Friday, 6 February 2009

Some Cases of Humanitarian Intervention

This is the second part of a recent essay I wrote on the moral justifiability of humanitarian intervention. This section examines several case studies of humanitarian interventions. I'd refer the reader to the previous piece for some general background and discussion of humanitarian intervention (see comments box for link).
Also, one further point. Readers will note the example of Bangladesh in this essay. In this instance I included it in the essay because I was basically taking Walzer at his word on the situation there. As I will develop in the final section of the series, I don't think Humanitarian Intervention by a capitalist country is necessarily ruled out, certainly historically it isn't, but it is very unlikely.

Whilst we would argue that moral justification is guided by general considerations as above, every particular intervention must be justified in its own context. In this sense we are guided by the approach undertaken by Michael Walzer in looking at historical cases to generate these general considerations. In passing we will note that the examples used are ones the writer of this essay way already familiar with, and thus could perhaps be slightly unrepresentative. But nevertheless they yield important facts bearing upon the subject of this essay and are thus valuable in this sense.
It is the case of Haiti that we shall turn to first. As Hallward (2007) discusses, Haiti has had two humanitarian interventions into it in the last 15 years. The first occurred in 1994. The Lavalas government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide had been overthrown by a military coup in September 2001, and after negotiating with the US government was returned to power by a US force which intervened humanitarianly to disarm the Haitian army and paramilitaries. As Hallward (2007) discusses there were several factors that related to the decision to do this, not just humanitarian considerations, including the stream of Haitian refugees coming to the US and its political relationship with the army junta that governed Haiti was deteriorating. However, Hallward (2007:52) goes on to point out that

“It is more than likely that the occupation that began in September 1994 may prove, in the long run, to have been just as damaging to the interests of Haitian democracy as the first US occupation of 1915-34. It gave the occupying power profound and temporarily irreversible influence over the reconfiguration of a state apparatus more compatible with its own practices. As the soldiers themselves began to leave over the course of 1995, a whole swathe of para-civilian advisers, trainers and consultants remained behind to administer the consequences of their work…”

Although the military intervention took place over a short period of time, it gave the US government economic and political influence over the country which played a pivotal role in the second coup against Aristide in 2004 which led to the second, and much longer humanitarian intervention. In this case the backdrop was an insurgency, which Hallward (2004) argues was secretly supported by the political opposition to Aristide who were themselves funded by US government aid.
The humanitarian intervention in 2004 to the present was again premised on disarming the ex-army and paramilitaries, yet the US troops deployed in Haiti, at best, did not do this for several months, as Hallward (2004) after discussing journalistic reports that identify US troops colluding or directly participating the murder of people in the suburbs of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, charges the US government as having “…direct complicity in the mass murder of Haitian civilians…” (Hallward, 2004:258).
Indeed, Hallward (2007:52) states that humanitarian intervention “…has come to replace traditional forms of military action as the primary means of neo-imperial control.”
It would be inaccurate to state that this example is anything but justifies humanitarian intervention on its own. But we should not draw our conclusions on the basis of just one solitary example. Indeed, in his book, Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer (2006) compares two different examples, those of the US intervention into Cuba in 1898 and Indian intervention into Bangladesh in 1971.
The Cuban example appears to be somewhat similar to the events that occurred in Haiti in 1994, which differed in the fact that it was war from independence from Spain, yet the consequence of the intervention was similar in that the US imposed itself economically and politically on Cuba, even establishing a military dictatorship in the immediate four years (Gott, 2004), in the aftermath of the intervention. Indeed, the intervention in Cuban life by the US government at this point and the years afterwards have surely impacted on the hatred on the ‘yankee imperialism’ in Cuba today.
The Bangladeshi example differs in some fundamental ways, although like the Cuban example above, the humanitarian intervention was in support of an independence movement. As Walzer describes, it

“…is a better example of humanitarian intervention – not because of the singularity or purity of government’s motives, but because its various motives, but because its various motives converged on a single course of action that was also the course of action called for by the Bengalis. This convergence explains why the Indians were in and out of the country so quickly, defeating the Pakistani army but not replacing it, and imposing no political controls on the emergent state of Bangladesh. No doubt, strategic as well as moral interests underlay this policy: Pakistan, India’s old enemy, was significantly weakened, while India itself avoided becoming responsible for a desperately poor nation whose internal politics was likely to be unstable and volatile for a long time to come. But the intervention qualifies as humanitarian because it was a rescue, strictly and narrowly defined.” (Walzer, 2006:105)

The distinction that Walzer makes here between the two interventions is summed up when he says that the Indian intervention coincided with what the Bengali population wanted. What makes a humanitarian intervention different from a military intervention in the interests of the intervening which hides behind humanitarian phraseology, is that very factor of being subordinated to a large extent to the interests of the repressed population.
Another consideration that we could make is that of a type of revolutionary war as a type of humanitarian intervention. This may seem like an odd conception to the reader, as a revolutionary war is an attempt to carry forward a new revolutionary type of government in one country into another ‘at the point of a sword’. Yet, consider the following, an uprising occurs in a country, the government of said country attempts to crush it; if a bordering revolutionary country then intervened militarily to stop the repression (which it is likely would include killings) – would this not be a military intervention for humanitarian means?
To further examine this question we will look at the advance of the Soviet Red Army on Warsaw in late 1920. It will be noted that this came first after an offensive of the Polish army against Soviet Russia which turned into a retreat. As Trotsky (2005:527) explains in his autobiography “There were high hopes of an uprising of the Polish workers. At any rate, Lenin fixed his mind on carrying the war to an end, up to the entry into Warsaw to help the Polish workers overthrow Pilsudski’s government and seize the power.” This is not a humanitarian intervention, as it is only coming to the support of a hypothetically existing population that is being repressed rather than an actual one. However, if the Polish population was in danger at that time, ie (an uprising had occurred or was imminent before the decision to march on Warsaw). This is the consideration Trotsky reports he made himself at this time and thus opposed the offensive. It also is what several previous uprsings in various European countries at this time, for example Bavaria in 1919 (Watt, 2003), had counted upon occurring. This would have, in some ways, paralleled Walzer’s example of the intervention into Bangladesh that we have examined above.