Friday, June 27, 2008

Clegg the interventionist (expediency permitting)

Nick Clegg, speaking up for the principle of humanitarian intervention, says that “if a country is unwilling or unable to carry out its responsibility to prevent abuses of its own citizens, that responsibility must be transferred to the international community” – using military force if necessary. And he notes one of the key political problems with this ‘responsibility to protect’:

There may be times when it is nonetheless impossible to obtain a Resolution from the Security Council because political interests mean that it would be blocked by permanent members.
The authority of the United Nations is vital and we must always be wary of proceeding without its explicit authority. But we must recognise that it remains a flawed organisation in need of reform. Too often dominated by individual national interests.

Precisely. So Clegg recommends:

In considering action without UN authority, we have to find a way to distinguish between situations where a minority seeks to prevent the world from taking appropriate military action – as the Russians sought to do over Kosovo – from those where a minority wants to take inappropriate military action – as the Americans and UK did over Iraq in 2003. We must never confuse the two.

Well, there are two factors here in the situation that we must “find a way to distinguish between”. The first is whether a minority or a majority of states are proposing action. This is probably quite easy: most of us have enough fingers to tally a Security Council majority.

The second is whether the proposed action is “appropriate”, and here things get tricky. Because, of course, Clegg doesn’t countenance situations where a majority supports “inappropriate” action or where a minority supports “appropriate” action. These possibilities show that you simply cannot rely on weight of consensus or proper procedure to make these decisions.

Some proposals will be practically unworkable and some will be ruinously counterproductive; others will be theoretically feasible, but deeply unpopular among the governments of the UN. But unless you want to reduce “appropriate” and “inappropriate” to what’s politically acceptable, you really do have to start thinking in terms of right and wrong, however much of a crusader that may make you sound to some ears.

And I completely agree with Norm on this:

the regime of international law, that is, the framework of institutions that is meant to uphold international law, should be held in contempt by all those committed to democracy and human rights, so long as and to the extent that those institutions are merely a cover for inaction and/or connive at the most blatant criminality by states against their own peoples.

Law, in principle, is a splendid thing. In practice, it can be a real ass.

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