Posts Tagged ‘liberal intervention’

We shouldn’t stop at Responsibility To Protect

13/06/2012, 07:00:31 AM

by Rob Marchant

There have been plenty of column inches in recent weeks dedicated to why the world should intervene in Syria: for most of us the unspeakable pictures of children with their throats cut from the massacre in Houla is enough. It seems undeniable that the world should do something in the face of genocide or likely genocide, but something – especially since Iraq – holds many of us back on the left from saying so.

So perhaps it’s useful to step back and look at a more fundamental, perhaps more philosophical point: how can we on the left not feel obliged to stop genocide in general, and not just its implementation within the constraints of the UN, via its doctrine of Responsibility To Protect (RTP)?

Does it not sometimes feel like people still see human life through a nineteenth century prism, where the nation state is all we care about? When it was simply not possible to make military interventions without mass loss of British life, and our interest in intervention was pure colonialism (as, in Diane Abbott’s parallel universe , it probably still is)?

But this is the twenty-first century. We no longer only care about other Britons, our colonial possessions and our allies. Many of us travel widely and form strong relationships with others from across the world, who we may just not want to be massacred.

The simple fact is that it is no longer appropriate, if it ever was, to behave as if we value the life of a single Briton more than multiple lives in a foreign country. We cannot make the daily grind of everyone in the developing world better. But we can at least try to stop them being deliberately killed by murderous regimes.

We feel moved and touched when we remember the Holocaust. Many of us feel guilty about Bosnia and Rwanda. But unless we learn to channel these feelings into a constructive, repeatable act, we will not prevent genocide on anything more than the current, haphazard basis.

There are two ways of reconciling ourselves to this, the most basic and justifiable reason for intervention.

The hard way is this: accept the awkward truth that there is a moral obligation to try to intervene in all circumstances where there is genocide or likely genocide.

If we cannot within the UN, it is perfectly legitimate to build a coalition outside the UN. It can work, and it did in Libya and elsewhere. That would be a true example of the “ethical foreign policy” that we as a party once promised.

The easy way is this, and it’s the way we often choose: there are a number of obvious reasons why we might decide, in our hearts, that we lack the will to intervene: be it isolationism, pacifism, anti-Americanism or something else. Then, armed with the subconscious motive, we set about looking for reasons in our heads as to why action is not possible, each of them wrong.


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