Bad results of humanitarian intervention practice

8 March 2012 — Voice of Russia

Republican Senator John McCain this week called for air strikes against Damascus. According to AFP, he said that it is necessary to disable the Syrian air defense system, at least in some parts of the country, to “establish and defend safe havens in Syria“. McCain makes no attempt to conceal the purpose of these “safe zones”. They could be used by an armed opposition to “organize and plan political and military activities”. The American politician openly advocated providing military assistance to the militants, “including weapons and ammunition.”

Of course, McCain is not the U.S. President. He lost the battle for the post to Barack Obama in 2008, and this time around he is not even standing for election. Nonetheless, the Senator has a clear influence on the formation of U.S. foreign policy. We recall that his proposal to launch an operation to oust Muammar Gaddafi received a warm response at the White House. John McCain even visited rebel stronghold Benghazi to show U.S. support for Libyan opposition fighters. Thus, we cannot rule out that Washington is preparing to launch a military campaign against Syria. McCain‘s statement is intended to prepare world opinion for an inevitable war.

In other words, the U.S. is seriously considering staging a “humanitarian intervention” in the Middle East. In the American political establishment, we can find many supporters of using military force for humanitarian purposes. If necessary, they are prepared to act (and have acted before) without the sanction of the United Nations. However, the success of such operations is highly relative. They often result in a high number of victims and significantly worsen the situation in the country under the banner of “intervention with noble aspirations.”

Examples are easy to find. In 1995, NATO forces launched an air campaign against Bosnian Serbs, thereby getting involved in the civil war in Bosnia. In this case, NATO armed forces appeared to be intervening in the conflict on the side of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. According to eyewitnesses of those events, the Serbs’ adversaries would attack after massive NATO air raids. As a result, a very original state appeared on the political map of Europe, consisting of two parts: the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb Republic. The decision taken in Dayton in fact created a protectorate controlled by NATO, the EU and the U.S., a kind of modern colony almost in the center of Europe. The solution was in the spirit of Lloyd George and Clemenceau. Thus, we can assume that the entire military operation in the former Yugoslav republic had a single goal, i.e. to strengthen the position of Western powers in the Balkans.

Proof of who is actually the master of the situation in Bosnia can be found in the Brcko District, which, in violation of Article 5 of the Dayton Agreement of 1999, has been given an autonomous status. This area, which has a great strategic importance, is out of the control of both the Federation and the Serb Republic. The real power is in the hands of an administrator, American diplomat Roderick Moore, who has been in the position since 2010. Does he not resemble a colonial governor-general?

In 1999, Kosovo was the scene of dramatic events that until recently were considered a classic example of “humanitarian intervention“. The U.S. and its NATO allies actually intervened in the internal conflict (bypassing the UN Security Council) in Yugoslavia and incited armed rebellion in a Serbian province. During the three-month air campaign, the strikes hit more than just military targets. Industrial facilities, infrastructure, hospitals, schools and homes were destroyed. In the time of Kosovo campaign, NATO waged war against the press for the first time. On the night of 22 to 23 April 1999, NATO aircraft launched a missile strike on the building of Radio Television Serbia, killing 16 journalists.

Why not draw direct parallels with the current situation in Syria? Of course, the death of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik in Homs is a tragedy, and the international media quite rightly put this issue at center stage. However, they were war correspondents who had been in the besieged city for a long time and entered it illegally, and they were fully aware of the inevitable risks. The killing in Belgrade in 1999, however, involved Yugoslav journalists working in their own country and city and at their workplace. They were killed deliberately, and no one took responsibility for this crime. It simply disappeared from the world’s mainstream media.

The air campaign in Yugoslavia led to the formation of a de facto independent Kosovo, where ethnic minorities live behind barbed wire and cannot even go to the store without armed guards. Another result is the appearance on Kosovo territory of Europe’s largest U.S. military base, Camp Bondsteel, named after an American sergeant and hero of the Vietnam War. In fact, in Europe there has appeared a second enclave (after the one in Bosnia) under the control of NATO and the European Union. Based on available information, Kosovo is now ruled by organized crime. The region has become a nexus for drug trafficking from Afghanistan and Africa to European consumers.

Finally, the most recent example of “humanitarian intervention” was the regime change in Libya carried out by NATO allies. Formally, it was sanctioned by a UN Security Council resolution, though the latter was completely turned on its head. It dealt with the establishment on Libyan territory of a useless zone. Let me remind you that John McCain has called for the same actions in Syria. Thus, we can guess what he has in mind for the Syrian government.

The Libyan tragedy began in February 2011. It has passed through all stages, from the systematic military destruction of an independent state to the unleashing of chaos and lawlessness. At present, Libya is in a state of low-intensity civil war, and the situation in the country is not completely clear. Even the countries that supported the rebels in 2011 cannot build any effective dialogue. There is a total loss of control processes in Libya. If this happens in Syria, which is one of the key states of the Arab world, the consequences for the entire Middle East would be hard to imagine.

These examples show that the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” espoused by politicians like McCain only leads to one thing: the destruction of statehood, huge civilian casualties, and the complete destabilization of the country being intervened in. Of course, it is not a foregone conclusion that Washington will adopt Senator McCain’s proposed approach in Syria. However, statements by influential American hawks suggest it is at least being considered by the political leadership of the United States. This is quite worrying. Therefore, Russia should closely monitor the mood on Capitol Hill. And if necessary, together with countries that share the same positions as Moscow, take diplomatic and other measures to prevent armed action against Syria in defiance of the UN Security Council. In the end, has nothing in the world changed since 1999?

Alexey Pilko, Associate Professor at the Moscow State University Faculty of History”


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