The Humanitarian Intervention Debate

Program 0137 September 11, 2001

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(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

PAUL HEINBECKER: The nature of conflict change has changed. Itís increasingly internal conflicts that weíre having to address ourselves to. And people are becoming the targets. Theyíre not collateral damage any more.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, the humanitarian intervention debate.

CARLOS DOS SANTOS: The debate now is about the meaning of humanitarian intervention. What kind of intervention is necessary?

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. Itís produced by the Stanley Foundation. Iím Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And Iím Keith Porter. Humanitarian intervention is a hot political topic these days thanks to ongoing armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. And while the individual desire to help seems obvious, political willingness remains a source of strong debate.

MCHUGH: Knowing when and how to handle apparent mass human rights violations is a delicate balance that many countries, including the United States, are reluctant to take on. Paul Heinbecker is Canadaís Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Carlos dos Santos is Mozambiqueís Permanent Representative to the UN. And Vladimir Shustov works for Russiaís Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I recently visited with all three to get their countryís perspective on the humanitarian intervention debate. Paul Heinbecker says despite the potential political fallout, intervention is sometimes necessary to save human lives.

PAUL HEINBECKER: I absolutely agree that there are times when itís needed and times when itís demanded even. In Canadian foreign policy we are increasingly putting the emphasis on people and putting people first. That isnít to say that we are trying to undermine the nation-state, but weíre trying to remind ourselves that sovereignty is derived from the people and that there is a-and that itís exercised on behalf of people. And that the basic responsibility of the state is to protect its own people and if it canít or wonít protect people then it devolves on the international community, the responsibility devolves on the international community to protect those people.

MCHUGH: Mr. dos Santos, do you agree?

CARLOS DOS SANTOS: Yes, I definitely agree that there are occasions and circumstances that warrant what is termed humanitarian intervention. I think the debate now is about the meaning of humanitarian intervention. What kind of intervention is necessary? Is it within the context of the UN Charter? Is it outside? If it is outside, what are the parameters? Who decides who intervenes and when? What are the rules of engagement in this case? And what we have been saying is that we can explore ways of using the existing system, the UN system, to do that. And we think it is possible within that system.

MCHUGH: Vladimir Shustov, would you agree?

VLADIMIR SHUSTOV: In substance I agree with what my colleagues said just now. For me the only difficulty is that I donít like the term "humanitarian intervention." And if we start talking about humanitarian intervention then we will use the term "humanitarian bombing" and so on, which is not applicable. But the essence of the matter is that we cannot watch impartially on what is going [on] sometimes in countries like Rwanda and other places where there are mass killings and watch TV and do nothing. We have to take serious actions, including the forceful measures. But all these measures should be taken, I am convinced, on the basis of the UN Charter and using the opportunities of the UN membership.

MCHUGH: Mr. Heinbecker, I sort of saw you shaking your head. Is force the last resort?

HEINBECKER: Well, weíve had a quite a good discussion on the question on the use of force and I think I tend towards the view that force is the, is the ultimate option but not necessarily the last option. I mean one has to take a very good look at it and understand whatís going on and whether one is really-whether the other options that may be available are likely to be availing, whether they will work or not. If you see an apprehended slaughter and you think that sanctions might take six months, or a year, or two years, or ten years to be effective then obviously you have to think of some other way of preventing that mass violence. And so the recourse to military force may actually come before youíve exhausted all of the other alternatives. But it may be the thing thatís the most effective option in the circumstances.

MCHUGH: Mr. dos Santos, your thoughts on use of force and whether or not itís the last resort?

DOS SANTOS: I think we do need to work very hard on whatever it is that we can do in terms of peaceful settlement of disputes. We are supposed to do that at the UN and elsewhere at the national, subregional, and regional levels-we have to try and solve all disputes through peaceful means. But, of course, we have to analyze through our process what is happening and in our own informed judgment decide when it is necessary to exert that force that the UN can exert. And it has to be generally understand-not unanimously, but generally understood-that that is the right time to use force. Not necessarily at the end of everything. Because while you are using force you are still wanting to bring a peaceful settlement. So the dialogue may actually even continue as you are exacting that pressure of using force. I think the two are not mutually exclusive as such. But it should when necessary, not necessarily at the end.

MCHUGH: It seems to me then that you are actually calling for the determination of some set of criteria in order to get involved in a humanitarian intervention. I know that criteria is something that is often mentioned that somebody needs to have. What should that criteria be?

DOS SANTOS: Well, I donít know how much of new criteria we can invent. But we have to look at existing criteria, what we have been using-using in terms of the current practice at the UN, the current rules and regulations of the UN, the UN Charter, and then look at the new kinds of conflicts. I think this is the problem. We have a change in the nature of conflict that we are facing today and we have to develop standards, values that would be agreed by all. Thatís where we need to work more.

MCHUGH: Vladimir Shustov, do we need uniform criteria?

SHUSTOV: It is desirable to have such criteria, but each specific case different criteria could be applied. That depends upon the situation.

MCHUGH: Paul Heinbecker, would you agree that there needs to be a uniform set of criteria? Or criteria that is set for only certain situations?

HEINBECKER: I think there are two or three things that we have to bear in mind. One is the diplomatic option. And in that diplomatic option there are a number of suboptions. There are obviously, consulting the neighbors. There is the possibility of working with regional organizations like the OAU or in some, or in other kinds of organizations like the Commonwealth. The Secretary General of the UN can send special envoys to try to reason with people. And indeed, national governments, individual governments, can and do, do that sort of thing. So all of that I think is part of the effort to avoid any further abuse of the population in question. Because as Carlos dos Santos said a moment ago, the nature of conflict has changed. Itís increasingly internal conflicts that weíre having to address ourselves to. And people are becoming the targets. Theyíre not collateral damage any more. I think the readily accepted statistics are that in the First World War civilian casualties were about 10 percent and in some of the most recent conflicts in Africa-and elsewhere, but particularly most recently in Africa-the numbers have gotten up to 90 percent. If you want to change, if youíre in the business of ethnic cleansing or of otherwise dominating, targeting ordinary citizens is a very effective way to do it. So we have to be able to respond to that. And thatís the diplomatic option. You do what you can.

A second option, before war, sometimes is possible, and thatís the implementation of sanctions against the leadership of a particular country. Sometimes we have to do that and they have to be targeted as intelligently as possible on the people who make the decisions and to keep the residual damage to the innocent population as little as possible. We made some mistakes, for example, on Iraq that we would probably correct if we could now. But we are also working in the UN and trying to make smarter sanctions.

And the, of course, thereís the third option, is the recourse to force. And there one has to-this is not just a deployment of force to show that you have the army or the military capability, this is to prevail. This is the employment of force and not the just the deployment of force. At the same time, thatís a very costly option, both financially and in terms of the destruction which follows. So one as to use it carefully.

MCHUGH: There are many who feel that the United Nations Security Council should be the final approval for all major humanitarian interventions. And would you all agree? All of you are certainly members of the UN. Weíll start with Vladimir Shustov.

SHUSTOV: Sometimes people say that the members of the Security Council may not come to an agreement and that situation will stay. Well, this is a real danger. But, they have to come to an agreement if they are really going by the humanitarian intentions, and human rights to be observed, than by their partial or geopolitical interests. Behind each decision stands a policy. And if members of the Security Council come to a common conclusion they have to formulate a clear-cut mandate. Understandable for those who will be commanding forces and using force in the local conditions. And many people express the view not only the threat of force should be used but real preparedness to use force. Which is very difficult, I agree. It is very costly, not only in money terms but in terms of soldiersí life.

MCHUGH: Carlos dos Santos, do you agree that the Security Council should be the end-all, say-all organization?

DOS SANTOS: I support the use of the existing UN system to have decisions made on any action of that kind. Therefore, the Security Council is the organ of the UN that is entrusted with maintenance of international peace and security, and I think in that sense it should be the one deciding. But I would also favor the use of the General Assembly whenever possible. Of course, if a decision of 15 is difficult to get quickly it is more difficult to get it from the General Assembly. But it is a representative body and a main organ of the UN, so that should be used as well. And I also support the importance of collaboration and cooperation, which is actually envisaged in the Charter of the UN, between the Security Council and regional organizations.

MCHUGH: Paul Heinbecker?

HEINBECKER: Obviously we would prefer that the Security Council made the decision to intervene. But we have had cases where the Security Council was actually paralyzed by disagreement among the permanent members. There is the issue of the veto and whether that use of the veto ought not to be curtailed or qualified in some way. But in circumstances where there is a massive and widespread abuse of a population, with death and destruction, and people being pushed across borders as we saw in Kosovo, and the Security Council canít bring itself to act, then the urgency of the situation requires that somebody step in to stop that violence. Thatís what NATO felt it had to do. NATO was not in the business of trying to acquire territory. There were really no strategic objectives to be had there. It was a case of stopping violence against a more or less defenseless population. So, yes, if the Security Council can do what the Charter asks of it to do, we would support that. But if the Security Council finds itself in the situation where itís paralyzed then somebody else will have to act.

MCHUGH: What is the issue that paralyzes them the most? Is it sovereignty?

HEINBECKER: No, itís actually five members of the Security Council have vetoes-United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France. And there are occasions when they see issues differently. If they see those issues differently enough they either threaten or actually impose a veto. That means that the Security Council canít authorize action to be taken. I donít think itís a question of sovereignty so much as it is a question of differing perspectives. But there is the question, in any event that arises, and that is what do you do in those circumstances?

MCHUGH: Paul Heinbecker is Canadaís Permanent Representative to the United Nations. We also hear from Mozambiqueís UN Permanent Representative, Carlos dos Santos, and Vladimir Shustov of Russiaís Foreign Affairs Ministry.

MCHUGH: Finding ways to solve the issue of sovereignty, next on Common Ground.

GARETH EVANS: What do we do tomorrow if thereís another Rwanda, if thereís another Srebrenica, particularly if the Security Council is divided?

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: What gives a nation or organization the right to intervene in other countries where alleged human rights violations exist? This is the question at the heart of the humanitarian intervention debate.

MCHUGH: Recognizing there are ethical, legal, and political issues to consider with every intervention, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has assembled a panel of experts to study the topic. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, or ICISS, is cochaired by Gareth Evans. Evans is the President of the International Crisis Group and former Australian Foreign Minister. I recently spoke with him about his job, the commission, and the difficult challenges facing the international community in the wake of increasing global humanitarian crises.

GARETH EVANS: Humanitarian intervention, as the term is popularly understood and accepted, means some kind of coercive action, not just military action. It could be political or economic sanctions or something of that kind. But usually people are thinking in terms of military action taken for humanitarian motive, with a good intention to protect people who are suffering and doing so in circumstances where usually thereís been massive loss of life actually occurring or apprehended. The kinds of situations in which weíre most familiar with this occurring was Somalia in the early Ď90s, where there was mass starvation and a feeling, and a complete breakdown in the power of, the power and authority of, the state and a belief that the international community had to help out. The other circumstances in which humanitarian intervention was called for but didnít happen were Bosnia-the time of the massacre of Srebrenica and so on, where there was a UN presence but it was so small and unable to cope that it didnít do the job that people wanted it to do. And of course Rwanda in 1994, when nothing happened and it should have. If it had, if there had been forcible military intervention, arguably we would have saved 800,000 lives.

Then youíve got the other classic humanitarian intervention case of the Ď90s, is of course, Kosovo in 1999, which was not authorized by the Security Council but which did involve NATO forces going in there, not in order to advance any other strategic interest of a traditional kind, but to protect the Albanian population of Kosovo from threatened major ethnic cleansing operations.

MCHUGH: Would you say that the definition that weíre using today is different than ones say 20, 30, 40 years ago?

EVANS: Well, the idea has been around for a long time. The terminology is itself controversial but the concept is essentially the same. People donít like the expression, "humanitarian intervention." I donít like it much myself. It tends to presume the legitimacy of an intervention when you simply use that terminology, when of course youíve got to make the argument. You canít prejudge just because of someoneís motives being possibly pure. Youíve still got to judge the issue whether the intervention is legitimate. And thereís lots of criteria that need to be taken into account. The other problem, of course, is about the use of the word "humanitarian," is that the Red Cross and a lot of other humanitarian organizations just simply hate it because it does so often involve military action, and they say, "Well, we just donít want those two terms confused. Thereís humanitarian activity and thereís military activity, and even if the military activity is for humanitarian purposes donít letís call it Ďhumanitarian intervention.í" Thatís, I think, probably fair enough. And this new international commission that Iím cochairing, which is wrestling with all these issues, is rather determined to avoid that kind of terminology if we possibly can because we think it sort of gets in the way of an intelligent focus on the issues, rather than helping their resolution.

MCHUGH: Tell me a little bit about the commission that you just mentioned.

EVANS: Well, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty is something that was set in train nearly a year ago now with the sponsorship of the Canadian government but also several other governments and major foundations. Its object is to try and build an international consensus around this question as to the circumstances in which itís proper and legitimate, if ever, for this kind of intervention weíre talking about to occur. Weíll be bringing a report back through the Canadian government to the United Nations by the end of this year which hopefully will do something to get the debate back into some kind of engaged mode.

Whatís happened with this debate is that itís really tended to be very polarized, particularly since the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, squarely confronted the international community and the UN Assembly with his dilemma. You know, what do we do tomorrow if thereís another Rwanda, if thereís another Srebrenica, particularly if the Security Council is divided? How do we reconcile the moral compulsion to do something in these cases which shock the conscience with the legal inhibitions which seem to be there in the UN Charter and so on prohibiting the use of force except when the Security Council says its OK and thereís a genuinely international security issue involved. His was a kind of cry of pain-can you all in the international community do something to help me and those of us who are trying to wrestle with these things to get it right?

And our commission, I guess, is a response to that. Weíve been extremely consultative in our style of work on this commission. Weíve not only held roundtable consultations in all the major Western capitals-Washington, and in London and Geneva-but weíve been holding roundtables in sub-Saharan Africa, in Latin America, in Santiago, Chili, in Asia, in New Delhi just the other day, and in Cairo for the Middle East countries. And Iíve just come back from consultations in Beijing, in China. So this, although other bodies have been wrestling with this humanitarian intervention, so called, issue, on the problem of sovereignty versus intervention and the circumstances under which you can do these things, and although some reports have come out under the auspices of the Swedish and Danish and Netherlands governments and some others, this, I think, is the first real attempt to put together an internationally representative body of people to wrestle with the issues and to see if we can come up with some new consensus. And I, I do think weíll have some innovative ideas.

MCHUGH: You mentioned that youíre having several meetings all over the world. What are some of the early indications on how to deal with this issue?

EVANS: Well, I think the first thing is to try and change the mental terms of reference in which people approach it. Because people are rather locked into some of the-Iím talking about governments now-the positions theyíve tended to adopt in a fairly reflex way in the North, and in the West weíve tended to say, "Yes, intervention is appropriate and necessary, ought to happen, ought to take a military form if the circumstances are serious enough." And the only real question is just, you know, mobilizing the will and the capacity to get it right. In the South countries-I donít want to overcharacterize the distinction, because in Africa in particular, I mean, thereís been a lot of concern that there hasnít been enough willingness to intervene-but generally speaking the more recently established countries, those who have only relatively recently come to recognize sovereign nationhood, are much more concerned to emphasize the importance of sovereignty, the traditional UN rule against intervention in so-called domestic affairs, and just generally are much more cautious. They do understand that some terrible situations have erupted from time to time which do shock the conscience and which do seem to have cried out for the kind of coercive intervention weíre talking about. But theyíre just very cautious.

The Latin Americans, for example, say, "Well, as we think back over the last hundred years, weíve lost count of the number of times the United States intervened in our region, always with the highest and most pure of motives, if you look at the rhetoric which surrounds it. But thatís not the way it seemed to us on the ground." A lot of countries with colonial or imperial heritages, you know, have been on the receiving end of civilizing missions-mission civilatrice(?)-you know, the French term. Theyíre pretty, theyíre a little nerve-jangled about this whole thing. And they, they say, "Look, particularly if it takes place outside the framework of the Security Council, particularly if itís a NATO kind of extravaganza that we saw in Kosovo, this creates some pretty serious precedents and we are not sure that we want to be part of it." Itís a very, very delicate issue. And as weíve taken our soundings around the world weíve become very conscious of those separate strains.

That makes that much more necessary the need to find some new common ground. So what weíre trying to do in our commission is to come up with some new ideas about how to reconceptualize this debate. And weíre finding some support for that in the countries that weíre talking to. In particular the concept that weíve come up with as possibly the best way of redefining and rethinking what this debate is all about, is the idea of the responsibility to protect. So rather than talking about the right to intervene, weíd better talk not so much about rights, but about responsibilities and not so much about intervention as protection. Because this really puts the issues the right way Ďround. It makes us focus on the victims, it makes us focus on why it is that these interventions are sought. Not because the big guys feel they have a right to do something and to strut around preening themselves; itís because thereís a real need out there. So perhaps, just perhaps, if we can get the debate moving along in this frame of reference we can find some greater common ground.

That still leaves an awful lot of questions to be resolved about the threshold criteria that would justify an intervention and other kinds of precautionary criteria and the operational questions of how it can best be done so as not to be counterproductive. But in international discourse it sometimes helps an enormous amount if you can find a fresh new way of thinking about an issue and get people out of those trenches into which they sometimes dig themselves ever deeper, if you just let the debate go on in familiar terms.

MCHUGH: For our audience, what role do you think the US should play in all of this?

EVANS: Well, one wishes the US played a more consistently constructive role across this whole range of issues. It was the US, after all, that led the charge in a Security Council that might otherwise have been prepared to intervene in Rwanda, not to do so for domestic political reasons after the debacle in Mogadishu in Somalia, and the bodies in the streets and so on. It was just a political judgment made by US leaders that the stomach was not there for it in the population. I personally think that political leaders around the world, and perhaps particularly in the United States, underestimate the instinct for decency in their own populations. Thereís a long record of research into popular opinion in the United States about the role and legitimacy of the UN.

Thereís a lot of other research about this whole intervention question which suggests that provided people understand what the nature of the issues are, provided they believe that thereís some rational relationship between the nature of the harm going on and the response that is being sought, they are prepared to see risks being taken to address the violations that are occurring. They donít necessarily want totally risk-free operations. The military, the US military, is often tarred with the brush of being a bunch of wimps that, you know, wonít take casualties, theyíre obsessed with force protection and all the rest of it. But I think to be fair to them theyíre professional guys and theyíre prepared to take risks in just causes. Itís the political leadership that is over and over again just retreated and wimped out. And thatís deeply unfortunate because the US does have the capacity to help resolve just so many of these problems.

MCHUGH: Gareth Evans cochairs the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. He also serves as president of the International Crisis Group.

PORTER: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0137. Thatís Program Number 0137. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. Thatís 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, Iím Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And Iím Keith Porter. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Charles Maynes provided additional technical assistance. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

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