For two years there have been repeated calls for and against military intervention in Syria. Over this period of time another term has been used. ‘Humanitarian intervention’. But it’s essential defense still voices the use of military force.
Much of the international debate has focused on how much force to use in reversing the Syrian nightmare, and how such intervention is to carried out. But there are questions on what the goals should be. Would it be to topple the Assad’s government, or to simply deter the use of chemical weapons? Or is it to protect civilians from further unnecessary harm, open a line of humanitarian aid, enforce a cease fire, and engage political solutions?
Perhaps our thinking on this would get straightened out if we put this concept into context. Intervention does not absolutely mean the use of military force. This may be a little hard to see since most intervention efforts have involved the use of military power. However there have been international joint efforts that could be rightly termed interventions which did not involve exerting military force. Examples include international responses to the nuclear reactor accidents and natural disasters, which have worsened in this century.
‘Intervention’ is a broad term that could generally mean a foreign actor’s involvement in the domestic affairs of a state, especially in an event of protracted crisis or disaster. The Responsibility to Protect document, adopted by the United Nations in 2005, may be regarded as the standard text and thinking on international intervention by the international community. This document stresses the point that a state is in need of intervention when it compromises its citizens’ safety. The basic idea is that states have a responsibility to protect their citizens from crimes against humanity and where they fail, that responsibility shifts on to the international community. Nonetheless, military force in implementing this norm can only be approved by the United Nations Security Council.
This norm technically voids the acceptability of civil wars. There is a great chance that such civil conflicts could result in mass murders, and other mutations of humanitarian crisis, famine inclusive, that this norm seeks to prevent. Thus, there is a huge role that preventive diplomacy ought to play in avoiding civil wars from happening, or ending them as soon as possible. It is at this point of preventive diplomacy that intervention should be perceived as starting.
I have learnt severally that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means. I could infer then that a military effort in stopping a situation that is deemed unacceptable to the international community is only a continuation of what started as a preventive diplomacy. But such effort does not, should not, lose the original goals of stopping a humanitarian disaster.
As soon as the Arab Spring gained momentum, the U.S-E.U bloc had started to ‘intervene’ by calling for restraint by the governments in question, cautioning them against the use of excessive force, and urging them to heed the voice of their citizens who wanted change. Libya’s Gaddafi obviously did not take that intervention seriously and resorted to ‘excessive force’ to put down the protesters. In a short time, what had started out as a ‘peaceful protest’ had assumed a civil war status. In this scenario, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine was invoked, and a military action to protect civilians in Libya from further hurt was sanctioned by the UNSC. In the end, Gaddafi was toppled, thanks to the air support that NATO forces gave to the rebels.
There have been arguments that the NATO forces had gone beyond the original mandate of merely protecting civilians from further hurt and had instead pursued a regime change by force. But the U.S-E.U logic carried the day: there was no way to continue to protect civilians in Libya without Gaddafi ousted from power.
Syria has basically followed all the dots of events that happened in Libya before Gaddafi’s fall. President Obama among other world leaders had, from the outset of the protests in 2011, called upon President Assad to take heed to what his people were saying, to avoid an escalation, and never to use chemical weapons. This was the real start of intervention in Syria. A political solution was immediately sought for which included the United States, Russia, the Syrian government, the ‘National Syrian Army’, and the Arab League. This efforts culminated in the Geneva Communique of 2012 which called for an immediate cease fire, and an inclusive transitional government be set up. This communique had the backing of the U.S and Russia but was neglected by the parties in Syria.
The failure to accept the terms of this political intervention has culminated in the present crisis including the eventual use of chemical weapons. At this point, it is only sensible that the threat/use of military force is a real part of the next phase of intervention in Syria.