Zimbabwe now.


Not a Village in Westminster said...

Interesting article at the Post on this topic by Richard Cohen -

JK said...

This is a tough one. You know how I feel about the situation in Zimbabwe and I see the pain caused by the ZPF regime on a daily basis at work.

But can we intervene? I cannot decide. The situation now is the worst it has been. However, the situation in the Sudan is also desperate with nowhere outside Khartoum being safe for anyone and widespread genocide occurring throughout the country. Somalia also poses huge problems for us and is clearly the very definition of what we call “a failed state”. How can we (ie, the international community) justify intervening in one state and not in the other? This is the key problem.

It pains to watch what is happening in these countries with bodies like the UN (think the Security Council) doing too little, usually too late. But can we really intervene? The French tried in the Tutsi/Hutu conflicts and there presence there did little to help anyone and their troops ended up having to sit and watch what was happening.

If we intervened in Zimbabwe, we would be there for years and would struggle to get back out again. We also have to bear in mind that the African Union are doing little in the way of diplomacy to even attempt to sort things out. As far as I can see, the regime in Harare still have many friends in Africa who view them as liberators. Our intervention could only damage our standing further.

I have not yet fully made up my mind on humanitarian intervention or “regime change”, but I do not think that intervention would be as easy as some think.