Questions & Interventions

There’s an interesting and robust debate going on in the blog-o-sphere on the questions surrounding international interventions.

Amanda at Wronging Rights started off the debate with the following questions, about which she says: “As far as I’m concerned, no intervention can be appropriate unless all of those questions have been answered in the affirmative. Unfortunately, arguments for (or, in fairness, against) interventions almost never consider all of them.”

1. Is it ever appropriate for foreign citizens, governments, or international institutions to intervene in crises overseas?
2. If the answer to #1 is “yes,” then when is it appropriate?
3. Do we know to do it? That is, do we understand the technological means that will allow us to accomplish our stated goals?
4. If so, are those means available to us?
5. If they are, are we willing to expend the resources necessary to use those means?

Amanda makes an interesting argument about advocacy for intervention:

…we prefer to believe that the United States (or NATO, or the U.N. Security Council, or the E.U.) is callous than to believe that it is weak. The callousness theory is comforting, in a way, because we get to preserve our own personal sense of superiority. (Sure, those hard-hearts up in DC won’t intervene, but if it was up to me, then I sure as hell would.) Even more importantly, it means that we can preserve the comforting narrative of our own omnipotence, and therefore our own safety. Weakness is altogether scarier.

Michelle at Stop Genocide poses her own questions:

  1. What is the context in which the questions must be asked and answered?
  2. What is our definition of “success,” and our reasonable expectations of what a particular intervention can achieve in a specific situation?
  3. What are the pros and cons of looking at international interventions through the lens of Iraq?

Her most thought-provoking question relates to #1.  After answering that the Genocide Convention, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and other international principles provide a basis for intervention, she says Ultimately, we do not know the limits of possible interventions until we push against them, nor do will know the unintended consequences until they slap us in the face.”  So we must ask ourselves…

What level of sloppiness are we able to live with?

Michelle concludes with a related question:

How is Iraq a useful lesson for international interventions — i.e., when and how not to do them — and to what extent is the Iraq experience casting an unfair shadow on the prospect of more well-thought-out, effective interventions elsewhere in the word?

Check out the comments at Wronging Rights.  If nothing else, it’s a hopeful example of what commentary and dialogue on the internet can and should be.

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About Martha Heinemann Bixby

Advocacy. Politics. Life. Martha Heinemann Bixby.
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