Some More Thoughts on Humanitarian Intervention

I was for intervention in Iraq. Opposed to intervening in Darfur. In favour of getting involved in Libya. But Syria doesn’t seem such a good idea.

Watching from the ground as Nato has bombed Gaddafi from power has crystallised for me exactly when humanitarian intervention is a good idea – and when it might cause more harm than good.

The Nato nations have expended a huge amount of munitions, money and manpower on protecting civilians and enforcing a no-fly zone here in Libya. It took more than 48 excruciating hours for the planes to take to the air after UN Security Council resolution 1973 was passed. They had to bomb night after night to make the sky safe enough to patrol. That comes with the risk of civilian casualties. And massive costs.

Now consider Darfur or the rest of Sudan where noisy advocates have long pushed for a no-fly zone. Similar action is almost impossible, as pointed out by Peace of the Blogosphere in this excellent post.

In the case of Syria, you must also remember the neighbours. Intervening there brings in Iran, Israel, Turkey and internal groups like Hezbollah. Do we really want to stir that pot?

Anyway, the point is that it must broadly be right for us to help where we can. But it must also be right that we do it where we know it will work and where it will not make things worse. Critics, who think there are ulterior motives at work, are wrong.

The difference is not a question of realpolitik, as some would have you believe, that an intervention in Libya was in Britain’s selfish interests – part of a scramble for oil. No, the first rule of intervention is that it be doable. Libya, as the past fortnight, has borne out, was. Syria isn’t yet.


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