By Steve Hynd
Over at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Beast blog, Zach Beachamp responded to my last post on the ethics of R2P. Zach writes in defense of R2P interventions that "humanitarian intervention is often necessary to create the conditions under which aid can be effective in saving lives."
Food and medicine can't very well get passed out in war zones, and evil or corrupt governments will limit the ability of aid organizations to operate. Either way, aid doesn't get to the people who desperately need it.
That's why it's so critical to either end the fighting or, as the case may be, topple the government slaughtering its population. Civil wars and awful governments have tremendous long term consequences beyond the already-awful casualties caused by the fighting itself. They are, in some cases, the root causes of the spread of disease, famine, poverty, and other horrors. Further, both civil wars and bad governance prevent the international community from taking effective action to ameliorate the humanitarian crises they create. Somalia is one example. North Korea is another.
Steve's talking about Libya, a comparatively better off country. However, Qaddafi was directly responsible for dire poverty despite the country's wealth, and one can only imagine that conditions would have gotten worse as a result of a) the government diverting resources from economic development/basic subsistance aid to power consolidation after the likely slaughter in Benghazi and b) growing international isolation. The intervention in Libya likely headed off long-term humanitarian problems as well as a short-term catastrophe.
As I've been examining in the past few days, we aren't certain that the consequences of intervention will be comparatively better yet, though there are reasons for optimism. That's an important constraint on intervention: that the outcome be better than the consequences of doing nothing. Indeed, humanitarian intervention, like any other war, is subject to just war constraints.
This is one of those cases where I'd agree wholeheartedly if the real world matched the idealised one in which we often talk about ethical matters, but it simply doesn't - as Zach obviously recognises. If in the real world aid cannot be delivered to those who need it because of an oppressive regime that first needs toppling by external forces, it's equally true that in the real world those external forces are then unimaginably bad at delivering aid and development at gunpoint.
Take Afghanistan as just one example. Billions of foreign dollars delivered, massive surges of COIN armed intervention paired with grandiose externally developed plans for development - and yet there's very little to show for it. Corruption is rampant and a goodly portion of all those aid bucks has gone to enriching the kind of people who in other circumstances would be the subject of calls for regime change. Massive infrastructure projects which still don't touch the lives of those they need to - and in which the always-substantial profits get repatriated by foreign contractors. And the killing - both of the humanitarian interveners and locals alike - continues. The overwhelming evidence is that armed humanitarian intervention is incredibly bad at delivering the "humanitarian" bit. Instead, those intervening invariably seem to turn into Hummvees in a china shop.
The same now looks likely to happen in Libya. The West will not stop the rebels from assaulting the town of Sirte en masse, despite the certain loss of civilian lives. The rebels estimate that 50,000 civilians have died in the Libyan conflict already - and they're only counting civilians on "their" side. The UN is planning what can only be described as heaby-handed running of the post-conflict situation. The rebels in Misrata are already rebelling against the Benghazi leadership, composed as it is of people parachuted in from exile in the US and ex-Gaddafi strongmen who have changed sides with the wind. Those strongmen and their militias are already acting like the old regime.
All of this argues that humanitarian objectives are extremely, I would say prohibitively, difficult to deliver at gun point. Instead of such armed interventionism R2P missions should be focussing on aid and development before the situation deteriorates to the shooting point. Zach's argument sounds to me (and Zach) like an argument for a Peace Corps to do aid before military intervention becomes needed, one that wears dungerees instead of uniforms and weilds shovels instead of assault rifles and airstrikes. Fund it to the tune of say $200 billion, taken right out of the Pentagon's over-inflated budget and put it to work on "pre-COIN", aid and development to promote good governance and helpful infrastructure before things in a country go so far South that airstrikes are needed. It would not only be a perfect utilitarian answer, it would even be useful on the home front.