by Paul Lynch
To most people, there will be only one international story in the news this week. The horror of the refugee crisis, the complete cowardice of the response of many nations, and the possible solutions are on everyone’s minds, and in every conversation.
It’s a common refrain that a solution to the refugee crisis is stabilisation of Syria, Iraq, Libya and other disrupted regions, and that the best option to ensure this is military action.
If you sincerely think that, good on you; I’m minded to agree. But military action is not the easy fix that many people consider it to be. Past failures of foreign policy have shown that any decision to use military force must be taken after deep thought, conference and without emotional input. This decision must be taken coldly, rationally and with the full facts taken into account.
In my opinion, as a progressive, internationalist Labour Party, humanitarian intervention can only ever go ahead following these four points.
1) A UN resolution, and full commitment from the permanent members of the Security Council.
Yes, that does mean action from the US, France, the UK, Russia and China. Humanitarian intervention is not and can never be a power play. Nations cannot play the Great Game anymore, and use proxies to advance their own petty goals. If we talk about humanitarian intervention it must be only for humanitarian reasons, and therefore international collaboration between the world powers. Furthermore, we must work with and support local leaders to ensure regional peace and prosperity. Finally, we internationalists base our idealism on the rule of law; we cannot lecture to others on what we do not do ourselves
2) Overwhelming force.
That’s not hyperbole. If experts believe the job can be done properly with 200,000 troops, for example, we send 400,000. When military action is not prosecuted fully, we may well have never acted at all.
3) An explicit commitment to nation-building.
This is not imposing democratic ideals. Democracy must come from the ground up, and that is the responsibility and the agency of the citizen. But in order to stabilise a nation, we must make a clear commitment to developing infrastructure, an economy and basic security, creating the conditions in which liberal values develop organically.
4) Finally, an acceptance that any action is not a quick fix; If a stabilisation operation is ordered, it is likely that troops will be there for 10,15, even 20 years in order to do the job properly. Refusal to accept this idea causes fundamental damage to the strategy of any intervention.
If we can’t meet these four points, military action should be off the table. That may be cold, but as I said, these decisions must be taken rationally and mindful of the responsibility and consequences.
Paul Lynch is a Labour councillor in St Helens, Merseyside