Monday, December 8, 2008

Editor's Introduction - December 2008

"The Activist." Harper's Magazine. November 2008.

An Annotation

The ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has been illustrative of the need for improved international diplomacy in conflict resolution and peace building. In an account of his experiences traveling in Darfur with academic and diplomat Alex de Waal, author Nick McDonell raises compelling questions about the role of traditional diplomacy in creating lasting peace. For McDonell, the establishment of lasting peace in the region demands recognition of the complex realities on the ground. Specifically, McDonell writes that the numerous obstacles to the peace process, such as natural resource depletion, ethnic strife, and competing political rivalries, must be addressed.

“Issue-awareness campaigns may draw attention to important causes, but they can also motivate counterproductive demands among warring factions.”

For McDonell, traditional diplomacy has not been effective in securing peace and stability in the region. According to the international community, the arrest warrant request for Omar Hassan al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in July marked a significant turn of events for perceived perpetrators of the conflict. However, as McDonell discusses, de Waal asserts that the need for the international community to hold Bashir responsible for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity is detrimental to the fragile peace that has been made. Since July, de Waal has been outspoken about the adverse effects of unintended consequences that may have drastic and deadly repercussions on the ground in Darfur, and that the ICC warrant “will endanger the people we wish to defend.”

“[Alex de Waal’s] primary argument was that a threatened Bashir could do much to damage the already fragile peace, and that the ICC had no ability to back up its threat with an actual arrest or trial.”

The delicate peace among warring ethnic and political factions within government and among rebel groups cannot be sustained indefinitely. Importantly, there are various challenges to peace in the region such as determining who has the authority to make an agreement, defining who exactly the janjaweed are, and deciding how justice should be achieved, all of which must be addressed if peace is to be secured for all. McDonell, as a former student of de Waal, suggests that in order for lasting peace to be established in Darfur, conventional forms of international diplomacy that seek to place blame and accountability for crimes committed must look to the complex situation on the ground. However, the points raised by McDonell and de Waal speak more generally about the need for improved and diverse forms of international diplomacy in conflict resolution and peace building. Moreover, as McDonell emphasizes, peace processes and the establishment of lasting peace is not simplistic. The establishment of peace in Darfur, and in future violent conflicts, must address the reality of the welfare and safety of those on the ground in addition to ensuring justice and accountability for crimes committed.

These issues and others are considered in this month’s Roundtable.


Peace without Justice, or Justice without Peace?

by Clair Apodaca, Florida International University
"Seeking justice by ending the impunity for crimes and seeking redress for the victims is the only way to build a stable long-lasting peace. Such justice allows for social reconciliation, restoration and perhaps forgiveness."

Peace without justice is an illusion. The use of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate and prosecute human rights violations not only provides restorative justice for those harmed by the wrongdoing but also retributive justice towards the perpetrators. Restorative justice seeks to help heal the wounds of the victims and community by acknowledging and witnessing the pain and suffering of the victim. Retributive justice seeks to punish the offenders. The hope is that retribution will deter or prevent future acts of violence by holding perpetrators accountable for the violations of human rights, genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Many people believe that the path to justice is through criminal prosecution of the offenders. McDonell succinctly summarizes the relationship between restorative and retributive justice when he describes the victim’s viewpoint as follows: “if peace comes, and I know the person who killed my brother, raped my sister, killed my mother, how can I live with this person?” Seeking justice by ending the impunity for crimes and seeking redress for the victims is the only way to build a stable long-lasting peace. Such justice allows for social reconciliation, restoration and perhaps forgiveness.

However, a question remains. When should the process of retributive justice begin? Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, submitted an application for an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir before the Sudanese situation could even be characterized as post-conflict. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005, is a fragile truce at best. Because Bashir can expect to be prosecuted once peace is established or when/if he leaves power, the likelihood that Bashir will turn over power to more moderate and restrained leaders is very low. Furthermore, the early issuance of the arrest warrant would make it in Bashir’s interests to see to it that the conflict and the killings continue. Will the ICC risk future carnage in order to make a forceful, yet premature, gesture of justice? If the arrest warrant is issued it may well be that the civilian population will suffer Bashir’s scorn and contempt. The Sudanese Congress already warned of the unleashing of more blood and violence in the Darfur region of Sudan if the warrant is issued. The Sudanese military and government supporters may retaliate directing their attacks against the international staff and facilities, namely the UNMIS and UNAMID. Or we may see the expulsion of humanitarian aid organizations altogether, the very lifeline for the millions of desperate and vulnerable internally displaced Dafuris—those most in need of aid and protection. Thus, the possibility of any restorative or retributive justice is greatly hindered by a lack of a negotiated and stable peace agreement.

On the other hand, in the interests of justice, the international community cannot allow the genocidal leadership in Sudan to threaten the tenuous peace prospects in order to escape prosecution for their crimes. To do so would betray the victims of Darfur. Furthermore, this would send the message to future tyrants that ignoring international law has no consequences. Therefore, I am not convinced that, in the words of Sadiqu al-Mahdi as quoted by McDonell, in the “conflict between accountability and stability… [avoiding a trial is] a case of accepting the lesser evil.” It may be the choice of exiled leaders wishing to regain power. But can we be sure that it is also the choice of the Darfuri victims who lost loved ones, had their human dignity stolen, their bodies abused, and are deprived of their homes and livelihoods? In the debate between which comes first between justice or peace, the ultimate determination ought to be the people of Darfur. Certainly, the issue should not be decided by international humanitarian “experts” such as de Waal who took it upon himself to notify Bashir’s regime of the impending announcement of Moreno-Ocampo’s application for the arrest warrant. Perhaps Moreno-Ocampo should issue a warrant for hindering prosecution too.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo may have put the cart before the horse. Pursuing justice before a stable peace is established can threaten the survival of the victimized population, and endanger humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers. David Rieff of the New York Times wrote: “to secure a peace in Darfur means negotiating with Bashir rather than fantasizing about arresting, trying and imprisoning him.” It may be that the Darfuri population values peace and stability over justice. However, in the end, without justice there will be no lasting peace. It is unlikely that Darfur will find peace if Sudan remains governed by a regime bent on committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This leaves human rights advocates, political leaders and international lawyers with a Catch-22: without justice there will be no peace but there can be no justice without first securing peace.

Clair Apodaca is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University. Dr. Apodaca has published extensively in the areas the international protection of human rights, women’s human rights and refugee studies. She is the author of Understanding U.S. Human Rights Policy: A Paradoxical Legacy (Routledge 2006). Her work has appeared in the Journal of Human Rights, International Studies Quarterly and Human Rights Quarterly among many others. In recognition of her scholarship in the field, human rights scholars and practitioners elected her to the first Executive Committee for Human Rights at the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 2001. Presently, Dr. Apodaca serves on the Executive Committee for Human Rights Section of the International Studies Association.


Human Rights or Inhuman Wrongs

by Edward Friedman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"More is at stake in this debate than the fate of millions of innocents in Darfur, though that would be more than enough. The deeper issue is whether the universal human rights agenda in general will even survive, let alone flourish. But should promoters of human rights surrender or struggle?"

The project of promoting universally recognized human rights, that is, the commitments of the U.N. General Assembly-ratified Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), is in danger. Military and political intervention, including economic sanctions, to stop genocide and ethnic and other political mass murder is under attack. Apparently the lessons of Hitler’s holocaust, the Turkish genocide of Armenians, Pol Pot’s slaughter of innocents, and the loss of life in Rwanda are being rethought and un-taught. So-called peace is now preferred over prevention. The dead may have died in vain.

Ethnic struggles (actually political struggles in which demagogues mobilize haters utilizing social stereotypes) are found to be too complex—Jews and Germans, Armenians and Turks, Khmer Rouge and non-KR, Hutu and Tutsi—who can sort it out? It is better to do nothing, it is claimed, than to try to end the annihilation of non-Arabic-speaking Black Africans in Sudan. We are advised to heed the propaganda of the killers that the victims are also responsible. All stories have two sides, we are told.

Personally, I’d heed the cries of the victims. Preventing their gratuitous suffering is largely what a commitment to human rights is about.

To be sure, no one doubts that “ Sudan’s army and a variety of militia” have “caused 300,000 deaths in Darfur since 2003.” But, hey, “everyone” commits atrocities, we are told. The African Union actually wants “all of the parties involved in the Darfur conflict” to talk. But, we are instructed, we should empathize first and foremost with the view of the genocidal regime in Khartoum, Sudan that “such meetings would…unify the rebels.” Apparently peace is possible only on the terms of the executioners. Human rights activists are dismissed as trouble-makers. This kind of analysis reflects a transvaluation of values similar to finding fascist racism superior to multicultural constitutionalism.

Yes, ending the slaughter requires talking to the leaders of the murderers, especially if one rules out organizing to control, stop and punish the murderers. But getting involved in trying to actually stop the genocidaires risks, it is said, being used by “the rebels and bandits…and the distinction between the two is frequently unclear.” Worse yet, lord alone knows what the head of the government of the killers might do if the International Criminal Court (ICC) moves ahead with an effort to bring the leader of the genocidaires to the bar of justice. Isn’t it better to maintain “stability,” we are asked, the stability and peace of the killing fields? Surrendering to the blackmail of the killers leaves no space for promoting human rights.

The general critique of human rights intervention that has been rising goes even further. It suspects human rights motives and highlights political interests. Didn’t the EU invite the U.S. to lead an effort in Yugoslavia to stop the killing by the Serb racist Milosevic in part because of European interests in keeping Europe democratic and not solely because the Europeans cared about rights and wrongs? Given these selfish interests, we are told, isn’t the most basic issue whether one is for or against the imperialist intervention of the capitalist West? Human rights activism is re-presented as evil imperialism.

In this discourse, the actual victims become irrelevant. It is enough to know that Pol Pot was against the CIA, that Hitler was against liberalism, that Khomeini stood against the so-called “West.” Which side are you on is the question. The wrong side is liberal constitutionalism. Potential victims of systemic crimes against humanity are not to be saved; they are to be found guilty of being on the side of universal human rights, supposedly a bourgeois imperialist agenda.
But these are not isolated individuals who have launched this assault on human rights. Underlying this screed against human rights is the rise of authoritarian powers, from China to Saudi Arabia. China backs the genocidaires in Sudan. It armed Pol Pot. It provided machetes to the killers in Rwanda. It backed Milosevic. It saw the attempt to democratize Yugoslavia—as the Color Revolutions in Asia—as practice runs for trying to subvert Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authoritarianism in Beijing, with the supposed hidden motive of restoring American global hegemony. To be on the side of human rights, it is claimed, is to be on the side of American imperialism.

That any serious person takes this CCP type propaganda amazes me.

Actually, human rights are the agenda of societal groups who embrace the UDHR as truly universal. They criticize capital punishment by the government in the USA and the torture policies of outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush. They denounce discrimination against Muslims by governments in Europe. They in fact do embrace universal values. They are on the side of the cause of humanity, of the democratizers in places like Burma and Zimbabwe and Iran. They try to pressure their governments and international organizations to act on some basic moral principles.

More is at stake in this debate than the fate of millions of innocents in Darfur, though that would be more than enough. The deeper issue is whether the universal human rights agenda in general will even survive, let alone flourish. But should promoters of human rights surrender or struggle?

According to democracy-promoter Larry Diamond in his book, The Spirit of Democracy, the freedom agenda is increasingly unattractive to the international community. “ Singapore…could foreshadow a resilient form of capitalist-authoritarianism in China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia” in an age where authoritarian “ Asia will determine the global fate of democracy” and human rights.

Right now, it is not looking good for human rights. The apologists for the killers—hiding under a cloak of non-intervention and anti-imperialism—fare winning. The world is changing for the worse.

Edward Frieman's teaching and research interests include democratization, Chinese politics, international political economy, revolution, and the comparative study of transitions in Leninist States. His most recent books are Chinese Village, Socialist State (1991), The Politics of Democratization: Generalizing the East Asian Experience (1994), National Identity and Democratic Prospects in Socialist China (1995), and What if China doesn't democratize? Implications for war and peace (2001).


Challenging the International Criminal Court over al-Bashir

by Emma Gilligan, University of Connecticut
"The most problematic issue, however, that is not addressed adequately by either McDonell’s article or by de Waal himself rests in the question, if not through the ICC, how will the problem of justice be handled for those thousands of victims in Darfur?"
As of late November 2008, we are still awaiting the decision of the U.N. Security Council with regard to the request for the arrest of Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide put forward by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in July. With former Presidents Charles Taylor of Liberia and Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia as the only two heads of state formally indicted by the ICC since its inception in 2002, the question remains whether the U.N. Security Council will allow this controversial indictment of al-Bashir by Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo or invoke Article 16 of the Rome Statute to defer it?

The prospects for an indictment of the Sudanese President look discouraging. Britain, China, France and Russia have indicated that they may well support a plan to defer the investigation and prosecution of al-Bashir for the purported task of preserving the delicate 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement to stabilize the 22-year-old Sudanese civil war and to encourage the fulfillment of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement. Similarly, the Arab League and the African Union have employed the same legitimate, but problematic arguments, calling for the suspension, but not the cancellation of the indictment.

One of the chief supporters of this approach is the scholar, activist and consultant, Alex de Waal of Harvard University’s Department of Government. In all his permutations, de Waal has made a remarkable contribution to disentangling the conflict in Darfur, historicizing the problems in social, economic and political terms through his publications, as well as acting as a consultant to various bodies, including the African Union’s mediation team.

De Waal’s preferred approach to the crisis in the Sudan is diplomatic. He unequivocally rejects the ICC’s indictment of al-Bashir as a provocative gesture capable of destroying a negotiation process that demands a collaborative and inclusive approach. To pursue that end, he joined the politically neutral Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation organization formed in 2006 to popularize the terms of the Darfur Peace Agreement. Nick McDonell’s article in Harper’s Magazine follows de Waal into his meetings in Khartoum and Addis Ababa, as the British scholar seeks to shore up alliances. These meetings not only illustrate the extent of de Waal’s political contacts in the region, but the entrenched positions of the political factions in Sudan. These disturbing vignettes include de Waal’s meeting with Musa Hilal, the former government leader of the janjaweed forces, General Oyai Deng Ajak of the Southern People’s Liberation Army as he seeks munitions support in Ethiopia, Sudan’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador Mohieldin Salim and most unnerving—a meeting with Abdullah Safi-al-Nur—the figure responsible for arming Hilal’s janjaweed.

De Waals’s arguments against the indictment of al-Bashir are legitimate and they resonate the same concerns others have had with regard to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Criminal Tribunals in transitional democracies. Would the President’s arrest only incite further civil war? Is this an appropriate time to deal with issues of accountability over Darfur? Will issues of accountability, as de Waal has claimed elsewhere, be marginalized in the negotiation process precisely because of the indictment?

These concerns are no doubt speculative and whether the negotiation process succeeds or fails in the Sudan depends on any number of historical contingencies that are by no means always predictable. And de Waal is not without his critics. The Save Darfur Coalition, a group of 180 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations rejects his position and leaders of the Darfuri diaspora have called it a “bartering of accountability.” Moreover, de Waal’s argument that issues of accountability may be sidelined in the negotiation process precisely because of the indictment is difficult to sustain. One wonders whether al-Bashir would ever allow for accountability clauses in any peace agreement, with or without the threat of an arrest.
The most problematic issue, however, that is not addressed adequately by either McDonell’s article or by de Waal himself rests in the question, if not through the ICC, how will the problem of justice be handled for those thousands of victims in Darfur? If not through the indictment of a leader responsible for perpetrating and sustaining such a gruesome and cruel conflict, through what channels will the ever-marginalized civilian victims be answered in moral terms? This too is a vision worth pondering.

After completing her doctoral studies in Russian history at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Emma Gilligan was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of History at the University of Chicago from 2003-2006. During this time, she completed her book Defending Human Rights in Russia; Sergei Kovalyov Dissident and Human Rights Commisioner, 1969-96 (Routledge, 2004). This book traces the evolution of the Soviet human rights movement from the 1960s in Moscow to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It analyzes, in particular, the rise of Sergei Kovalyov, Russia's first human rights commissioner under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin and the impact of former Soviet dissidents on the discourse of human rights in the post-Soviet era. Her second book, War Crimes in Chechnya (Princeton University Press, forthcoming 2008) examines the war crimes committed by Russian soldiers against the civilian population of Chechnya. The study places the conflict in Chechnya within the international discourse on humanitarian intervention in the 1990s and the rise of nationalism in Russia. Emma Gilligan is the author of articles for the Chicago Tribune, ‘Why there is no Peace in Chechnya,’ 2005 and ‘US Loses High Ground on Human Rights,’ 2006 and the International Herald Tribune. She is a member of the Gladstein Committee for Human Rights and a joint hire with the Human Rights Institute. She teaches courses on the history of human rights and genocide after the Second World War.


Alex de Waal’s Shuttle Diplomacy

by Sarah Stanlick, Harvard University
"The multiplicity of actors, logistical issues, historical grievances, and mistrust has festered in the stalemate to create an environment rife for misunderstanding and miscommunication. The situation is broken, with unclear parties, unclear needs, and an unclear roadmap."

This month’s discussion piece, “The Activist,” is a critical look at one of the most renowned scholars of the turmoil in Sudan. Alex de Waal, a man with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the different factions, aspects, and issues surrounding the conflicts in Sudan, is profiled under a careful eye. De Waal, a competent critic—as McDonell notes who “takes pride in his competence, and he does not hesitate to criticize activists he deems inexpert”— has built a career on a meticulously researched understanding of the conflict. He honed that reputation through careful action, critical thinking, and a critical voice for actors who do not hold the same academic and experiential pedigree; namely, activists.

Despite his disdain for activist intervention in the region, de Waal may be the best person to carry out activist’s biggest hope. In December 2007, the Enough Project (ENOUGH), an offshoot of the Center for American Progress, called for “aggressive shuttle diplomacy” to help bring about a transformation in Darfur. Shuttle diplomacy, recommended in cases of extremely complex and seemingly intractable conflicts, allows for mediated communication in rapid-fire succession to bring about a solution and limit outside input from those who could set the process off course. ENOUGH’s reasoning for this recommendation is that swift, controlled mediation would limit negative influence of regional actors, counter the unwillingness of rebel leaders to travel and meet official mediation teams, and address the fractured nature of the conflict.

As a member of the African Union’s mediation team in 2005 and 2006, de Waal has the official capacity and the legitimacy to undertake this shuttle diplomacy tack that is advocated by the Enough Project. As evidenced by de Waal’s work with Abdul Mohammed and his condemnation efforts against Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC), de Waal is already working his brand of shuttle diplomacy. Rather than use his shuttling skills to undermine the ICC—a legitimate construct that is indicting Bashir, who will get a fair trial—de Waal could turn his attention to shuttling information between parties to resolve the conflict. Breaching the divide between academic analysis and conflict “street smarts,” de Waal has the potential to usher peace into the region for the first time in decades.
The multiplicity of actors, logistical issues, historical grievances, and mistrust has festered in the stalemate to create an environment rife for misunderstanding and miscommunication. De Waal himself admits that the government in Khartoum is fractured, and it is apparent the power base is ill-defined in the region. The situation is broken, with unclear parties, unclear needs, and an unclear roadmap. However, if there is any singular person who can bridge the gap between the many factions, it would be de Waal. Leveraging connections which he has cultivated from his Ph.D. research days until now gives him ample resources and lines of communication that he could tap into. His vast wealth of cultural understanding, legitimacy, and credentials puts de Waal in a unique position to thrive in this position.

Furthermore, what de Waal can gain from his work in this capacity would be the ability to show his students that there is a nexus between passionate activism and pragmatism. De Waal's caution against hot-blooded activism is understandable. Action without understanding could prolong or worsen an already complex conflict. However, level-headed, logical approaches to activism surrounding genocide should not be shunned completely. The danger in staunch anti-activism is the ability to inspire passivity in others, including his students. McDonell notes that there has been many a frustrated student who has angrily asked the activist-wary professor, “What do you want us to do?!” Through his role as a shuttle diplomat, de Waal could concede that activists can be competent decision makers, and that their collaboration with academic heavyweights can yield great things.

Shuttle diplomacy is one approach that could be beneficial, and it is important to note that it is not a fail-safe strategy. Olusegun Obasanju’s recent efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo yielded a tenuous ceasefire which was quickly violated, and Henry Kissinger’s work in the Middle East did not forge a lasting peace. But shuttle diplomacy could also yield peace—as is evidenced by George Mitchell’s work in Northern Ireland. While academics argue about credentials, labels, cultural competency, and remedies, people continue to die. The impetus is on those who know the region best to take steps to forge a peace that lasts long enough to make inroads for a more permanent solution.

With a new administration swiftly being compiled, the hope for Sudan-watchers is that a massive policy shift will occur that will compel the United States to quick action. It remains to be seen, however, exactly what policies and plans will be put into place. In the interim, this remains a dire situation that commands immediate attention. The International Crisis Group notes that the changes to the conflict over the last year have been great, and not for the better. While shuttle diplomacy can yield results, the participants must be willing and the mediator must be both swift and careful—characteristics de Waal possesses and could leverage for positive action.

Sarah Stanlick is currently heading a health and human rights project working to alleviate health burdens on the underserved population of Lawrence, MA and as a teaching assistant at Harvard University. She formerly served as Research Associate to Samantha Power at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and was also affiliated with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at HKS. She graduated as a Trustee Scholar from Lafayette College and holds a Master’s degree in Conflict and Coexistence from Brandeis University.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Editor's Introduction - November 2008

“Foreign Policy Myths Debunked.” The Nation. October 6, 2008.

An Annotation

Amid the competitive and somewhat heated rhetoric on the economy, race, taxes, and healthcare, noticeably down-played from the campaign for the White House has been an in-depth discussion of American foreign policy. With two ongoing and unpopular wars, and a faltering economic position in global markets, the new administration must rapidly address these, and other, demanding foreign policy concerns. In “Foreign Policy Myths Debunked,” the editors of The Nation attempt to outline the foreign policy myths that have adversely impacted American national security, economic growth, and most importantly, international standing.

“As the election draws near, a new set of myths and fallacies as misleading as those that led the Senate to support George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have become embedded in our foreign policy discourse…If left unchallenged, these myths and fallacies could influence the outcome of the election and shape policy in the next administration.”

Given the pressing foreign policy challenges facing the new administration, and the different opinions and perspectives that Senators McCain and Obama would bring to the Oval Office, what can we expect to see from each? This month’s Roundtable asks how human rights factor into the election, and, more specifically, the positions of each candidate. Does the enforcement of human rights play a role in this election’s foreign policy? In the context of genocide in Darfur, and continued ethnic conflict in the Middle East, will human rights norms become the forefront of American foreign policy? If the new administration follows the path set forth by the Bush administration, particularly in the use of human rights rhetoric to justify aggression and intervention, the realities of grave human rights violations and abuses occurring throughout the world will no longer demand immediate, comprehensive action.

“The challenge for the next administration, then, is not how to restore American leadership but how to share these responsibilities in an increasingly multipolar world, and thus free up the energy and resources needed to rebuild American society.”

Come inauguration on January 20, 2009, Senator McCain or Senator Obama will be forced to examine the past, present, and future of American foreign policy. Moreover, their decisive action or inaction will impact, not only Americans at home, but also the entire world. The centerpiece this month asks the key question: Will myths and lies continue to be the foundation for American foreign policy, as they have been for the past eight years under the Bush administration? Indeed, the American people and the international community are watching and waiting to witness the next phase of American foreign policy.

These issues and others are considered in this month’s Roundtable.


America as an Ordinary Nation

by William F. Felice, Eckerd College

"An effective U.S. foreign policy would recognize these limitations to U.S. power and understand the need for vibrant multilateral cooperation and diplomacy to address the most pressing security issues today, from global terrorism to global warming to the global recession."

For decades, scholars of international relations have called attention to the limits of American power. For example, in 1976 Cornel University Press published America as an Ordinary Country: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Future, edited by Richard Rosecrance. As the title indicates, Rosecrance’s book analyzed the impact of the economic, military, and foreign policy setbacks of the 1970s on U.S. power. Suddenly the U.S. seemed less the powerful, “indispensible” leader and more the vulnerable, “ordinary” country unable to control external forces lashing the society’s economy and foreign policy. These insights led many scholars to call for a reassessment of basic “common sense” assumptions about U.S. economic, military and political power. In 2003, Columbia University Press published Emmanuel Todd’s After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order. In this work, Todd picks up where Rosecrance left off and documents the many ways in which the world is learning that it can get along without American leadership. In fact, America today is burdened with enormous trade deficits, a declining dollar, and the unanticipated bankruptcies of leading firms and banks. Furthermore, the U.S. has become a dependent state, subsisting on foreign money. All of this, as Todd carefully demonstrates, has appreciably undermined the political and economic influence of the U.S. in international relations today. Other scholars, including Paul Kennedy, have added to this growing body of scholarship and posited similar concerns about the intense confines to American power. It can, in fact, be reasonably argued that the U.S. has become simply one liberal democracy among many with unique and growing economic, environmental, and social vulnerabilities. An effective U.S. foreign policy would recognize these limitations to U.S. power and understand the need for vibrant multilateral cooperation and diplomacy to address the most pressing security issues today, from global terrorism to global warming to the global recession.

Yet, the Bush administration never acknowledged how this new world of complex interdependence created such great power vulnerability and dramatically limited the utility of America’s hard power resources, in particular its military power. The current administration never understood how this pressing and dangerous new agenda of world politics demanded a multilateral approach, and that such a cooperative framework would enhance, not diminish, U.S. power. Instead, the neoconservative foreign policy team surrounding Cheney and Rumsfeld pursued a radical, more muscular foreign policy agenda based on American exceptionalism and unilateralism and a desire to make the world more like us. Instead of recognizing the critical role of international law and international organization in a world of common threats, the administration marginalized the United Nations and a rule-based world system, and sought to fight terrorism and promote democracy around the world according to its own determination of right and wrong. In the name of fighting terrorism, the administration abandoned the rule of law. The most basic norms necessary to create international cooperation and multilateralism were jettisoned, including equality, transparency, fair procedures, individual culpability, clear rules, checks and balances, and respect for basic human rights. In 2007, David Cole and Jules Lobel in Less Safe, Less Free documented how the Bush administration had systematically violated each of these basic legal commitments and instead imposed double standards, secret trials, guilt by association, obscured clear rules, asserted unchecked unilateral power, and sullied universal prohibitions on torture, disappearance, and the like. The tragic irony is that all of this has made the U.S. not only less free, but less safe and much more vulnerable to attack.

Sherle Schwenninger is thus absolutely correct when she writes in The Nation: “Neither campaign has grasped the central lesson of the Bush era: the world does not need strong U.S. leadership as much as it needs constructive U.S. participation as a great power.” American security and world peace depends upon the U.S. denouncing the neoconservative policies of exceptionalism and double standards, and committing our country to equality, justice, fairness, and the rule of law. In the end, an effective foreign policy and U.S. national security rest on a fundamental respect for human rights.

In his campaign for the presidency, George W. Bush stated: “If we are an arrogant nation, [other countries] will view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.” Tragically, the Bush foreign policy was arrogant to the core and we now suffer the consequences. The next administration will hopefully reject this failed arrogant path and pursue the “humble” road with the realization that “humility” can be shown through a basic and even-handed commitment to human rights norms and standards. When we become a nation that practices what it preaches about human rights, we will be a state that others will want to join with to collectively address terrorism, ecological dangers, and economic malaise. Unfortunately, neither campaign has argued vigorously for this type of multilateral, common security approach to U.S. foreign policy. But, once in power, the new president could use the “bully pulpit” of the office to challenge the current malignant quagmire of U.S. exceptionalism and articulate a vibrant road forward based on respect, multilateralism, and human rights.


Speak Softly...With Everyone You Can

by Todd Landman, University of Essex
"Fifty years of human rights achievements that had been originally crafted by Eleanor Roosevelt became undermined in one fell swoop with the establishment of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. And it is to the unintended consequences of American foreign policy that I would like a McCain or Obama administration to pay close attention."

From the Monroe Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine, United States foreign policy has been predicated on the assumption that somehow it knows what is best for the rest of the world. Monroe feared a potential encroachment from Russia and meddling in the “American” Hemisphere by the European powers and issued what originally appeared as a modest statement about resistance to intervention by any other country than the United States. Ironically enforced by the British Navy at that time, the Monroe Doctrine went far beyond its modest beginnings to set a precedent for the development of U.S. foreign policy. The logic of the doctrine would later be buttressed by other presidential decrees and doctrines, most notably the Roosevelt corollary, which extended U.S. “police power” over the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean; the Truman Doctrine, which sought to contain the Soviet Union through the establishment of allies and a ring of missiles in Europe; the Reagan Doctrine, which sought to “roll back” communism through the use of “proxy wars” in Latin America (the soft underbelly of the United States), Africa (most notably Angola), the Middle East and Central Asia (e.g. Afghanistan); and the Bush Doctrine, which justifies pre-emptive use of force against any threat that is deemed to be “imminent” (see the 2002 National Security Strategy).
Like Barack Obama, I was a freshman in the 1980s at the University of Pennsylvania, which also had its anti-apartheid and anti-Reagan Doctrine protests. While the Vietnam “syndrome” limited the willingness of the United States to engage directly in conflicts around the world and the Iran-Contra affair taught us about the abuses of executive authority (as the Nixon years did when I was a child), we implored our university to divest from South Africa to punish an unacceptable regime that had endured for an unacceptable period of time. My studies also led to a deeper understanding of the nature and extent of widespread human rights abuse committed by the military authoritarian regimes in Latin America. Many of these regimes enjoyed staunch support from the Reagan administration, which drew its foreign policy inspiration from Jeane Kirkpatrick’s misconceived notion that right wing authoritarian regimes were somehow more susceptible to democratization than left wing authoritarian regimes. The paradigmatic case was Pinochet’s Chile, where the full extent of U.S. involvement and complicity in what took place there between 1973 and 1989 has finally been authoritatively documented in Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File (see also my 2004 review essay on this book published in HRHW).
Beyond the more famous cases from Latin America, the Reagan Doctrine also led the U.S. to commit covert funds, weapons, and materiel to Afghanistan through Pakistan to support the Muhajadeen’s battle against Soviet occupation, where the consequences have included the disenchantment with the United States, recruitment into Al Qaeda terror networks, and at least until the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a training base for Osama Bin Laden. Again, like in the case of Chile, the links between U.S. policy and the most perverse of unintended consequences has been authoritatively documented in Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars.
And it is to the unintended consequences of American foreign policy that I would like a McCain or Obama administration to pay close attention. McCain’s hero is Teddy Roosevelt, but the “big stick” of American unilateralism, carried out with alacrity during the Bush years has led to huge loss of life around the world and significant discredit of the American ideal among many of its trusted friends and allies. Fifty years of human rights achievements that had been originally crafted by Eleanor Roosevelt became undermined in one fell swoop with the establishment of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. The general disdain for hard-fought international human rights standards in the name of fighting terror that developed within the upper echelons of the Bush administration was raised to high relief by the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib. Mr. McCain’s personal experiences with the excesses of “reasons of state” in Vietnam must surely make him wary of the pursuit of national objectives at any cost and his measured approach to committing U.S. troops abroad (perhaps with the exception of the war in Iraq) suggests that an administration under his leadership will be less bellicose than its predecessor. But his gaffes with respect to Iran suggest that voters ought to think hard about what kind of image and what kind of foreign policy America will have with McCain and Palin in the White House.Obama takes his inspiration from John F. Kennedy (or at least his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and not the Bay of Pigs) and seeks a more consultative base for his foreign policy rather than the big stick of the “neo-Rooselveltian,” as Newsweek describes McCain. But JFK also had his fair share of unintended consequences, not least of which the Alliance for Progress, a foreign aid and technical assistance package extended to Latin America in the 1960s trained the military personnel and laid the foundations for the authoritarian period that soon followed. Obama’s Asian experiences have sensitized him in some degree to the plight of poor Muslims and poor people more generally and suggested one strand for U.S. foreign policy address the long term structural problems associated with maldistribution of wealth within the world. His choice of running mate suggests that he will have a firm knowledge of the travails of the Reagan and Bush Doctrines. Moreover, as a lawyer and community activist in Chicago, Obama should be well-versed in the power and meaning of human rights. But I do hope that the pressures of being the President and the many contradictions that come with holding that office will not distract him from a commitment to our most basic of human values.


Myths, Reasonable Disagreement, and a League of Democracies

by James Pattison, University of West England
"The subsequent impact of the basing of U.S. foreign policy on the protection of human rights worldwide on these egregious lies is well-known, from Guantanamo Bay to the courting of tyrannies as partners in the War on Terror."

The United States’ election in 2004 was based on a number of foreign policy myths. Three of the most obvious were:
The war in Iraq was necessary as a response to the threat of international terrorism. As a result, the world is now a safer place; The institutions of the UN are corrupt and do nothing but restrict American power; Al Qaeda and international terrorism more generally are extremely significant threats to American national security.

These myths were the centerpiece of the Bush re-election campaign that realized, as the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel argued two hundred years ago, that the best way to quell domestic criticism is to wage war and exacerbate fear from external attack. The subsequent impact of the basing of U.S. foreign policy on the protection of human rights worldwide on these egregious lies is well-known, from Guantanamo Bay to the courting of tyrannies as partners in the War on Terror (such as Islom Karimov, president of Uzbekistan). More diffuse effects included the weakening of the U.S.’s ability to act as “norm-carrier” for human rights and related ideas, such as humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. That is, the power of the U.S. to influence the Global South on such matters waned as skepticism of its War on Terror increased. Perhaps most notably, these policies stymied the possibility of more robust action to the crisis in Darfur, as American military resources and attention were focused elsewhere and the Global South became less willing to listen to a unilateralist, chauvinistic U.S.

While ramifications of the myths of the 2004 election for human rights were as clear at the time as they are now, I’m less convinced that the ten points listed by the editors of the Nation should be viewed as “myths,” “lies,” or “gross distortions.” Take, for instance, “Myth 2”—that the “surge has worked.” Although the editors may rightly point to the other factors involved in the reduction in violence and question the success of the surge, a reasonable case can be made that the surge has been a significant factor in the improvement of the situation in Iraq. Or, take “Myth 10,” that the “world needs American leadership.” A similarly reasonable case can be made for the need for strong U.S. leadership, particularly on human rights and environmental issues, where American leadership on such issues has been lacking. Of course, leadership on such issues may necessitate constructive engagement rather than unilateral obstinacy.

My point, then, is that most of the ten “myths” identified by the editors of the Nation are nowhere near the egregious lies of the Bush Administration. They are instead more like points of what John Rawls calls “reasonable disagreement” about the current international climate. To be sure, I’m sympathetic to many of the claims by the editors. But casting alternative arguments as “myths” is unhelpful in two ways. First, it denies the acceptability of debate about these issues, denying other positions as “lies,” when debate is surely what is required. Second, it over-exaggerates the extent to which the current election is based on myths. Unlike 2004, this election has a more serious, somber tone (despite some notable exceptions). Part of this is perhaps down to McCain’s seeming reluctance to go along with the Neocon’s dirty tricks, which he himself was subject to in 2000.

My focus thus far has been on the problem with the framing of reasonable, ulterior viewpoints as “myths.” But I have also said that I agree with the broad thrust of the editors’ arguments. There is one point, however, where I think they are wrong. This is their rejection of the idea of a League of Democracies. This idea has a long and rich history, and was most famously defended by Immanuel Kant in his proposal for Perpetual Peace. Kant’s suggestion is for a loose confederation of liberal democracies that would spread over the world as the pacifying effects of democratization are realized. To a certain extent, we already have a League of Democracies—NATO. One option would be the extension of NATO to include other democracies beyond Europe and North America. But perhaps a better option, and more in line with the Kantian ideal, would be to look to such a body not to provide military leadership, but to work as a political and economic forum to improve the promotion of human rights worldwide. It would essentially be a talking shop that deals in international legitimacy, working alongside the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council would still be tasked with dealing with matters of international peace and security. Indeed, the re-emergence of Russia and the growing power of China make an alternative to the Security Council on such matters unlikely. The League would instead meet every so often to debate key international issues, just as the non-aligned movement and the G8 currently do. This weaker institution would avoid many of the practical problems highlighted by the editors. And still, very occasionally, it may be able to pass resolutions endorsing humanitarian intervention outside the auspices of Security Council, helping to legitimize action such as NATO’s intervention in Kosovo 1999.
The editors of the Nation propose the expansion of the Security Council to include emerging powers such as India and Brazil. This would obviously increase the likelihood of stalemate in the Council. In fact, it would further exacerbate the need for alternatives sources of legitimacy, such as a League of Democracies, to ensure an effective response to serious humanitarian crises. Such a solution would, of course, face some practical hurdles, but we should not foreclose its possibility by viewing it as “mythical,” especially when it could have an important role in improving compliance worldwide with human rights norms.


Human Rights and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

by Brent Steele, University of Kansas
"While it may not be the case that the 'world needs' U.S. leadership, certain areas may not resist it. This is especially the case if either of these men—Obama or McCain—can quickly regain the trust of the world community through a set of policies which approach global problems with honest assessments and earnest commitments."

There has been a vivid tendency this year by the conventional keepers of Washington wisdom to explicate the two presidential candidates’ foreign policy views using old frameworks of “hawk” and “dove.” Not only is this binary wrong, it fundamentally obscures some rather ironic potentials for how each candidate, if elected president, will focus upon human rights in their foreign policy. McCain’s neoconservative view of the world is founded upon the Wilsonian call for democratization—culminating in what he terms a “League of Democracies.” To use a concept that Arnold Wolfers first coined, and one which Joshua Muravchik has proffered as well, McCain has at heart “milleu” goals for the world. The U.S.’s prominent position as a great power can not only secure American national interests in anarchy, it can change that notion of anarchy altogether – a world constituted by liberal democracies is one which will be radically more peaceful than one where rogue states reside.

Obama, despite all of the grandiose rhetoric, and despite having liberal internationalist advisors such as Anthony Lake and Ivo Daalder, has emphasized and even championed realist principles of prudence, self-limitation, restraint and caution, which explicates his stated admiration for a variety of realist icons such as Reinhold Niebuhr, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson, (see Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of him from May of 2007 in this regard). This also elucidates why he has been supported, either tacitly or explicitly, by realist Republicans such as Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell. It is the realist emphases on diplomacy, “soft power” and the U.S. national interest, which pulse Obama’s position on dialogue with adversaries such as Iran, rather than some cosmopolitan notion that he is trying to get us all to “get along.”

How will these policies impact human rights in the world? For starters, both men will move away from the current administration’s embrace of coercive interrogation techniques in combating terrorism. Arguably, there has been no darker turn in U.S. foreign policy than this, and it looks very likely the use of such techniques will end. Admittedly, there are differences on this issue between the two—such as McCain’s support for, versus Obama’s opposition to the 2006 Military Commissions Act which, among other provisions, will make it more difficult for either man as president to prosecute government officials for criminal misconduct in regards to interrogation. But overall either Obama or McCain would be, and have been as senators, more forceful in their condemnation of such techniques. And as constructivist scholars of International Relations would point out, both men have justified this condemnation with powerful references to U.S. identity: Obama repeatedly asserts his opposition to torture with the words “That is not who we are,” and McCain has mentioned on several occasions that regardless of who the enemies are (even terrorists), “We are Americans, and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be.” For those who care about human rights, on this issue there is hope for optimism.

When it comes to other practices which implicate human rights, make no mistake that if Obama is elected, his Iraq withdrawal plan will inevitably entail some instability in Iraq such as a return of sectarian fighting between the Shia and Sunnis in Baghdad and surrounding areas. McCain’s stated goal to keep troops in Iraq would most likely in the short-term serve to continue the fragile peace between contentious factions there (I say “most likely” since it’s not entirely clear that the increased U.S. presence there via the “surge” is solely responsible for this fragile stability), but in the long term it may constrain the U.S.’s ability to deploy forces to stem humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world.

On the issue of genocide, those who see Obama as an “idealist” advocate of humanitarian interventions throughout the world are, I believe, going to be sorely disappointed if he is elected. Admittedly, he has had advisors such as Anthony Lake and Samantha Power who have articulately argued that genocide is an important U.S. national security threat. But the principles of realism that Obama supports—caution and prudence, for example—are not conducive to interventionist policies. Realist-influenced administrations, such as that of George H.W. Bush (a president for whose foreign policies Obama has on more than one occasion expressed admiration), have been extremely reticent to deploy force for humanitarian purposes, although they did, in rare occasions (such as Somalia). But if Obama were to support action in Darfur, for example, it would likely be done with the knowledge that U.S. material resources are finite, and accordingly U.S. actions to assist the humanitarian efforts there would need to be cheap and limited, as he intuited in his second debate with Senator McCain in early October, Obama’s approach would more likely emphasize long-term tactics designed to alleviate global poverty and the raising of individual’s living standards—purposes which would presumably reduce the need for interventions in the first place.

Senator McCain’s neoconservative leanings would lead one to tentatively conclude that he would be more supportive of intervention than Obama. But as Matthew Bai found out in an interview he conducted with the Senator, McCain has a very nuanced view of intervention that reflects a more sophisticated understanding of the situations where U.S. soldiers could stop humanitarian disaster, versus others (such as Zimbabwe) where they may exacerbate more than mediate humanitarian crises.

Finally, I must take a bit of issue with the 10th “debunked” myth in The Nation article. The article asserts that “much of the rest of the world is more skeptical, if not outright resistant, to Washington’s global leadership than at any time since the end of World War II.” This may be true, but in my brief interactions outside of this country in the past couple of years, I am amazed at how captivated some citizens of “the world” are with this U.S. presidential election. Many view it as an historic opportunity for the U.S. to re-enter the world community, and whether the individuals in these countries informed me of their preference (Obama, McCain, or, at the time of my travels, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton), they were all intensely interested in this election. While it may not be the case that the “world needs” U.S. leadership, certain areas may not resist it. This is especially the case if either of these men—Obama or McCain—can quickly regain the trust of the world community through a set of policies which approach global problems with honest assessments and earnest commitments. I am fairly optimistic that even if much of the world remains skeptical regarding U.S. leadership after what has transpired over the last eight years, Barack Obama and John McCain each possess the capacity to restore some semblance of the moral authority that the U.S. possessed in many pockets of the world community not so long ago.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Editor's Introduction - October 2008

“Making Intervention Work.” by Morton Abramowitz and Thomas Pickering. Foreign Affairs. September/October 2008.

Recent events, including armed conflict and natural disaster, have alerted the international community of the critical demand for mechanisms that allow for the safe and effective facilitation of humanitarian intervention. To an increasingly larger extent, diplomacy, campaigns of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the international media play a significant role in raising awareness of human rights abuses and violations that occur worldwide. However, according to authors Abramowitz and Pickering, despite numerous calls to action, the United Nations remains the major enforcer of international conventions and norms.

“There have been remarkable advances in the fields of human security and human rights…terms such as ‘never again’ and appeals for ‘humanitarian intervention’ and a ‘responsibility to protect’ have become commonplace.”

Regardless of idealistic conceptions of enforcement and intervention, advocates, governments, and NGOs remain hampered in their efforts to protect lives on the ground. Thus, securing and providing for communities ravaged by war or natural disaster is increasingly stymied by political inaction and repression. In responding to such crises, Abramowitz and Pickering call for a revamped and reinvigorated United Nations to provide the much needed legitimacy, capability, and resources to protect those in need.

“Reinvigorating the UN–which is still perceived by most countries as the preeminent institution providing international legitimacy—will be essential. What is needed is a streamlined UN decision making process, ready UN access to military and other forces, and strong investment in diplomacy by key states and institutions.”

In making their recommendations on reforming the United Nations, Abramowitz and Pickering focus on restructuring the Security Council, establishing a limited peacekeeping force, and investing in high-level diplomacy. But, for the authors, improvements to the United Nations system will only be successful if they occur in conjunction with the continued participation of advocates, governments, and NGOs. Moreover, efforts made by the international community, particularly those made by governments and politicians, must take greater account of public sentiment surrounding human rights atrocities.

“These measures would not necessarily resolve the world’s many humanitarian disasters, nor do they represent the final word on these matters. But they would offer a greater likelihood that strong international action would be taken in the most challenging situations.”

Abramowitz and Pickering realize that simply restructuring the United Nations will do little to resolve problems of intervention. Specifically, more must be done to include the international community in the complex mechanisms and practicalities that ensure effective and legitimate intervention in all cases.

These issues and others are considered in this month’s Roundtable.


Has the Iraq War Torpedoed the "Responsibility to Protect"?

by William F. Felice, Eckerd College

"Unfortunately, such pleas that call for strengthening global governance to forcefully intervene inside sovereign states, in the name of human rights and humanitarianism, will most likely be resented and then ignored by the majority of the world’s states and peoples. To a large degree, this is an unfortunate legacy of the Iraq war."

At a U.N. World Summit in 2005, the nations of the world approved the “responsibility to protect.” This emerging principle of international law, charges each individual state with the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. If a nation fails to protect its populations from these barbarities, the nations of the world declared that they would act, through the Security Council, in accordance with the U.N. Charter, to stop the violence against innocents everywhere and protect imperiled peoples. In theory, Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter gives the member states the military muscle to intervene inside a sovereign state in order to prevent future Rwandas.

Former U.S. Ambassadors Morton Abramowitz and Thomas Pickering, in this month’s Roundtable centerpiece article, advocate certain instruments to allow the U.N. to enforce the “responsibility to protect.” The Ambassadors seek to empower the U.N. to effectively “face down governments that massively mistreat their people.” The Ambassadors’ three-prong line of attack involves a “streamlined U.N. decision-making process, ready U.N. access to military and other forces, and strong investment in diplomacy by key states and institutions.” To accomplish these objectives, Abramowitz and Pickering hope that the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members— China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—could agree “not to use their vetoes to block proposals for coercive intervention in extreme humanitarian crises.” They further make the case for the creation of a standing army of 25,000 well-trained and well-equipped troops to add credibility and professionalism to U.N. peacekeeping operations and to be able to militarily intervene quickly in a humanitarian emergency. In this regard, the authors go beyond the areas of jurisdiction outlined in the “responsibility to protect,” which were limited to interventions to stop genocide, war crimes, ethic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. The Ambassadors argue that the U.N. should also be ready to intervene with force after a natural disaster (hurricanes, cyclones, and so on) when a national government is doing little to aid the survivors.

Unfortunately, at this moment in history, such pleas from former American Ambassadors that call for strengthening global governance to forcefully intervene inside sovereign states, in the name of human rights and humanitarianism, will most likely be resented and then ignored by the majority of the world’s states and peoples. To a large degree, this is an unfortunate legacy of the Iraq war.

After exhausting the other rationalizations for the war in Iraq (WMD, al-Qaeda connections, and so on), the Bush administration justified its killing as a humanitarian action to bring democracy and freedom to the oppressed Iraqi people. The so-called “liberal hawks” in the U.S., in particular, supported this call for a humanitarian intervention to liberate the Iraqi people from the brutality of the Hussein regime. Yet, as is well-known, the overwhelming majority of the nations of the world vehemently rejected these arguments for war before the 2003 intervention. In fact, it was not just the governments who opposed the war, but according to opinion polls the overwhelming majority of the world’s people as well. An unprecedented global anti-war demonstration took place in sixty countries, involved eight hundred cities, and included over ten million people around the world. This outpouring of protest was all designed to prevent a war from breaking out. Never before in history had such an event occurred before a war had actually begun.

As the U.S. ignored these voices, the world’s peoples looked to the U.N. to represent their interests. With their veto power, France, Russia, and China were able to prevent a U.N. endorsement of the globally unpopular U.S. preventive war in Iraq. This U.N. action—standing up to the biggest military power in the world—was ridiculed inside the U.S. But, outside this country, the majority of the planet applauded the U.N. and the international organization gained a new level of legitimacy.

There are at least two conclusions to draw from this recent history that are relevant to the Ambassador’s proposals to strengthen the U.N.’s ability to intervene for humanitarian purposes. First, this Iraq experience led many to a new appreciation for the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council. As a result, this may be the wrong time for Abramowitz and Pickering to be calling for a “blunting of the power of the veto” during a humanitarian crisis. To many in the Southern Hemisphere, this call will most likely be seen as an attempt to blunt the power of Russia and China and open the door for U.S. unilateralism abroad. Even though the Security Council did not prevent the U.S. from invading Iraq, it was of tremendous moral significance that the U.N. refused to endorse this effort. Any talk now of removing or down-grading the veto power from those who opposed U.S. actions, will smack of retribution.

Second, the Iraq experience confirmed for many the ways in which the language of “humanitarian intervention” is used by the powerful to advance their interests at the expense of the weak states. Abramowitz and Pickering’s proposals to empower the U.N. could thus be seen as merely a means to give the powerful more freedom to intervene in the affairs of the weak. This will not necessarily increase global cooperation in response to humanitarian emergencies. Unfortunately, the great powers consistently analyze humanitarian crisis through the lens of national interest and act accordingly. China’s support and protection of the genocidal regime in Sudan comes foremost to mind.

As with China, the U.S. is also viewed by many as highly hypocritical in its human rights and humanitarian actions. The U.S. recently had an opportunity to change this negative reputation of utilizing the language of human rights and humanitarianism to advance an agenda of power politics. In September 2008, Hurricane Gustav devastated Cuba, damaging more than 100,000 homes and wiping out key sugar and banana-growing regions. The cumulative storm damage has been placed at $3 billion to $4 billion. Despite this humanitarian crisis, the U.S. has been unwilling to relax the outdated trade embargo and let Americans help Cuba. Instead, the U.S. offered Cuba a paltry $100,000, with enough “strings” attached that the State Department knew Cuba would reject the offer. This fiasco has again demonstrated that the U.S. applies “humanitarian” aid and intervention to promote its foreign policy agenda. It was a lost opportunity for the U.S. to prove its critics wrong.

Until the major powers—including China and the U.S.—demonstrate a firm commitment to humanitarian principles across the board, proposals to strengthen the U.N. bureaucracy ring hollow. It is putting the cart before the horse.

William F. Felice is professor of political science and head of the international relations major at Eckerd College. Dr. Felice was named the 2006 Florida Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He is the author of The Global New Deal: Economic and Social Human Rights in World Politics (2003), Taking Suffering Seriously: The Importance of Collective Human Rights (1996), and numerous articles on the theory and practice of human rights. More information can be found on his department website


The Responsibility to Protect and the Failure to Respond

by Todd Landman, University of Essex

"Any assessment of the plight of billions of people around the globe will undoubtedly recognize that real efforts to match in reality what is pledged rhetorically requires some sort of commitment, or “buy in” from today’s great powers. The proposals offered by Abramowitz and Pickering will need to confront the challenge of incorporating humanitarian and human rights concerns into a realist world."

Commentators on global politics frequently observe the abject failure of states and global institutions to respond to local, regional, and global crises ranging from dramatic climatic events, humanitarian crises, warfare and violence, to the continuation of unsavoury rights-abusive regimes. In my own work in the field of the comparative politics of human rights, the types of observations that Abramowitz and Pickering make in this piece are all too common, and have led many in the past to make similar such observations that powerful states constantly engage in a grand human rights “double standard.”

In a 1999 article in the New York Times Magazine, David Rieff argued that the selective intervention of states on behalf of human rights is a tragic betrayal of an otherwise impressive “triumph” of human rights in the latter half of the twentieth century. Stephen Krasner has long argued that powerful states will pursue human rights policies when they are in their interests to do so. Somewhat more critically, in Theory and Reality in the International Protection of Human Rights, James Shand Watson contends that the failure of states to prevent a century of state-led violence, genocide, and continued rights abuse, proves that human rights are merely a fiction.

Beyond these various arguments, systematic empirical analysis of foreign aid allocation shows that states behave strategically in often ignoring the human rights practices of recipient states (particularly now during the “war on terror”), while other cross-national comparative research shows that the impact of international human rights law on state behavior is non-existent, counter-intuitive, or in the case of my own research, “significant, but limited.” Indeed, it appears that domestic processes of economic development and democratization, coupled with greater openness to international linkages through non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations serve as important supporting conditions for improvements in human rights protection on the ground.

Any assessment of the plight of billions of people around the globe will undoubtedly recognize that real efforts to match in reality what is pledged rhetorically requires some sort of commitment, or “buy in” from today’s great powers. This, however, is an old chestnut of internationalism that has been with us from the early realist arguments found in Thucydides and Machiavelli, through the attempts to establish the League of Nations, the debates to give real teeth to the United Nations, the latest efforts to fortify the security and rights mechanisms within the U.N. (as well as within the regional systems of Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia), to the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

In addition to the different experiments mentioned by Abramowitz and Pickering, I would add the Community of Democracies (which is restricted to democracies) and the U.N.-sponsored International Conferences of New and Restored Democracies (which are open to all member states) that have been organized since 1988 and currently chaired by Qatar. But any of these projects is always subject to the realpolitick of the great powers, whoever they may be at the time a potential solution is offered. Abramowitz and Pickering are fully cognizant of this point as they discuss the difficulty of overcoming the veto on the U.N. Security Council and in realizing their modest idea of a small U.N. force that could respond to various crises in the world. In addition to the absence of response to the typhoon in Myanmar, the impotence of the United States and European Union in the face of the situation that developed recently in Georgia shows the limits and additional challenges to breaking this cycle of selectivity.

Perhaps one way to proceed is to start to cast human rights and humanitarian arguments in realist terms. Is it not in the national interests of states to surround themselves and to associate themselves with what Jack Donnelly calls “rights-protective” states? Can the rationalist approach and the realist paradigm (even in their most material manifestations), as well the real decision makers within the world’s great powers, incorporate the idea that the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, and the protection of human rights are actually in their interests as an end in themselves and as a means to achieving greater overall security and peace?

For too long, such arguments have been cast as against realism rather than within realism. Some worry that repeating the realist mantra (especially to international relations students) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but the observable behavior of states in terms of their selective attention to the world’s humanitarian and human rights problems (either immediate or long term) suggests that the balance of evidence still very much weighs in favor of the realist perspective. It thus seems that if any progress can be made, it is within realism and within the minds of policy makers who are worried about national interests and national security on a daily basis. The proposals offered by Abramowitz and Pickering are certainly laudable, but their realization will need to confront the challenge of incorporating humanitarian and human rights concerns into a realist world.

Dr. Todd Landman is Director of the Centre for Democratic Governance, Department of Government, at University of Essex. He is author of Issues and Methods in Comparative Politics, 3rd Edition (Routledge 2008), Studying Human Rights (Routledge 2006), and Protecting Human Rights (Georgetown 2005); co-author of Governing Latin America (Polity 2003) and Citizenship Rights and Social Movements (Oxford 1997); and co-editor of the Sage Handbook of Comparative Politics (Sage 2009). Dr. Landman has served as international human rights and democracy consultant for UNDP, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, CIDA, DFID, DANIDA, IDEA, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands, Foreign Ministry of Mongolia, International Centre for Human Rights Policy, and Minority Rights Group International. His personal website can be found at


Improving the Agents and Mechanisms of Humanitarian Intervention

by James Pattison, University of West England

"Much of what I have said may give the impression that I think that we should abandon the U.N. as the focus of peace operations. This is mistaken. The frequently-highlighted inefficiencies of the U.N. are, in practice, overshadowed by the understated, but notable, successes that it has with its peace operations."

I agree with the broad thrust of Abramowitz and Pickering’s article. They rightly highlight the failings of the current agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention. The problem, however, is twofold. First, all the currently-existing interveners possess notable, and well-known, flaws. The U.N. and regional organizations suffer from serious shortfalls in funding and equipment. States frequently lack the commitment and willingness to act. And, although NATO’s operations in Bosnia and Kosovo raised hopes that it would be a willing and powerful humanitarian intervener, the reluctance of many of its members to commit troops in Afghanistan (where member states have clear interests) has cast serious doubts over whether it can be relied on as an effective agent of humanitarian intervention in the future (where the interests of its members may be less clear). Second, there are problems with the authorization of intervention: there are many occasions when humanitarian intervention should be rapidly undertaken, but is not because it has been stymied in the U.N. Security Council. There needs, then, to be notable improvements if the international community is to possess the capacity to intervene effectively for humanitarian purposes when necessary.

However, I am less convinced that the solutions offered by Abramowitz and Pickering would do much to improve the international community’s capabilities in this regard. To start with, take their suggestions that concern the authorization of force and, in particular, the proposal to curb the use of the veto. This has been mooted for a number of years (for instance, it was suggested by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty in 2001 (ICISS)), but there has been little, if any, indication of a willingness by the permanent members (P-5) to restrain themselves in this way. I fear that this is a political dead end. What we need instead are alternative, additional sources of international legitimacy. Indeed, this is one reason why the notion of a “league of democracies” has been floated. Other options for improving the authorization of intervention include the strengthening of regional organizations (more on that later), a reinvigoration of the Uniting for Peace procedure of the General Assembly and, more ambitiously, the development of cosmopolitan democratic institutions, such as the world parliament endorsed by Andrew Strauss and Richard Falk. My point is that finding alternatives to the U.N. Security Council is the best way of making it work. These alternatives would pressurize the Council into making the right decisions more often, for fear of losing power and influence.

Abramowitz and Pickering also present two proposals for improving the mechanisms to undertake humanitarian intervention: (i) a contribution of 5,000 troops from each of the P-5 (a 25,000-strong force in total); and (ii) a 5,000-strong autonomous U.N. rapid reaction force. There is reason to be cautious about the first proposal. Having the P-5 authorize, and then undertake, their own interventions could risk putting too much power in their hands. The second solution, however, has more merit. Indeed, I have written elsewhere that such an option is the most desirable long-term solution to the problems faced by the current agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention.

That said, the particular proposal made by Abramowitz and Pickering of 5,000 troops would run into a number of problems. If the force fulfilled its role in one region in the world, it would not be able to intervene elsewhere. The need for rotation of troops would also mean that it would be a “one-shot option.” That is, after undertaking one mission, it would not be able to intervene for a number of months afterwards while its troops regenerate. Furthermore, there may be no backup troops forthcoming to replace the force, which would leave it with the dilemma of either leaving, thereby letting the crisis go unresolved, or staying, and thereby depriving others access to its protection. Moreover, having funded the force, states would expect it to remove some of their peacekeeping and intervention burden (or humanitarian relief burden), and therefore may be less willing to provide troops and equipment themselves. As such, this proposal, if established, would add little to the currently-existing options.

To be fair, Abramowitz and Pickering seem to see this force as a stepping-stone to something more significant. But the same problems would apply to a larger, more developed force (including their other suggestion of 25,000 troops from the P-5). To be more valuable, a standing U.N. force would need to be much larger. But this leads to problems of its own, including feasibility and the potential for abuse.

Accordingly, I still believe that regional organizations offer the best solution for improving the capacity to intervene. The potential of the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) in particular is substantial. To be sure, both institutions are currently a long way from being able to conduct major humanitarian interventions by themselves. But given their general support for humanitarian intervention (e.g., in the African Union’s Constitutive Act) and the interests that they possess in halting humanitarian crises, we should pursue the development of their capacities. A stronger AU and EU will add much to the ability of the international community to undertake humanitarian intervention.

Much of what I have said may give the impression that I think that we should abandon the U.N. as the locus of peace operations. This is mistaken. The frequently-highlighted inefficiencies of the U.N. are, in practice, overshadowed by the understated, but notable, successes that it has with its peace operations. Likewise, the problems that UNAMID has had getting up to strength in Darfur should be put into the context of what is a boom time for U.N. peace operations. According to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, there are, as of August 2008, 107,503 troops, police, observers, and other officials serving in 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations. This is the largest number of peacekeepers to date and, what is more, it looks like this number will continue to grow. Of course, this should not be a reason for complacency. We should continue to improve the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention to build on the U.N.’s abilities and to offer more options when faced with the mass violation of basic human rights. Augmenting regional organizations’ capacities would be one way to do so.

Dr. James Pattison is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of the West of England, U.K. He recently completed his PhD on humanitarian intervention, for which he was awarded the “Sir Ernest Barker Prize for Best Dissertation in Political Theory.” He has written various articles on the ethics of war and intervention and is currently working on a book on the Responsibility to Protect for Oxford University Press. Please visit his website:


Reforming Humanitarian Rescue

by Brent J. Steele, University of Kansas

"The U.N. performs many functions very effectively—but armed humanitarian rescue has never been one of those. While the authors fully recognize the problems with the U.N. as it currently stands, in my view the main issue is the constitutive basis of the U.N. itself."

There is much to commend in Morton Abramowitz and Thomas Pickering’s article “Making Intervention Work.” They propose to reform the United Nations’ capacity for intervention with the creation of an autonomous U.N. force largely constituted with forces contributed by the Security Council’s member-states. If such a force were kept to a minimal operational mission, “a small rapid-deployment force with special engineering, logistical, medical, and police skills,” as the authors suggest, then I think this is a good idea. If such a force would, however, become more than this—an autonomous army of military personnel meant to intervene with force into any humanitarian crisis in which it is needed or sanctioned—then I fear this would be a counter-productive entity.

I do concur with the authors’ important points on the obstacles inherent in democracies that make their propensity for intervention very rare indeed. This is a point that Samantha Power most stridently made in her seminal book A Problem From Hell. Leaders in liberal democracies see all risks and no rewards in pursuing an intervention to stop a genocide, although Power also seemed to think that liberal democracies were still the most likely actors to recognize the horrors of genocide. Yet I’d even take Abramowitz and Pickering’s argument further—perhaps the reason why liberal democracies are risk-averse when it comes to genocide is because they are liberal, in a classic philosophical sense. By focusing on the self-interest of individuals, and forming a government around those interests, such regimes are not meant to initiate any “other-regarding” sentiment in their populaces, even if they pay lip service to such a notion in speeches and ceremonies promoting the phrase “Never Again.”

Had I read this proposal ten years ago, I would have been whole-heartedly behind its prescriptions. And still today I applaud the attempt by these authors to try and resolve a problem (humanitarian crisis) seemingly desperate for a systematic solution. But in 2008 I am less inclined to see this as anything more than another “top-down” one-size fits all solution to a “type” of crisis (humanitarian disasters) that is as diverse as it is urgent. In short, I do not see the U.N. resolving these crises—even an autonomous force of “first responders” would still be log-jammed with bureaucratic obstacles. The U.N. performs many functions very effectively—but armed humanitarian rescue has never been one of those. While the authors fully recognize the problems with the U.N. as it currently stands, in my view the main issue is the constitutive basis of the U.N. itself. The U.N. was created to promote sovereignty and stability. To paraphrase the tenor of many English School theorists, the U.N. is here to promote order, not justice. In a world of nation-states, such an entity constituted by states will not be able to transcend the Westphalian tension between national and international interests.

So I would suggest that in order to support humanitarian intervention we need to by-pass the nation-state as rescue’s main instrument, and instead look towards non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and even private military firms (PMFs). These come with costs, of course, but in humanitarian crises, debate and consensus-building cost precious time and lives. NGOs and PMF’s are quicker and more efficient. NGOs are most preferable—because as glorious as an armed intervention against a genocidal regime or militia may be, the most comprehensive way to save lives is still the well-organized distribution of medical and food aid. PMF’s of course challenge the monopoly of violence that the sovereign state is supposed to have, but if sovereign states have no interest in intervention, then PMF’s are a potentially prudent last resort, as Michael Walzer suggested in a recent article in The New Republic. Again, this is one of several possibilities that should be considered depending upon the context of the humanitarian crisis. Such a complex problem deserves a diverse array of solutions, but I am afraid that the solution proposed in “Making Intervention Work” would have limited feasibility, if it ever came to pass in the first place.

Brent J. Steele is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Kansas. His primary research interests cover a wide array of international relations topics, including international ethics, international political theory, United States foreign policy, Just War theory, ontological security theory and international security. In addition to his first book, Ontological Security in International Relations, he has published articles in journals such as International Relations, International Studies Review, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of International Relations and Development, Millennium and, Review of International Studies. Please visit Dr. Steele’s website: