FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is the UN Charter Relevant in the Twitterific Age of Intervention?

BONUS LINK:  My entire (so far) grad school notes collection can be found here. 

Is the UN Charter Relevant in the Twitterific Age of Intervention?

            Both liberals and realists would agree that there are scenarios that call for or require intervention in the internal affairs of other sovereign states.  Speaking on the idea of collective global security Kofi Annan said, “In our globalized world, the threats we face are interconnected . . . whatever threatens one threatens all.” (Lauren, Craig, George, 272).  Annan overreaches in his statement and it is in the application of the limitations and requirements for intervention that realists and liberals disagree today.  It is only in the reconciliation of realist and liberal approaches that a system balancing restraint and freedom can not only be developed, but most importantly applied.  Most notably the international community set out to do just this after World War II with the United Nations (UN) Charter.  While well intentioned, this system has not changed in concert with advances in technology or with the shift in the international balance of relative power. 
            A key feature of the Westphalian Order, still largely in place today, is the mutual respect for sovereignty among nation states.  Although this respect is lessening, most states feel obliged to provide a modicum of international legal justification before interfering in another state’s domestic affairs and even name interventions with this in mind.  The U.S. dubbed their invasion of Panama, “Operation JUST CAUSE.”  Realists focus on the autonomy, power, and security of sovereign state actors and are invested in the modern state system and thus have a higher bar.  Nevertheless, one could see realist support for the U.S. intervention in Pakistan in defense of Afghan sovereignty and the aforementioned invasion of Panama based on the threat to the U.S. of Noriega’s facilitating drug running into the United States.  The liberal viewpoint, with its focus on the interdependence of not only state actors, but also organizations and institutions, and the promotion of human rights, provides to a large measure the basis for the recent series of “humanitarian interventions” such as the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and its most recent involvement in the Libyan Civil War.  
            Thus a realist might also favor intervention when it contributes to the international balance of power and order.  Although there was an obvious ideological component to the U.S. policy of containment during the Cold War, each side viewed challenges to its sphere of influence as a zero-sum game exemplified by the 1983 U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in response to what was viewed as the Soviet-backed, Cuban militarization of the island.  A liberal might demand intervention in the same situation but for very different reasons—namely because the intervention would enable the independence of the people and the government (Nye, 169). 
            Although imperfect in design and often execution, the UN Charter represents a pragmatic reconciliation of the realist and liberal approaches and more importantly, addresses both the limitations and obligations of states in intervention.  The UN Charter sought to provide a structure to address, evaluate and ratify (when applicable) calls for intervention.  Specifically, Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) does provide a single standard.  Article 39 states: “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken . . . to maintain or restore international peace and security.” The Security Council has a vested interest in maintaining international balance of power, and the UN provides the framework for nations to make decisions together.  This framework and Chapter VII mandate does not encompass intervening actions like public appeals by government leaders or officials.  Nye describes this wide range of possible actions that build from words to steel (Nye, 166-7).  When “steel” is needed, Article 43 obligates all UN members to contribute as required, but sets a limit on this contribution by including those members in UNSC’s decisions and by allowing them to bring any economic problems to the UNSC as well.  Although the charter has no real enforcement mechanism for states that refuse to participate, the Charter is an improvement over the legal framework of the League of Nations—as it better balances national sovereignty with international legal obligations (and includes the U.S. as a member).  Finally the charter is clear that nothing “shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” (UN Charter, Article 51).  This charter has been criticized, however, for taking too soft an approach to human rights in favor of sovereign ones (Lauren, Craig and George, 76).
            Although the Charter limits U.N.-approved or sponsored intervention with fairly clear criteria, these criteria have been more broadly applied during the late two decades.  Of late, the UN’s loose interpretation of threats to “international peace and security” raises the question of inconsistency. Why did it condone interventions in Iraq and Libya, but does not intervene in China’s violent suppression of public dissent?  This, of course, stems from China’s veto power on the UN Security Council.  One contributing factor may be the 24-hour news cycle for which a closed society like China’s is less vulnerable.  Today it is public opinion, forged by the continual bombardment of images and information, which creates the impetus for action more so than any rigorous evaluative series.
            Without a standard interpretation of Article 39, the UN must create a framework of evaluation for intervention.  First and foremost, the tripwire to intervene must be when the internal threatens the external—when the abuses occurring within a country affect the peace and security of the international community.  It is at this juncture that the obligation must be separated from the limitation.  The international community must agree to intervene but must embrace Huntington and ensure that the intervention itself is regionally led.  The application of sub-state theory is applicable here; those countries in  their region can better understand their culture (strategic and otherwise), and are in the best position to use soft power to affect change.  That soft power traditionally has not been systematically applied in this manner is perhaps why its effectiveness has been limited (Nye, 63-4).  This regional intervention combines the liberals’ focus on interdependence with the realists’ need for power and security. 
            Although flawed and in need of an update to reflect the modern international system, the provisions on intervention in the UN Charter provide satisfactory resolution to the tension between obligations and standards, or limits, on intervention.  The Charter uses a liberal lens to promote international peace and security while providing a realist mechanism to implement said peace and security throughout the globe.  Once must question, though, whether the current trend toward humanitarian intervention can be sustained.  As an increasing number of nations such as Mexico show signs of devolving into failed states, the international community will continue to be challenged to set boundaries on and provide justification for intervening in what were considered until recently, purely domestic issues within sovereign states.  The challenge is for the standards and means of intervention to fully evolve with technology and the role of transparency.  While certain factors like human nature remain timeless, the 24-hour news cycle is already quickly morphing into the 1,440 minutes (and one day the 86,400 seconds) news cycle with a real-time global flow of news and reporting.  The world must not pay mere lip service to former Secretary General Daj Hammarskjöld’s comment that the “United Nations reflects both aspiration and a falling short of aspiration.  But the constant struggle to close the gap . . . makes the difference between civilization and chaos.” (Lauren, Craig, and George, 129).  The struggle in this case must be to keep pace with an increasingly interdependent world and to intervene consistently and only when required. 


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