FW: The Economist: Why and when to go in

Mark Jones jones.mark at SPAMbtconnect.com
Sat Jan 6 11:36:31 MST 2001

Nestor the unquarrelsome, unargumentative, uncombative, uncontentious,
undisputatious one, said:

>> Americans no longer live in a democracy.

>This, IMHO, is a little too much.

Not too much at all, and we should mock its apologists all the more for their
ludicrous hypocrisy, given the hypertrophy of imperial arrogance and overbearingly
patronising attitudes these quislings are generally given to. This Bush thing  has
got them all wrongfooted. Check out this from the Economist today. Actually, it
hardly needs glossing; it is on the face of it a wonderful example of the sheer
absurdities, denialism, logical fallacies and arse-licking sophistry which the
"serious" western press is now getting into, as a result of the Bush coup d'etat: in
the article below, the Economist, while discussing Bush's foreign policy,  argues
that "President" Bush (who stole the election) is entitled to send US forces to
intervene in the internal affairs of other countries on the grounds that "If it
becomes reasonably obvious that a government has decided to hold on to power against
the wishes of most of the people it governs, and is not going to change its mind, it
should not think that its denial of the democratic principle will be allowed to go
unchallenged." Yeah, right. Hail to the Thief!

The Economist Jan 4th 2001: Why and when to go in [!!!!]

The world George Bush faces is one in which wars of intervention may be increasingly
 This calls for a new geopolitical rule-book

 [no disorientation at the Economist, unlike at the handwringing FT, whose
pretzel-like contortions about Bush I'm also decontructing just now. As the world
descends into epochal slump, and US democracy looks more and more like circus clowns
with real machine-guns, two polar-opposite responses are emerging from among our
(un-elected) leaders: apologise, look a little sheepish and wring your hands like
the FT; or  send in the gunboats, at the Economist:

  THEY are wars that are almost certainly going to happen; but a lot of people are
still struggling to understand why and when it may be necessary to fight them. One
big test of George Bushs foreign policy is whether he can see the growing case in
todays world for what have come to be called wars of intervention.

Until very recently, the question of whether it can be legitimate for the outside
world to intervene with military force in the internal affairs of a sovereign
country would have struck most respectable people as a non-sequitur. Sovereign
countries, by definition, were not to be intervened in. A lawful war, the lawyers
explained, was a war in which a country sought to defend itself, or to defend a
friend and ally, against an attacking enemy. To go to war in order to change the way
another country was conducting its affairs was obviously illegal.

Then, in 1999, it began to look as if minds were changing. In that year a war of
intervention was messily but successfully fought over Kosovo, as a result of which
the Balkans are a rather better place than they used to be. A near-war of the same
sort triumphantly achieved its purpose in East Timor, freeing a captured people from
the rule of the Indonesian army. Unfortunately, a third intervention, in Sierra
Leone, got stuck in the West African jungle; the doubters resumed their doubting;
and the past year has seen a flinching away from what could be a just and necessary
part of the international politics of the 21st century.

Its a long time since 1555
Is it possible to say when wars of intervention are justified, in terms that almost
everybody can agree with? Yes, it probably is. Start with the case for believing
that what goes on inside a sovereign country is no longer a matter that other
countries should keep their noses, and hands, out of.

It was easy enough to tell outsiders to stay outside when they knew very little of
what was going on in most of the rest of the world. The conventional idea of
sovereign inviolability goes back to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, which said that
cuius regio, eius religiothe ruler decides his countrys religionand to the Treaty
of Westphalia in 1648, when the powers of continental Europe wound up the Thirty
Years War with a pledge to let each participating country be ruled the way its ruler

Back in those days, though, and for centuries afterwards, it was hard to know what a
ruler was doing to the people he ruled. Ambassadors picked up what news they could,
and sent the result off by horse and carriage; travellers added their titbits; but
the organised collection of public information was a 19th-century arrival, and was
anyway long confined to the prose of written journalism, not the vivid screen. As
late as 1938, Britains Neville Chamberlain could get away with calling
Czechoslovakia a far-off country of whose people we know nothing. [the people who
write for the Economist are mostly ignorant teenagers for whom the past really is
another country. Chamberlain actually did NOT say this.]

That is a vanished past. Now, except for a few sealed-off corners of Africa and
Asia, what a ruler does to his people is swiftly revealed by camera, satellite and
Internet to a large, interested and reasonably well-informed audience; and, if what
he does is outrageous enough, the audience is likely to want something done about
it. The appetite for action may waver, if it looks like becoming uncomfortably
bloody. Nevertheless, the events of 1999 suggest that quite often dictatorial rulers
will find it difficult to go on doing whatever they want within their borders,
because the information revolution has stripped them of their former privacy. A
transparent world is a world in which it is increasingly hard to claim

Moreover, the idea of sovereign inviolability has never been quite as sacrosanct
as the conventional wisdom believed. Inside Europe, the big powers for a long time
obeyed the Augsburg-Westphalia rules in their relations with each other. But smaller
countries were not treated with the same respect. Poland disappeared from the map at
the end of the 18th century to the geographical advantage of Prussia, Russia and
Austria; in 1797 revolutionary France abolished the republic of Venice and gave most
of it to the Austrians in return for getting Belgium from them; the next year the
French marched into Switzerland to liberate the Swiss.

Outside their own continent, the imperial European powers of the 18th and 19th
centuries were even more high-handed. France took over large chunks of Africa in the
name of its mission civilisatrice; Britain removed assorted Indian rulers from power
in order to make sure that, as Rudyard Kipling put it, a court-house stands...where
the raw blood flowed. The Europeans explained that the Afro-Asian rulers they
overthrew were not really sovereign powers, as sophisticated Europeans understood
the phrase; but that was just convenient legal quibbling.

The proposition that governments should be left to conduct themselves as they wish
within their own borders is not, in short, quite the universal verity it was once
thought to be. The secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has said
that a sovereign ruler has to obey some general moral rules. Even the international
lawyers have, at least by implication, begun to feel uneasy. If it is now legal to
arrest ex-dictators travelling abroad for what they did while in power, as happened
to Augusto Pinochet, it seems a bit feeble to say that it was all right to leave
them to do it in the first placethat they become culpable, as it were, only on

Indeed, the whole theory of sovereign inviolability would probably have come into
question much earlier had it not been for the cold war. During the 40-year struggle
between communism and the democracies, each side was reluctant to let the other
stick a finger into its friends affairs, even when it was uneasily realised that
those friends were behaving less than perfectly. But the cold war is over, and the
ice it created is melting; and so, along with the ice, is the willingness to avert
ones eyes from what brutal governments are doing to their people.

What all can accept
Yes, say the doubters, that is all very well; but you must have clear rules about
when it is permissible to intervene and when it is not. Otherwise chaos will set in.
If everybody can pick out what he dislikes about somebody elses way of running a
country, he will march in to impose his own ideas, pausing only to be sure he has
the necessary military strength. The Chinese will say they are entitled to take over
Vladivostok, on the ground that the governor of this bit of Russias far east is
negligent and corrupt (and will not let in enough Chinese immigrants to run the
place efficiently). The Russians can put the boot into Central Asia because it is
their Manifest Destiny to sort out the anarchic region to their south. And the
democracies will face an impossibly long list of requests for intervention from
people who, for many different reasons, would like their governments improved. This
way lies geopolitical disintegration.

The doubters are perfectly right about this. If wars of intervention are to be a
serious part of tomorrows agenda, they will have to be based on a simple,
straightforward and more or less universally accepted set of rules.

The rules must be countable on the fingers of one hand, because any larger number
will lead to complaints that one rule contradicts or qualifies another rule. It must
be possible to write them down in language that can be understood both by the people
of the countries that will be doing the intervening and by the governments that are
the targets of it. Above all, they must be rules that nobody can reject without in
effect admitting that he is defying principles the rest of the world believes in.
There may never be rules that everybody can honestly swear to; let there at least be
rules that expose the dishonest swearer for what he is.

For these purposes, the long lists of human rights compiled by the United Nations,
the European Union and other worthy bodies are not that much help. The lists contain
so many rights, some plainly more important than others; there can be genuine
disagreements about the interpretation of many of them; and it is often hard for the
outsider to measure whether a given right is being violated on a scale large enough
to warrant a decision to go in and halt the violation.

Is a government that denies its workers the right to strike as bad as a government
that denies its political opponents the right to live? Of course not. Is a
government which permits capital punishment offending against the right to life as
much as one that shoots demonstrators on the streets? Most people would say no. And
how many demonstrators have to be shot, or members of ethnically inconvenient
minorities murdered and mass-buried, before it is necessary to go in and stop it?

There are so many uncertainties. Human rights are a useful rule of thumb for
judging a countrys moral performance, but a wobbly basis for wars of intervention.
Sometimes the sheer scale of the horror may demand action. The genocide in Rwanda in
1994, which killed about 800,000 people, was so vast and so primally brutal that an
intervention in the name of humanity would have been right if it had been militarily
possible. But not every bloody outbreak, everywhere, can bring in the peacemakers.

Two good reasons
There are, however, at least two grounds for intervention which pretty clearly pass
the tests described above. Both of them have been made easier to understand by what
has happened in the Balkans in the past couple of years; and both of them are likely
to bring intervention-seeking applicants from other parts of the world knocking at
the democracies door in the years ahead.

The first ground for intervention is when a clearly definable people in a clearly
definable geographical area is being violently denied the right to govern itself by
another, stronger lot who say that the smaller group is part of their own
 sovereign territory. [actually, this shows that The Economist has now fully
embraced Joseph Stalin's concept of the ethno-territorial reality/integrity of a
nation] The fussy precision of that sentence is necessary. There are plenty of
countries where a rich variety of different people live intermingled with each other
(India is the most spectacular example) and where it would be nonsense to say that
each of these component elements, even if they quite often grumble about one
another, ought to have its own separate government.

Kosovo was not like that. Here was a clearly defined area (the dotted line around it
drawn by the sovereign Serbs themselves) whose people were 90%-plus non-Serbs, but
were denied by the Serbs the right to run their own affairs. There are plenty of
equally definable people in a similarly definable plight in other parts of the
world. They will not all be rescued in the next few years, or maybe ever (who is
volunteering to organise an intervention army for Tibet?). But their claim to be
helped is as good as Kosovos; and sooner or later, provided they can sustain
themselves as independent states (and provided they do not look as if they will
promptly invade their former oppressors), some of them will get the help they seek.

Millennial dreaming? Possibly. But remember the opinion of John Stuart Mill, a
political philosopher much respected by the early Economist. In general, Mill
thought intervention a foolish business. But in 1848-49, when the Hungarians
rebelled against the foreign yoke of Austrian rule, and then Austria with Russian
help hauled them back under the yoke, Mill came to the conclusion that it would
have been an honourable and virtuous act on the part of England to have declared
that this should not be.

The second fairly solid argument for intervention, also illustrated by recent events
in the Balkans, reaches even deeper into the supposed sanctuary of the sovereign
state. Here the target is not the authoritarian rulers control over a subject
territory attached to his homeland, but his control over the homeland itself. If it
becomes reasonably obvious that a government has decided to hold on to power against
the wishes of most of the people it governs, and is not going to change its mind, it
should not think that its denial of the democratic principle will be allowed to go

This is what has just happened to Serbias Slobodan Milosevic. Having been ejected
by NATO from Kosovo, he called an election, lost it, denied he had lost it, and was
told by Europe and America that he could not deny his defeat. His opponents,
encouraged, came out on to the streets, in unstoppable strength, and he was suddenly
an ex-president, without a shot fired.

An intervention to liberate a Kosovo, or to insist that a dictator obey his peoples
clearly expressed wishes, is an intervention which passes the basic test. It rests
upon the simple and now more or less universally accepted principle that a
government should stay in office only with the continuing consent of the people it
governs. There are, to be sure, quite a lot of rulers around the world who dislike
that principle; but they cannot say so publicly without drawing general disapproval
down on their heads. An intervention to uphold the democratic principle is therefore
in a clearly different category from a Chinese push into Vladivostok, or another
crack at Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, or any other intervention designed chiefly to
serve the interests of the interveners. It is a justifiable intervention, for a
reason almost everybody can agree with.

The will of the people
Of course, a great deal depends on being able to know the clearly expressed wishes
of the people involved. Fortunately, this is quite a bit easier than it used to be,
thanks to a combination of modern news-gathering technology and the fact that, since
the end of the cold war, the world has become a lot more open to the news-gatherers.

These days, not many governments will either refuse to hold an election at all or,
if they do hold one, claim the 98% victory for themselves that was routine in the
communist world and its grateful imitators. The rulers of most countries are now
willing to have elections in which people who disagree with them can take part, and
can to some extent tell the voters why they disagree. In many cases the rulers have
also resigned themselves to letting journalists from the old democracieseven
better, observers from international bodies and NGOscome and watch the election.
Between them, these inspectors can generally tell whether the election was free and
fair, and who they reckon won it. This was how Mr Milosevic came his historic

There are still some countries where this is not the case; but here the United
Nations can lend its special hand. The UN is the one organisation which the
governments that belong to it, unless they want to be seen blushing, are pretty well
bound to accept as impartial. When the journalists and other observers have raised a
suspicion that a coming election may not be fair, the UN can insist on sending in
its own inspectors. If the government in question refusesor if the UN goes in and
reports the election a fraudthe guilty party will face the possibility of a war of
intervention by those prepared to fight for the birth of democracy.

There remains the awkward question of consistency. After Kosovo and East Timor, a
lot of unhappy places will be proposed as suitable cases for intervention under one
or the other of these two tests. Obviously, not all of these proposed interventions
can be taken onand, equally obviously, none of them should be attempted until other
avenues of persuasion have been tried. But this is not a reason for saying, as some
people do, that wars of intervention should never be launched. Even one rescued
country is better than none, not least because the example set improves the chances
of the next rescue.

Still, though some applications for help will doubtless be accepted, others will
have to be turned down; and it needs to be convincingly explained why. The more or
less honourable explanation ought to be that the distinction is being drawn not
because Candidate A suits the interests of the interveners better than Candidate
Bwhich would blow a hole in the idea of a principle-based policybut because
Candidate As case is manageable but, alas, Candidate Bs is not.

All wars kill people, and how willing the evangelists of democracy will be to fight
a war of intervention depends in large part on how many people are likely to get
killed. It is hard to imagine today even the warmest advocates of intervention
cheerfully accepting the casualties required for the liberation of Tibet or
Chechnya, or the removal of Myanmars election-defying junta (though tomorrows
advances in high-tech warfare may change those calculations). We are answering this
call for help, the democracies should say, because we can do so at a price we are
prepared to pay, not because the applicant is an old friend; and we are turning the
other one down only because the price is too high.

Of course, principle and interest are never entirely separable. A country will find
it easier to contemplate the death of its young soldiers if they are going to help a
familiar, nearby people than if they are being sent to fight in some murkily remote
corner of the world (compare a western intervention to rescue refugees from a
disintegrating Algeria with, say, an expedition to free Irian Jaya from Jakartas
rule). And a country which takes part in a successful democracy-building
intervention knows it will thereby win widespread applause, as well as bringing an
at least temporarily grateful new government into office in the rescued country. In
politics, it is seldom easy to disentangle what is right from what is handy.
Nevertheless, the prime purpose of intervention should be to help an oppressed
people in a troubled land, not just to further ones own interests.

Who dares, wins
There are complicated calculations to be made, and obvious dangers to be faced, if
wars of intervention are part of the agenda of the next 20 or 30 years. This is
because the democracies stand at a rare moment in history. Between them, Europe and
America command huge material wealth; they possess (or America does) at least
another decades worth of hitherto unimaginable military superiority; above all,
they speak for the one more or less universally acceptable political ideathat every
country should have the sort of government most of its people choose to have, with a
regular opportunity to change it. There has not been a time like this since the high
days of Rome, and even Rome could not claim that final strength.

It would be odd if the Americans decided to stroll through this period
self-centredly pursuing their own interests, rather than helping to spread the idea
they did more than anybody else to create. It would be a sad commentary on Europes
claim to be renewing itself if the Europeans retired into their own 21st-century
version of Americas 19th-century isolationism, rather than continuing the
20th-century Euro-American partnership that twice overcame the enemies of democracy.
History records an awful lot of missed opportunities, but this would be the most
spectacular of them all.

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