Friday, August 10, 2007


What is to be done in a crisis like the genocide in Rwanda, when the international community seeks to stop the killing? Can nations, acting through the UN Security Council, fulfill a �responsibility to protect� innocent civilians? Or is such a doctrine just a Trojan horse for great power abuse and more mendacity?

When nations send their military forces into other nations� territory, it is rarely (if ever) for �humanitarian� purposes. They are typically pursuing their narrow national interest � grabbing territory, gaining geo-strategic advantage, or seizing control of precious natural resources. Leaders hope to win public support by describing such actions in terms of high moral purposes � bringing peace, justice, democracy and civilization to the affected area. In the era of colonialism, European governments all cynically insisted that they acted to promote such higher commitments � the �white man�s burden,� �la mission civilisatrice,� and the like.

The appeal to higher moral purposes continues to infect the political discourse of the great powers. Today�s �humanitarian intervention� is only the latest in this long tradition of political mendacity. It is perfectly clear in such cases as the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq (UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has called it a �humanitarian intervention.�) But should intervention (even multilateral intervention, approved by the Security Council) be excluded in all circumstances?

This section looks at the issues and the fierce debate that has arisen within the United Nations about these �new approaches� to sovereignty and collective action.

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