Your Voice | Opinion:
From a young age most of us are taught by our parents or teachers to use our words rather than resort to violence, and for the most part this philosophy is one which is the foundation for our world’s conflict resolution. The problem with this idea is that it does not take into account the instances where the other party isn’t playing by the same rules and when that opposition is completely and utterly hell-bent on death and destruction. This is an unfortunate and all too frequent reality in the realm of international relations. It is why Terrorists, by their very nature, cannot be reasoned with.
Ending the “Islamic State”
One of the most vehemently espoused arguments of the current Syrian/Iraq conflict is that the West should simply stay out of the Middle East and allow the nations of the Middle East deal with the problem itself. This view relies upon countries such as Syria eventually sorting out their issues themselves, however, with so many sectarian differences all over the region, one side would rather cut off their own nose to spite their face. In the case of Daesh*, the states of the Middle East have proven incapable of resolving the issue after being weakened by years of wars, insurrection and sectarian divisions.
Genocide, rape, pillaging and murder – It is clear that the moral imperative to help and intervene in these countries exists but for too long the nations of the world have stood by passively. Concerted action by the U.N. and the West should have taken place long ago and brought an end to the destructive influence of groups such as Al-Qaeda or Islamic State*, however the question should be posed as to why we’ve waited until 8 terrorists killed 130 people on the streets of Paris before we’ve taken any tangible action. Innocent men, women and children have been dying in the Middle East and people keep hoping that Daesh* can simply be talked down, or worse that if we ignore the problem it will go away. Even if we close our own borders Daesh* will keep persecuting the innocent people of the Middle East.
Examples of groups that engage with such an extreme viewpoint are found throughout modern history and the most obvious symptom is that of genocide. From the Nazi party to the USSR’s purges, the Congo wars and even the current North Korean dictatorship, those who cannot compromise leave an indelible trail of destruction and misery. The Islamic fundamentalist group Daesh* (Islamic State) is no different.
Such absolute reasoning has even brought the United States of America to the brink of global annihilation through its suicidal strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) during the Cold War.
To encourage reason and compromise in an unreasonable world, institutions have been established since the end of the Second World War. The prime example is of course the United Nations. Other measures, such as the founding of economic organisations and Trade Blocs like the European Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, have largely helped to mitigated the occurrence of conflict between States by making the cost of war higher than any potential gains. This forces everyone to play nice, in essence, and ensures everyone plays by the same rules.
Where these institutions have been far less effective is in peacefully resolving conflicts within nations such as during civil-wars. The reason for this can primarily be pinpointed to the irrational desire of one or both sides to win with little room for compromise. The failure of these institutions in dealing with internal conflicts comes down to the fact that they were designed to deal largely with rational state actors, not the fractious new forms of extremism that are occurring today.
It is a general rule of our “Westphalian” international state system to not become involved in the domestic affairs of another state, however this rule should be broken in cases of extreme human rights violations and when the situation begins encroaching on other states.
The United Nations has even recognised these situations as being appropriate for the international community to intervene under the principle known as “the Responsibility to Protect”. The text adopted by the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit states that “should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations … [the United Nations should be] prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII.”. States do not exist in a vacuum and in almost every case of conflict within the borders of a nation the result is the leaking of the problem to other regions, mainly in the form of refugees, political instability and economic destabilization.
Failing the Innocent
Arguably the Rwandan Civil War presents a prime example of the utter decimation a nation and region can undergo if the international community decides to bury their heads in the sand and insist on “leaving well enough alone” and hoping the situation will sort itself out.
The most poignant fact about the Rwandan conflict is that it appeared to be a fairly straight-forward civil war between two ethnic groups, the Tutsi minority who arguably initiated the conflict in order to eliminate the oppressive hold the Hutu majority were holding over them. What made the conflict unique was the ensuing genocide of the Tutsi population by the Hutu, a genocide estimated to have claimed between 500,000 and 1 million Tutsi lives. This was arguably the largest act of genocide since World War II and it was not conducted on the large mechanised scale utilised by the Nazis but rather by individuals using weapons as crude as machetes.
The intensely horrific fact about the Rwandan genocide is that the Western nations which had undergone, and had seen the horrors of World War II and vowed to not allow such a nightmare to occur again largely sat on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children were butchered and senselessly murdered based on their ethnicity.
Only after millions had been displaced and disease and famine had broken out did the international community mount a massive humanitarian relief effort. An effort that came too late for those who had suffered at the hands of indiscriminate slaughter.
Rwanda is the prime example of the consequences of when an interventionist path is not taken. It is therefore unsurprising when people wonder that intervention will only be taken when there is an economic or strategic gain to be made. The Somali Civil War however is perhaps the best example of when the right thing happens for the wrong reasons.
The war erupted in the mid to late 80’s in the wake of a power struggle between President Mohamed Siad Barre and numerous rebel factions all vying for control of the country. When the war devolved into a messy quagmire the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions 733 and 746 which provided the mandate for a peace keeping force to be deployed in order to provide humanitarian assistance and restore order to the nation.
Unfortunately, greater than expected casualties meant that the peace keeping forces deployed in 1992 were withdrawn three years later without achieving considerable progress to bringing stability to Somalia.
While the Somalian civil war does not illustrate a successful attempt at humanitarian intervention, its most important moral lies in the fact that Somalia was a state with no economic or military significance and yet the nations of the world displayed a rare show of solidarity in attempting to bring an end to a violent conflict without concern for the cost incurred or benefit to be gained.
Taking the fight to the Terrorists:
In the wake of the devastating attacks in Paris, the lessons of history have undoubtedly provided the why for a morally justified armed intervention. This imperative is to end conflicts which are considered civil wars and in particular should be reflected upon by the global community at this pressing juncture.
Arguments have been espoused from all sides extolling the virtues of a highly interventionist approach to bring an end to the reign of terror created by the terrorist group known as Daesh*. President Francois Hollande was clearly the most vocal in this call as he attempted to draw European and UN allies into the fold.
The attempt by France to escalate intervention in Syria and Iraq can be justified simply by the merciless attacks in Paris but when looking at the record of atrocities committed in the region, including the imprisoning of civilians and the sexual enslavement of Yezidi women and girls.
Whilst a worthy cause, it should be noted that some are concerned that intervention will only bring more misery to those residing in the region and also spur a spate of Daesh* reprisal attacks. But what does history have to say about this course of action?
The benefits of intervention:
Possibly the best example of successful intervention on a humanitarian grounds can be seen in the conflict within the former Yugoslavia.
The beginning of the 1990’s should have marked the beginning of one of the most peaceful times in European and indeed world history. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the oppressive reign of Stalinist Communism had come to an end. Although it seemed impossible for the European region to undergo further atrocities after the horrors of the Second World War, the Yugoslav wars, primarily the Bosnian war and Kosovo War, disproved this belief.
The conflict within Bosnia occurred mainly due to ethnic issues and control over regions of the province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some of the most well-known atrocities were committed by all sides, including the Lasva Valley ethnic cleansing committed by Croatian forces in which 2000 Bosnian Muslim civilians were killed and the Sebrenica massacre in which 8000 Bosnia Muslims were killed by Serbian forces.
In 1994 the first NATO forces were deployed to enforce a no fly zone and destroy heavy artillery emplacements after reports of the atrocities being committed by both sides were verified. With NATO forces assisting in bringing the conflict to a stalemate, all sides met in Dayton Ohio to sign peace accords which would see an 80,000 strong NATO force deployed to enforce the terms of the agreement.
At the beginning of the Bosnian conflict the number of internally displaced persons stood at 2.6 million, a number that only grew as the conflict raged. By the conclusion of the conflict the highest estimated number of casualties stood at 329 000 and instances of rape estimated at around 50 000. While the wounds of the Balkan war are still healing it can be said that the intervention of NATO prevented the above figures from spiralling even higher and headed off the economic and social pressures of a failed state on Europe.
No longer can impartiality and complacency prevail in the Middle East. The main responsibility of the Security Council from its conception was the maintenance of peace and security, a responsibility it has neglected in the case of Iraq and Syria. Nothing holds truer in this case than the quote from Edmund Burke stating “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”
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*Mindful of the connotations that “Islamic State” implies, the editorial team of the Global Quorum echo the sentiments of world leaders in calling the fundamentalist group “Daesh” rather than validating their claim to statehood or as representatives of the Islamic faith.