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Thursday, August 14, 2003

WHEN IN DOUBT, INTERVENE MILITARILY With a new era of interventionism or imperialism, or whatever your personal preferred term is, upon us, the questions are becoming more urgent, as to when we should intervene in a sovereign country with military force. In today's Guardian a Kate Hudson -no, not that Kate Hudson- argues that the Kosovo-War set the precedent for illegal US-led attacks on sovereign countries. She is not that far off the mark. But as a diehard supporter of that war I must say that she is very wrong. I�ll leave aside the precise legal arguments, because they should be secondary to questions of security and morality.
I think one of the reasons why people like Hudson and me don�t see eye to eye, is in part a romanticised view of the Cold War era, that completely blanks out the memory of the hot wars at the periphery of that global struggle. Also, it is certainly true that for domestic western Europe it was a time of geopolitical clarity which in a way must seem comforting in hindsight. But this view is hopelessly eurocentric and is simply an attempt to ignore the dilemmas of interventionism versus indifference that we have to deal with in the post-1989 world. Here's Hudson's opener:

The legality of the war against Iraq remains the focus of intense debate - as is the challenge it poses to the post-second-world-war order, based on the inviolability of sovereign states.

Historically this is wrong. This inviolability was inserted into official declaration such as the UN-Charta and it may have held true for Western countries, but beyond there, sovereignty was worth nothing, and both Nato and Warsaw Pact member states violated countries' sovereignty where it was deemed strategically necessary. In any case, if this inviolability was really the basis of order �if there was any order to speak of at all- how would Hudson explain the dozens of wars that have occurred since 1945?
Leaving that aside there is also a question moral goods trade offs to be made. In both cases it was a question of the credibility of the information about the problem at hand. Hudson and her ilk may complain and oppose the intervention in Kosovo and in Iraq because the evidence was ambiguous. But such evidence and arguments are always ambiguous. A quick glance through 20th century history shows that this was the case for example for the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and and the rampage in Rwanda. In all these cases there was evidence that proved to the outside world what was really going on, but there was also a lot of unclear and contradictory information. In historical hindsight of course we can clearly see that those who warned of grave crimes were right and those who denied or downplayed them were wrong. In Kosovo and perhaps Iraq, hindsight suggests we were wrong. To those who disagree I say, just imagine Milosevic really was about to unleash a fullly fledged genocide upon the Albanians and we just stood aside and did nothing. What that would have done to the grand rhetoric of Nie wieder Auschwitz, that we would never tolerate another Auschwitz in Europe.
In conclusion I would say, that one hundred percent guarantees can not be given in the here and now. We can only make an informed guess. Given the stakes though, it is clearly more prudent to intervene in such unclear cases.

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