By Steve Hynd
In comments to my last post on the dangerous precedent of R2P interventions that are really all about picking favorites, my friend and Newshoggers colleague B.J. Bjornson asked:
How many thousands of civilians being in danger of massacre would be enough? If you believed that it actually was hundreds of thousands, would you then have supported the intervention? Tens of thousands? Just a few hundred? ... Are there any circumstances where you would call for the US and other nations to step in and try to prevent the worst from happening?
It's a question worth addressing, of course, and my first impulse is the strict Nuremberg answer: that the only legal armed intervention should be responding to aggressive warfare by a state on another state, otherwise the intervention itself would be the aggressive war and thus a "crime against peace". But we live in times of "non-state actors" and there's also at least some case for saying that a state waging aggressive warfare on an entire segment of it's own population qualifies as a case for legal armed intervention.
But in response to the "how many" question, I have another.
Do you think the dead care how they died?
Right to Protect interventionism is essentially a utilitarian argument - that by using violence in reply to violence the greater good of the greater number can be achieved - specifically, that fewer people will die if there is an armed intervention than if the state or non-state actor is allowed to continue killing unopposed by external forces. But it largely ignores a wider utilitarian argument to do so - that the resources required to intervene could be put to better use saving more lives elsewhere.
The war in Libya has cost the US somewhere in the region of $1.2 billion over six months, at a rough guess. That's a drop in the ocean compared with the hundreds of billions so far spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the bloated overall defense budget. But State spends far less on core foreign assistance - including food aid - than is spent on America's wars. That stands at only $32.9 billion in the FY2012 request. DoD will get three and a half times that money for Afghanistan and Iraq alone.
Drought, conflict and a lack of food aid have left 3.6 million people at risk of starvation in southern Somalia. The drought, the worst in decades, has affected about 12 million people across the Horn of Africa.
Famine in parts of southern Somalia has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly children, the United Nations said Wednesday in an official declaration of what aid officials describe as the worst humanitarian crisis in the troubled country in two decades.
I doubt the dead care whether they are killed by a bullet or starvation - they're still just as dead. Utillitarian ethics, such as those used to justify R2P interventionism, dictate that resources should first go to missions which would help the greatest number - yet the budget for Somalian aid is a measly $105 million.
My utilitarian answer to the question of when R2P armed interventions would be justified is the same I think J.S. Mill would have offered: when the other, greater threats of massacre by any cause have already been dealt with. Where are the billions for Right To Protect against famine? Where are the Beltway foreign policy insiders advocating allocating scare resources where they will do most good?