Terminology such as Humanitarian Intervention has been liberally bandied about by leaders of western governments and in particular US governments, (current and previous) in relation to Syria now and Libya, Iraq and countless other states in the past.
But what exactly do the words mean? The Oxford Dictionary definition of Humanitarian is: Adjective : concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare or denoting an event or situation which causes or involves widespread human suffering, especially one which requires the large-scale provision of aid:
The oxford dictionary has no definition for “Humanitarian Intervention” possibly because the two words used in conjunction effectively contradict the individual meanings. There are some online dictionaries which provide a definition for the two words combined, defining them collectively as intervention militarily by a state against another with a view to preventing human suffering. Although obediently parroting the terminology of the west this definition is somewhat untruthful.
How human rights groups view humanitarian Intervention
ICRC seeks to promote the term “armed intervention in response to grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law”.
Defining the problem: The United Nations operations in northern Iraq and Somalia and NATO’s intervention in Kosovo have all been termed “humanitarian intervention”. The doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” has long been a controversial subject, both in law and in international relations, and remains so today. Given that by no means all States accept the principle involved, there is no generally accepted definition of “humanitarian intervention”.
Amnesty International (AI)
Amnesty on the other hand follows the line of: it’s not our business to get involved in politics and political decision making. “Amnesty International neither condemns nor condones armed intervention,” “It also takes no position on the legality or moral basis for any such action. In situations of armed conflict, Amnesty International focuses on ensuring that warring parties respect international humanitarian law and human rights.”
Human Rights Watch
On the question of Syria: “Human Rights Watch does not take a position advocating or opposing such intervention,” “But any armed intervention should be judged by how well it protects all Syrian civilians from further atrocities.”
Human Rights First
“The worsening situation in Syria demands a much greater level of engagement from the Obama Administration,” a representative for Human Rights First said a press release Wednesday. “That engagement should take many forms, possibly including military options within the boundaries of international law, but should also include diplomatic, economic and humanitarian elements.”
Doctors Without Borders
On the question of Syria: “No, Doctors Without Borders does not endorse or call for a military strike on Syria,” said Tim Shenck, press officer for Doctors Without Borders, “We have been calling for an independent investigation of the incident described in our August 24 press release, which could constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
“Refugees International (RI) is deeply concerned about the impact that any military escalation could have on displaced Syrians across the region,” “RI therefore urges Syria’s neighbors to commit to an open-border policy for Syrian refugees regardless of any future hostilities. RI also calls upon the United States, European Union, and other major donors to provide all necessary humanitarian support to these front-line states.”
More on the division of opinion between human rights groups on the subject of Humanitarian Intervention here: ( from Time Swampland )
Mr Bush and Mr Blair accidently showed the ugly face behind the humanitarian intervention mask in 2003, when the world first realised that Humanitarian Intervention as a term had a very different meaning to Bush/Blair and co, than it did to the general public. Prior to this the term was generally considered as an act for good.
To the majority humanitarian Intervention conjured up images of soldiers helping those struck down by massive earth quake, flooding, famine or indeed the intervention of a state or states on behalf of another where for example terrorism is involved, as was the case recently when France intervened in Mali at the request of the Malian government.
However, in 2003 the world woke up to the realization that this term was now being used as an excuse for invasion, occupation, and in real terms, the continuous accusation of theft of resources.
On the subject of Humanitarian Intervention Noam Chomsky wrote the following between December 1993 and January 1994.
“The first question that comes to mind about “humanitarian intervention” is whether the category exists. Are states moral agents? Or were Machiavelli, Adam Smith, and a host of others correct in concluding that they commonly act in the interests of domestic power – in Smith’s day, the “merchants and manufacturers” who were “by far the principal architects” of policy and whose interests were “most peculiarly attended to,” whatever the effects on others; in ours, corporate and financial power centers, increasingly transnational in scale? A second obvious question has to do with those who are to be in charge: what do their institutions and record lead us to expect?” (Full article Here)
Chomsky is asking the following questions: (1). Are States moral agents?
In other words are those claiming to enact Humanitarian Intervention on behalf of others (people of Syria /Libya) doing so (to use a legal term,) with clean hands. This question is far broader than it first appears, for it calls into question the validity of the use of humanitarian intervention and the legal & moral issues surrounding said intervention.
In fairness to the US and her European allies (West-ern) as a collective they have indeed been called upon to assist other nations, and recent events in Mali as mentioned above prove this point. However, even during and after French involvement many questioned French motives for getting involved.
US arguments and justifications used for humanitarian Intervention in modern times vary greatly, but in general stems from the noble claim of responsibility to others as a world power (or the world’s police argument) to the more egotistical claim of American Exceptionalism. Their European allies often use similar arguments when trying to justify such actions as witnessed in Libya and to a larger extent in Syria today.
In the beginning of the so called Syrian civil war the Western nations were quick to call for intervention on behalf of the Syrian people, a noble act when viewed from only one side and whilst using statistics and information that could be considered as less than noble and possibly even less than honest.
Couple this with the formation of the Friends of Syria group (FOSG) headed by and more or less driven by the US Secretary of state (at that time) Hillary Clinton. From the get go, Clinton in her positions of both US secretary of state and chair of the FOSG (President Obama claimed the US formed the group) declared that Syrian President Assad must be removed from power, a demand that quite quickly became a pre-condition which was used time and again by the US and her allies when it came to any discussion or possibility of a resolution to the Syrian issue.
The second of Chomsky’ questions asks the following : (2). What is the history / Motive of the players (those claiming to intervene on humanitarian grounds ?
“A second obvious question has to do with those who are to be in charge: what do their institutions and record lead us to expect?”
Along with the aforementioned, other players began to show their hand and in so doing, their intentions with regard to Syria. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, (Egypt and Israel to a lesser extent) became the latest players to join the West in calling for the down fall of Assad as a pre-condition and then shortly after came the request for humanitarian intervention in the guise of an air assault, which later (more recently) became a demand for military action by the US and her European allies against the Syrian regime.
Effectively the questions being asked are: do states have a moral right to interfere in the workings of another sovereign state? And if so, and in doing so, are these states intervening for moral reasons or are they acting out of self interest? And finally does the past history of these agents of humanitarian intervention suggest that they are, or would be doing so with clean hands or as honest agents?
There is absolutely no way to answer these questions with absolute certainty, unless one or all of the players were willing to provide information as to their individual or collective goals with regard to the situation in Syria. One of course would hope that all parties would share the same goal, that of securing the safety of the civilian population and halting the destruction of the country. However, this is sadly not the case, and as a result even the opposition states and their respective leaders mentioned above are clearly divided on what the resolution should be.
The West (US & Europe) find themselves in one camp, whilst the Gulf states and (recently) Israel (GI) are in another, as Turkey plays butler to both camps and Egypt (in a state of total disarray) has begun siding more recently with the GI camp, having just survived what was almost its own civil war with the ongoing financial support of Saudi Arabia.
What has become clear is that the West wishes to be known for supporting the more moderate (allegedly) Free Syrian Army (FSA), whilst the Gulf nations and especially Saudi Arabia, more or less, openly support the more radical groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliate group Al-Nusra as evidenced by statements from Saudi Prince Bandar in conversation with Russian President Putin. (Here)
The Saudi / Gulf sponsored groups have openly carried out public executions, beheadings of Syrian Soldiers (SAA), Syrian government officials including low ranking civil servants, disobedient civilians, members of other religions and members of clergy, religious leaders/representatives such as Monks, Priests etc, along with many terrorist acts (terrorist as defined by the west) which is both immoral and unlawful, and in total contravention of all State agreements, not to mention the universally recognized human rights laws/agreements, which is effectively leading to ethnic cleansing.
Taking this in to consideration, the part played by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey as an agent or servant of the aforementioned, precludes these states from claiming the title of Honest Brokers or to quote Chomsky “Moral agent” , furthermore, their individual history (past & recent) along with recent statements and activity clearly shows that not only are they NOT honest brokers but they are also active participants in a conflict against a sovereign state which is a member of both the United Nations (UN) and the Arab League.
The part being played by Israel is far less understood, as Israel has a clear and evident history of deception in such matters. For her part Israel claims to be neutral and unwilling to become involved in the Syrian issue. Yet there is at the very least the suspicion that Israel is assisting opposition forces in both the retrieval of and the rehabilitation of wounded rebels. It must be stressed however, that whilst Israel has in part confirmed this, they claim only to be assisting Syrian civilians wounded in the conflict. Since the beginning of the conflict Israel has on at least five occasions sent jets to bomb targets which they claim (via US statement) were shipments destined for the Hezbollah group in Lebanon. However, as usual Israel was unwilling to claim or deny responsibility for such bombings, although the US did in fact later confirm Israeli involvement.
More recently meetings between Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia and other gulf nation delegates and Israeli diplomats in Israel, (more here) would suggest a diversion from the claimed Israeli neutral stance on the Syrian issue, as both Israel and Saudi Arabia appear to have found common ground on the issue of Iran.
Taking into consideration the obvious part that Israel has played thus far as confirmed by the US, and also considering the ongoing issue of the contested Golan Heights plus recent agreements between Israel and a local subsidiary of the New York-listed company Genie Energy which is advised by former US vice president Dick Cheney and whose shareholders include Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch, which Israel granted a license to explore for oil and gas in the occupied Golan Heights, John Reed of the Financial Times reports.
“This action is mostly political – it’s an attempt to deepen Israeli commitment to the occupied Golan Heights,” Israeli political analyst Yaron Ezrahi told FT. “The timing is directly related to the fact that the Syrian government is dealing with violence and chaos and is not free to deal with this problem.”
Add to this both Israel’ and Saudi Arabia’ desire for war with the Islamic Republic of Iran which has at least been temporarily halted due to ongoing talks between Iran and the United States, which is very much frowned upon by Saudi Arabia and Israel. In fact Israel has openly suggested that they would be willing to go to war with, or rather against Iran with or without US assistance. Considering their recent new found (or maybe not so new) kinship with Saudi Arabia, who recently snubbed the US, It is becoming a great concern to the West, Russia, China and perhaps more interestingly the US itself.
So have we answered Chomsky’ questions regarding the morality or suitability (so to speak) of nation states to claim to be acting out of humanitarian concern / humanitarian intervention? One must understand that this whole debate is merely an academic one, for suitability of use or to measure morality there has to be a form of adjudication, of stewardship, of overseeing of International law.
To solve this issue and the question of suitability, it would have to be placed before a court or a similar system of adjudication, but the question is what court or what system? Breaches of International law are overseen by the International Criminal Court (ICC), but how suitable would the ICC be in helping to resolve such an issue, especially considering its position on Libya for example, and recent statements on Syria.
Many see the ICC as a weapon of the West either unwilling or politically unable to take action against leaders past and present of the west, which is seen as the courts financier and controller and many point to the fact that most if not all of its sittings were concerned with alleged (or otherwise) crimes committed by mainly African leaders with only very few exceptions.
If nothing else this piece highlights the controversy surrounding the use of “Humanitarian Intervention” and shows clearly the division of opinion between even the human rights groups on the issue of intervention.
As for the questions concerning humanitarian intervention by professor Chomsky, I have purposely left the West out, in my consideration and summation above, with regard to their suitability to be considered “Moral Agents” , Honest Brokers or of clean hands.
This was done by design rather than in error. Despite stating that there are no suitable courts, judges or systems of arbitration for supplying the answers to Chomsky’ questions.
I am happy to conclude this piece in the full knowledge that there is one system always overlooked by our leaders and so called public representatives that can answer professor Chomsky’ questions, one court of sorts that has the power to decide on such vital issues.
It is the Court of Public Opinion, which will in the end provide the answer to Chomsky’ questions on the subject of Humanitarian Intervention.
T.J. Total World View
24th October 2013.