Western Morals


BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - Foreign policy experts in Berlin and Washington are strongly criticizing using human rights to justify military interventions. Wars waged in the name of human rights are being considered almost "a moral obligation" in the public opinion of some western countries, according to a recent study published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The "moralizing discourse of western public opinion" doubts the "morals" of those criticizing interventions, for example, in the war on Libya, and accuses them of lacking "compassion for the foreseeable victims of a humanitarian catastrophe." This discourse not only facilitates media manipulations, which play a regular role in justifying interventions, it also takes the consequences of military interventions insufficiently into account. This, in fact, is clearly shown in the case of the war on Libya, which not only caused numerous casualties, but wrought wide-ranging social devastation throughout Libya. The war in Mali, which threatens to plunge the entire Western Sahara into new upheavals, can be seen as a direct consequence of the war on Libya. US experts are pointing out that the idea of intervening militarily in foreign countries to prevent violence, is also the basis for US drone warfare.

War as Obligation

The author of a recent study published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) unambiguously criticizes the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) concept. According to the study, R2P does not merely prolong the older "humanitarian intervention" concept, it goes far beyond it. The idea of "responsibility to protect" permits foreign interventions, not only in reasonably exceptional cases, but - under certain circumstances - makes these interventions an obligation. The R2P doctrine stipulates that those powers, which have the - necessary, military - means are obliged to intervene, as soon as there are serious human rights violations taking place somewhere and an intervention seems fundamentally feasible. "Intervention from outside," the author of the SWP study concludes, is actually regarded "as a moral obligation."[1] Due to the highly moralized character of R2P, the author is particularly analyzing the ethical contradictions of the concept.

Manipulation by the Media

As the study initially acknowledges, R2P "tends to lower the threshold to war." Military missions undertaken in the name of human rights "have come to enjoy a privileged position" in "the moralizing discourse of western public opinion," according to the paper. "The morals of those criticizing an intervention are put into question" and they are accused "of lacking compassion for the foreseeable victims of a humanitarian catastrophe." However, a glimpse at the war on Libya - the first that was primarily justified with R2P - demonstrates that these arguments facilitate manipulation by the media. For example, retrospective investigations by Amnesty International show that there was "neither sufficient evidence of mass rapes nor aerial attacks on demonstrators."[2] Reference to these allegations helped legitimize the war. Even allegations that genocide was looming, have not stood up under examination, the author writes. "In cases, where government troops had already retaken cities captured by the rebels," - in spite of the brutality - "no policy of targeted killings of civilians or even genocidal violence could be discerned." The insurgents, however, had deliberately fueled anxieties of possible genocide, to achieve western intervention in their favor. The author points out that the West - also seeking Gadhafi's overthrow - had every political interest in finding pretexts for justifying an R2P intervention.

The Consequences of Intervention

Beyond the fact that justifications for going to war are repeatedly invented in a highly charged atmosphere, the author points to another blatant contradiction of the R2P concept: The "moralization" used to justify intervention is often only based on assumptions, even "occasionally simply rejecting the ethical relevance of impact assessment." For example, until now, no one can ascertain with certainty, what the war on Libya "actually prevented."[3] It can be, however, determined what that war - at least partially foreseeable - provoked: Casualties are estimated in the 10,000s and a multiple of that in wounded, along with catastrophic social devastation. Since the war, large areas of Libya have been under the control of militias - with recurring battles between them. Islamist structures have been on the rise,[4] even terrorist organizations are growing stronger. As was demonstrated by the large-scale hostage-taking in the Algerian natural gas field, Libya is available as an uncontrollable launching pad for terrorist attacks. Racists have run a large number of black Africans out of the country, and forced the Tuareg to flee. This, on the other hand, has created the conditions for the war in Mali [5] and heightened tensions throughout the Sahel zone. The consequences of the West's "human rights" intervention are, in fact, still unfathomable today.

War as Focal Point

Ultimately, the author points to a third immanent contradiction of the "moralism" of western intervention - the fact that, of all things, war is the focal point. The question must be asked, why, in this country, "in the public discourse (...) an obligation to prevent genocide and mass murder, if necessary, by military means, has precedence over the obligation," for example, "to reduce the spread of malaria and other diseases." It is "characteristic" for those pleading for intervention, for example, that the "mitigation of structural circumstances, under which fundamental human rights are also absent" [6] - the serious poverty, particularly in the southern hemisphere countries - "play no role." The question must be urgently raised, whether "more people could not be saved" if "the financial resources, being squandered on military interventions, would not be used otherwise." This argument, of course, demonstrates the limits of an ethical analysis of R2P, after all, wars are being waged on the basis of national interests and R2P merely provides a justification. Otherwise, it would be inexplicable, why particularly the war that has, by far, cost more lives than any other since 1945, has not long since served as the staging area for a long-term western intervention - the war in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Drone Warfare

The fact that Western interests striving to expand, are using human rights to enhance excessively their options for intervening in foreign countries is now also being discussed in the United States - in the context of drone warfare. According to a recent article in the US magazine Foreign Policy, the R2P logic is - strictly speaking - also applied to hunt down real or alleged terrorist structures anywhere in the world, because human rights could equally be used as a justification. Using killer drones and liquidating people at will in foreign countries is the pinnacle of the development of intervention. The West is therefore undermining the already extremely fragile international order, which is based on the principle of sovereignty.[7] Regardless of sovereignty's shortcomings, what is lost through the R2P principle is also pointed out in the recent SWP study, which recalls the core objectives of the idea of sovereignty: "On the one hand, to preserve peace between nations and national autonomy and, on the other, to secure self-determination of political communities and the individuals living within."[8]

[1], [2], [3] Peter Rudolf: Schutzverantwortung und humanitäre Intervention. Eine ethische Bewertung der "Responsibility to Protect" im Lichte des Libyen-Einsatzes, SWP-Studie S 3, Februar 2013
[4] see also Eine Atmosphäre der Straflosigkeit, Europas Wächter and Außer Kontrolle
[5] see also A Country Teetering on the Brink
[6] Peter Rudolf: Schutzverantwortung und humanitäre Intervention. Eine ethische Bewertung der "Responsibility to Protect" im Lichte des Libyen-Einsatzes, SWP-Studie S 3, Februar 2013
[7] Rosa Brooks: Hate Obama's Drone War? www.foreignpolicy.com 14.02.2013
[8] Peter Rudolf: Schutzverantwortung und humanitäre Intervention. Eine ethische Bewertung der "Responsibility to Protect" im Lichte des Libyen-Einsatzes, SWP-Studie S 3, Februar 2013