07 December 2006

Some confused thoughts about military intervention and how it might apply to Iraq


Before I knew anything about foreign policy, I believed in non-intervention in every instance, fearing the consequences (and, especially, accusations of imperialism) of military intervention in sovereign nations, for peacekeeping purposes or otherwise. But as I am reading Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell", a study of U.S. foreign policy regarding twentieth century genocide, I am beginning to realize the need for intervention in some extreme cases.

In class today we had a very animated debate about whether to advocate military intervention in some form or other, or more "soft" types of intervention such as economic sanctions and humanitarian aid, to prevent genocide. Some of the interesting concerns were:
  • If we advocate a peacekeeping force (UN perhaps), what is the sustainability of a peaceful state after the force is withdrawn?
  • In many cases of genocide, the perpetrators are enabled to act because they believe foreign powers to be either ignorant or unwilling to intervene when things turn violent. A good example of this is Rwanda, which followed shortly after the failure of a recent U.S. mission in Somalia. The Hutu authorities in Rwanda knew the U.S. wasn't about to intervene in a nation that was so near to Somalia (on the same continent--far too close), invoking too recent memories of humiliation. So, in such cases "soft" intervention is useless; the presence of a military peacekeeping force goes a long way in scaring the potential perpetrators of a genocide.
  • Military intervention can often penetrate into hard-to-reach areas, where often most of the at-risk victims are concentrated (concentration of the target population is a common preliminary step to committing genocide), whereas humanitarian aid often falls into the wrong hands and supplies and money are distributed amongst the perpetrators of the genocide.
Many other interesting points were brought up, but I'm feeling pretty split on this one. I feel like military intervention is the only direct action we can take to prevent genocide in many instances, especially considering the fact that most genocidal regimes are isolated to international censure (i.e. Cambodia), so any other measure would be impotent. But a military peacekeeping force will always find itself stuck in the same quandary that we face now in Iraq. Where Iraq differs is that, obviously, there is no genocide looming on the horizon, but then our presence there is having an effect completely opposite of peacekeeping--maybe genocide isn't so far on the horizon after all. Countries that have committed past genocides are more likely to commit them again, and Iraq is no exception to this rule.

The trick in deciding whether to intervene or not, now, is just being able to distinguish between a genocidal regime and a non-genocidal regime. Simple, really.


At December 21, 2006 9:59 PM, Anonymous Julia said...

I haven't read much about war, or guns, or this entry on war and guns, but I do know that sometimes when people say that war isn't the answer, I am confused. What if the question is what is a three letter word that starts with a w and sounds like more?


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