Humanitarian "Warfare"

The foundational principal of the UN is that what occurs within a state is a "domestic" problem and not subject to international interference. This was, of course, the "dictator job protection" requirement demanded by some of the worst examples at the time.

Over the past twenty years we have seen numerous example of entire countries brought to ruin by insane leaders who have used this principal as a shield. There is a slight difference between the modern version and the earlier cases. Crazed dictators like Stalin or Hitler had extra-territorial ambitions which (theoretically) gave a justification for intervention by third parties. And they were doing their most harm before the lessons of WWII were formalized. Once the concepts of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide were formalized the framework changed.

If we look at the scene now we see several examples of what can only be considered internal genocide. Two in the news at the moment are Zimbabwe and Burma, but there are other less prominent ones in the rest of Africa and in several former Soviet Republics.

I'd like to suggest designing a set of criteria that could be used to evaluate regimes in countries is such a way that when some threshold is reached the rulers must leave. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but some possibilities:

  1. The regime holds power without the consent of the governed.
  2. The proportion of the population in misery has increased to an "unacceptable" level.
  3. The wealth of the nation is being siphoned off by the elite and moved elsewhere.
  4. Minorities or certain ethnic groups are being mistreated.
  5. A large number of internal refugees or displaced persons have been created.
  6. A civil war or equivalent is underway or imminent. The tricky part is defining just how much is "too much". For example, the level of misery in the US has increased over the past decade, but obviously not to the extend that has occurred in Zimbabwe. The actions of Milosevic satisfy criteria 4, but what about the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII? One was genocide and the other an abridgment of civil liberties. How do we quantify this?

Let's suppose we solve these issues, then what do I mean by "warfare"? Obviously the US invasion of Iraq, while it might meet some of the criteria listed above (genocide against the Kurds, for example), is not the way to improve things. "Warfare" has to mean something other than flattening a country. We don't want a repeat of the Vietnam era: "It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it."

The international community has tried economic sanctions to force a regime change in the past, but the success rate is low. Baby Doc Duvalier left Haiti and enjoyed his ill-gotten gains in France (whether he is still wealthy is an open question). Charles Taylor bolted Liberia when things got too hot and was arrested when pressure on his protectors got too strong. There is a rumor that Saddam Hussein was offered $1 billion to leave (or that the offer was squelched by the Bush administration). Perhaps the "warfare" consists of making the ruling elite an "offer it can't refuse". In Zimbabwe and Burma it is clear that removal of, at most, a few 100 people would change the political dynamics of the situation. What is not clear is who would replace this group and how such a transition could be handled without creating civil strife. A place like Lebanon seems resistant to any sort of peaceful power sharing arrangement - the factional differences are just too great.

Bringing in an international oversight group to manage things during the transition is also fraught with problems. Most people would regard this as a form of neo-colonial interference and the external group would not have adequate knowledge of the local situation to deal effectively with conditions. In both Iraq and Afghanistan those brought in were exiles who had their own agendas or were mistrusted by locals, the results have not been good.

Humanitarian "Warfare" thus suffers from three difficulties. It is hard to define the criteria as to when action should be taken, it is hard to define a set of non-violent procedures to get dictators (and their flunkies) to leave, and it is hard to devise a transition process that won't make things worse. Even though these issues exist, I think discussing the removal of the "dictator protection" axiom from international relations is a worthwhile topic.


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Copyright © 2008 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.