Friday, March 03, 2006

The Iraq War and what it means for "humanitarian intervention"

A lot of the articles in professional military journals are well worth reading, even for general audiences. It does take getting used to some jargon. The whole military has been going through an extended program called the "revolution in military affairs" (RMA), or "transformation". So lots of the articles work in references to "transformation", which as often as not seem to be just ritual use of the organization jargon.

The article, Humanitarian Intervention and the War in Iraq: Norms, Discourse, and State Practice by Eric Henze, appears in the Spring 2006 Army War College journal Parameters.

It takes a look at the concept of "humanitarian intervention" in terms of the classic precepts of Just War doctrine, and specifically in the context of the Iraq War. This article has one of the characteristics I find appealing in such writing, which is a refreshing directness. Take the first paragraph.

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq inevitably led to attempts by President George W. Bush and others in his Administration to use humanitarian justifications to defend the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime. This argument has predictably triggered an intense debate among scholars, the media, and human rights advocacy groups as to whether the Iraq invasion constitutes a "humanitarian intervention," which means using military force in other states to halt human rights abuses or otherwise promote human rights. A particularly outspoken critic of this tactic has been the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, whose compelling essay in the 2004 Human Rights Watch World Report contends that the invasion of Iraq was not a legitimate humanitarian intervention, nor should it be considered such. It is true, as Roth and others argue, that the principal justifications originally given for the war in Iraq were Saddam’s alleged possession of WMD—including his failure to reveal and discontinue relevant weapons programs as required by various Security Council resolutions—as well as the regime’s purported ties to terrorists linked with al Qaeda. As of this writing, no weapons have been found and there has been no credible evidence presented of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda prior to the war. Herein lies the appeal to the United States of the humanitarian argument. As Alex Bellamy writes, "The 2003 war in Iraq is important because it represents the first time a group of intervening states have justified their actions by referring to the humanitarian outcomes that were produced by acts primarily motivated by non-humanitarian concerns." (my emphasis)
How weird is this? You can say straightforwardly in a military journal what Big Pundits still tippy-toe around. Which is, the main justification for the Iraq War was the threat of Iraqi WMDs; the WMDs didn't exist; so all this humanitarian lingo that the administration is using is necessary because the main justification for the war was completely bogus. And that was just in his first sentence! (Expressed much more succinctly than my "summary" of it.)

This issue of "humanitarian intervention" is as complicated as it is important. Neil here at The Blue Voice has several times recently highlighted the terrible situation in Darfur, which seems to cry out for humanitarian intervention by outside powers. Yet the Iraq War has seriously set back efforts by the international community to come up with acceptable standards for military actions taken for humanitarian purposes that cannot be easily abused as an excuse for unprovoked, preventive wars of the Iraq War type. War is sometimes a necessary evil. But the Iraq War has been a dramatic reminder for Americans and many others that war, even when necessary, is a necessary evil.

Henze does a very good job of describing how the Iraq War has seriously complicated the trends of the 1990s toward finding a way to legitimize humanitarian interventions:

Before 9/11, norms on humanitarian intervention were developed and applied in an international security milieu in which there was less concern about the possibility that a humanitarian justification for military force could provide cover for nonhumanitarian military campaigns, such as those associated with the "war on terror." As such, the normative development of the rules on humanitarian intervention—however informal these rules may be—emerged in a certain way, with a great deal of attention being given to what was learned from previous experience with humanitarian interventions. Until the Iraq war, the most contested instance of military force of the time was probably the 1999 Kosovo intervention, which subsequently colored discussions on how to best govern humanitarian intervention, and for finding ways for it to be undertaken in the event that the UN Security Council fails to act. Because of the urgency of getting states to act against perpetrators of gross human rights violations, much of the discourse on humanitarian intervention after Kosovo but before 9/11 became such that Security Council authorization was seen as less important, and mixed motives in armed intervention were deemed permissible (and according to others, motives were even discounted). It seemed apparent that unless the rules on the use of force were relaxed a bit, humanitarian intervention would never occur when and where it was most urgently needed. This was the lesson of Rwanda, where the Security Council was paralyzed, where no powerful state had a pressing security interest to intervene, and where, ultimately, nearly a million people were slaughtered. But in the age of global terrorism, easing the requirements for what is considered the acceptable use of force - even if it is to accommodate well-intended humanitarian interventions - has consequences, and we are quite possibly witnessing them today in Iraq. (my emphasis)
I supported the Kosovo War. I have much greater doubts about its implications now. Part of it is because it relied heavily on bombing, which is highly problematic in many ways, not least of which in generating civilian casualties. But the other part was seeing the cynicism of the Bush administration in invading Iraq. If a unilateral declaration by one nation that an invasion is for humanitarian purposes is to be regarded as legitimizing war, in practice that will remove all moral/ethical/legal barriers to wars of aggression. Some phony "humanitarian" reason for a war can always be drummed up.

Henze describes the document that represents the current state of the discussion on humanitarian intervention. And the principles it embraces are essentially those of the Western Just War tradition that goes back to St. Augustine:

The uncertainty that followed the humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, particularly Kosovo, led to efforts at consensus-building to reach common ground on the conditions under which humanitarian intervention should be considered permissible. The most important of these efforts was the creation of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), an international commission of experts sponsored by the Canadian government under UN auspices that issued a report to the Secretary-General in 2001. The influential and widely cited ICISS report suggests six principal criteria for what is to be considered a legitimate humanitarian intervention, which, according to critics, would rule out the 2003 Iraq war as such. In no particular order, these are: right motives (primacy of humanitarian purpose); just cause (the level of violence must be "large-scale"); force must be a last resort; reasonable prospects for success; proportionality (force must not do more harm than good and must comply with humanitarian law); and right authority (force must be legitimated by some multilateral framework).
The remainder of the article discusses each of the six criteria in more detail.

This point about means and ends is worth considering;

While the extent to which the US and Coalition forces have conformed to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions since the end of major combat operations is certainly debatable, as evidenced by the Abu Ghraib abuses, one must be careful not to confuse jus ad bellum (justice of the resort to war) with jus in bello (justice in the conduct of the war). In contemporary Just War discourse, this means that the resort to war could theoretically be justified even if the means employed in the conduct of the war are not. As such, even if the US and allied forces have been, in fact, in breach of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, this fact theoretically does not affect the status of the initial resort to force itself, though it would affect the legitimacy of the overall war effort. Politically, of course, it is difficult to justify a war on humanitarian grounds if the war is conducted with disregard for the welfare and dignity of noncombatants. Nevertheless, one can again point to the Kosovo intervention as an example in which the resort to force was considered by most democratic governments to be justified, but the conduct of the intervention was perhaps not, or at least was extremely controversial due to the bombing of dual-use targets, the use of cluster bombs, and the exclusive use of high-altitude bombing. It is thus conceded that the overall legitimacy of a war will be judged not only on the moral and legal case for the resort to war, but also on the extent to which the war adheres to the principles of the laws of war, even though the jus ad bellum and jus in bello framework endeavors to distinguish them in a more analytical sense. (my emphasis)
In other words, whether a war is right is not determined by motive alone, but also by the manner in which the conflict is carried on. When the motive and the means are both bad, that becomes particularly destructive.

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