Monday, November 28, 2005

Gareth Evans on the “Dogs that Don’t Bark”: Are regional and international peacekeeping efforts reducing the incidence of war?

The LA Times recently carried this op-ed by former Australian FM Gareth Evans on the successes of preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping (perhaps better described as peacemaking) missions around the world. He cites the Human Security Report 2005 for evidence that the incidence of war is on the decline, and that third-party interventions (diplomatic, sanctions, military deployments) play a large role in the success stories.

As Evans notes, one of the problems of measuring success is how to determine the conflicts that were avoided – the Holmesian (Sherlock, not Oliver Wendell) “dogs that did not bark.”

There are many reasons for these turnarounds. They include the end of the era of colonialism, the aftermath of which generated two-thirds or more of all wars from the 1950s to the 1980s. The end of the Cold War meant no more proxy wars fueled by Washington or Moscow, and it also hastened the demise of a number of authoritarian governments that each side had been propping up and that had generated significant internal resentment and resistance.

But the best explanation is the one that stares us in the face: the huge increase in international efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts.

The best stories are the ones that do not reach the evening news: the dogs that never barked. Using the hard lessons learned from the disastrous days of the early 1990s in places such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, the international community is much better now than it ever used to be at preventing conflict. Between 1990 and 2002, the number of U.N. diplomatic missions aimed at stopping wars before they started increased sixfold, according to the Human Security eport. Although sometimes an imperfect tool, economic sanctions against abusive regimes around the world increased elevenfold between 1989 and 2003. Early and sensible action in places such as Burundi, Indonesia and Macedonia has kept most Americans blissfully unaware that these were countries that recently veered away from the large-scale violence that has plagued them in the past.

Evans is a proponent of the doctrine of the “responsibility to protect” – an effort to create a norm that the international community has not a right, but a duty under international law to go into states where through armed conflict, mass human rights violations or large-scale humanitarian disaster, the state has not protected the most basic rights of its inhabitants. Evans explained the concept in this article (via the International Crisis Group website) in Foreign Affairs last fall:
Using this alternative language will help shake up the policy debate, getting governments in particular to think afresh about what the real issues are. Changing the terminology from "intervention" to "protection" gets away from the language of "humanitarian intervention." The latter term has always deeply concerned humanitarian relief organizations, which have hated the association of "humanitarian" with military activity. Beyond that, talking about the "responsibility to protect" rather than the "right to intervene" has three other big advantages. First, it implies evaluating the issues from the point of view of those needing support, rather than those who may be considering intervention. The searchlight is back where it should always be: on the duty to protect communities from mass killing, women from systematic rape, and children from starvation. Second, this formulation implies that the primary responsibility rests with the state concerned. Only if that state is unable or unwilling to fulfill its responsibility to protect, or is itself the interpetrator, should the international community take the responsibility to act in its place. Third, the "responsibility to protect" is an umbrella concept, embracing not just the "responsibility to react" but the "responsibility to prevent" and the "responsibility to rebuild" as well. Both of these dimensions have been much neglected in the traditional humanitarian-intervention debate. Bringing them back to center stage should help make the concept of reaction itself more palatable.

What do OJ readers think of the “responsibility to protect?” Is it just another name for “humanitarian intervention?” Or does it imply a new conception of sovereignty itself, conditioned on “right conduct” at home and within the international community? Comments are open.

3 Comments:

Blogger Seth Weinberger said...

I actually like the idea of "the responsibility to protect." There is something both noble and practical about the international community acting to prevent humanitarian crises and genocidal intra-state conflicts from erupting, and to help end them when they do. As I see it, the failure of the US, UN, and the international community to intervene in Rwanda is one the largest blots on international politics of the last 50 years or so.

However, let's also be honest. The international system, and in particular the UN, is not set up or equipped to put such an concept into action. The veto power of the Security Council and non-existence of an indepedent security unit (e.g. a UN army) means that any and all international interventions will be limited by power politics, as was Bosnia and Kosovo. The only times the responsibility will be upheld is when it is being violated by weak states. And while this may be better than nothing, it's not very satisfying from a moral perspecive.

There's also a difficult policy aspect of this problem too. Almost tautologically, if a problem is insufficiently important to warrant a Security Council veto, then the states that will want to intervene will often have a low level of interest. Bad things happen when states use force in areas that that don't command a lot of national interest. Example: Somalia. When force is used without sufficient political will, it is difficult to carry out a mission, even when the costs are low. When political will and national interest exist, as in Iraq, a mission can be maintained even in the face of large losses.

So, if the responsibility to protect means that states will become more involved in crises in geopolitically insignificant states, the backlash against high losses and failed missions may undermine the ability to become involved in more important crises, as the failure in Somalia made it impossible for the US to intervene in Rwanda.

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