Authorizing Humanitarian Intervention

"The Clinton Administration has to realize that their humanitarian intervention efforts sometimes result in more harm than good being accomplished. It has to be realized that countries such as Haiti and Bosnia can resolve their internal conflicts by themselves alone especially if sufficient assistance, in the form of disaster relief, has already been extended by the U.S. And the UN. American taxpayers, who pay for such interventions, are the ones who ultimately lose…" (Gray, 1998, p. 143).

Given that the use of force is designated for humanitarian purposes in specific instances, what kind of formal authorization is necessary for the use of force? Is the United Nations the only place a state can turn to in order to receive a bona fide green light to go ahead and invade a sovereign nation when human lives are on the line? Author Cristina G. Badescu explores this question thoroughly in her learned essay (Badescu, 2007, p. 51). After carefully reading through her narrative it seems clear there is no one good answer to this problem.

Moreover, looking at the question from a number of perspectives -- as Badescu has done -- is certainly an academically competent approach. The problem an alert reader has with her approach is that, albeit she offers multiple possible solutions and brings in the well-balanced views of academics and scholars -- that are extremely helpful in rounding out a person's knowledge about humanitarian interventions -- in the end and in places throughout the piece -- she fails to deliver background emotion. Just what is her position? One wonders if perhaps she never intended to take a firm position. Her conclusion, after her exhaustive research, is to reflect that on the one hand any state wishing to legitimize its intervention in what it views as a powerful humanitarian crisis should go through the United Nations even though their proposal will be a tough sell. On the other hand, she also asserts that with or without the United Nations, legitimacy when human lives are at stake is not the issue, but rather the issue is that "nonintervention" would be an "inhumanitarian" approach.

Critique of Badescu's Research

There are a number issues that Badescu's research brings to the fore that will be explored with juxtaposing and sometimes supportive scholarship in this piece. First, Badescu's approach is to tell the reader her central argument and how she assess the debate. She begins by establishing two main positions "…in both their legal and their moral aspects" (Badescu, 2007, pp. 52). Those position are, simply put: a) some believe "there is not exception" to the absolute requirement to receive authorization from the UN to intervene; and b) others suggest that "in the case of exceptional humanitarian emergencies" states can and should go it alone (Badescu, p. 52). As to "a" the UN's High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change argues that the "risk to global order" is "simply too great" for unilateral intervention. This is not at all surprising, given that the UN's legitimacy and credibility rests on nations believing that the UN indeed is the sole authority to give the go-ahead for interventions. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty puts the viewpoint forward that basically the UN "lacks authority" and further, "If an obligation to respond to human tragedy exists with the [Security] Council's blessing, it also does without one" (Badescu, p. 52).

Those two positions having been established, Badescu writes (p. 53) that there is "growing consensus that the requirement for UN authorization obstructs the protection of basic human rights." She references Allen Buchanan and Stanley Hoffman, both of whom suggest a new protocol, a new formula, for obtaining authorization for intervention -- one that goes around the United Nations. On page 55 Badescu mentions that the states most likely to be invaded due to some humanitarian calamity insist going through the UN is "…an absolute requirement." A third position that Badescu later reviews -- albeit not forcefully enough -- is that even with UN support for intervention, international gamesmanship and power politics in the General Assembly can kill the best laid plans.

As an example of how UN decisions -- subject to the political dynamics that play out in the UN Security Council -- can directly affect the lives of millions, an article in Foreign Policy by Lt. General Romeo Dallaire is both heartbreaking and eye opening. In 1994 Dallaire was the commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. At that time the Hutu militias were strategizing their upcoming vicious attack on the Tutsi community. A few weeks into the "unfolding genocide" Dallaire was shocked when the UN Security Council made the decision to "significantly reduce" the number of troops under his command (Dallaire, 2010, p. 99). Dallaire's "desperate calls for reinforcements" went unheeded, and hence, "nearly a million died there over the next 100 days," he explains. Those innocent Tutsi people were slaughtered ("hacked to death by machetes") and burned to death in mass numbers.

Dallaire believes he could have prevented the genocide with perhaps 5,500 troops; but due to the "U.S. opposition to expanding the mission" along with the pullout of Belgian troops, his efforts went for naught. Interestingly, though Badescu does not mention the background into America's unwillingness to help in Rwanda, an article in the journal Current points out that "The Clinton Administration's refusal to respond to the genocide in Rwanda…was due in part to its retreat from Somalia" (Clarke, et al., 1996, p. 10). The disastrous invasion into Somalia by the U.S. In 1993 -- a poorly-planned "humanitarian" incursion that cost 18 Army Rangers their lives and embarrassed the United States in the eyes of the world -- was followed by a key policy directive by Bill Clinton, Clarke continues. That policy directive "…implied a sharp curtailment of American involvement in future armed humanitarian interventions…" (Clarke, p. 10.)

As bad as the Americans look in hindsight by the fact that Clinton refused to allow a UN peacekeeping force to prevent a slaughter in Rwanda, one would think that Badescu would spend a bit more time reviewing that tragedy, the reasons behind it and the lessons that may have been learned. Certainly, Badescu saw her duty in this scholarly article to remain as objective and intellectually honest as possible. By doing so, she did miss an opportunity to bring focus on the horrible realities that occur in the world when the UN falls down on the job. To wit, Mats Berdal reviewed Dallaire's book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

The genocide in Rwanda involved the "most murderously efficient bout of mass killing in the twentieth century," Berdal explains. In Dallaire's book, the Canadian military leader states that "…the developed work, impassive and apparently unperturbed, sat back and watched the unfolding apocalypse or simply changed channels" (p.xvii). Even the killing fields of Cambodia and Bosnia "pale before the gruesome, awful depravity of massacres in Rwanda," Dallaire continues. Dallaire recounts receiving a fax from the Security Council on April 22, 1994, that contained Resolution 912 that authorized the reduction of the United Nation forces "to a skeleton force" (Berdal, p. 118).

The resolution arrived in Dallaire's fax machine just about the time the "terrible momentum of slaughter was gathering pace" Berdal paraphrases from Dallaire's book. And while the fax stated it offered "deep concern" about the Rwanda situation, it reminded Dallaire to "…remain actively seized of the matter" (Berdal, p. 118). Soon after receiving the fax Dallaire and his staff witnessed "…a cesspool of guts, severed limbs, flesh-eating dogs and vermin" and the "putrid smell of death" was "omnipresent" (Dallaire, p. 323).

Meanwhile Badescu reviews the dilemma faced by nations that seek help from the UN but are rebuffed or ignored by the political actions within the Security Council. Badescu understates that the United States has not behaved responsibly. She quotes Jennifer Walsh who notes that "…rather than accepting Security Council pronouncements as the reflection of democratic consensus among equal states, the U.S.….has consistently asked who those states represent'" (p. 56).

According to Walsh (note Badescu doesn't make harsh anti-American assertions herself; she quotes Walsh) America judges the legitimacy of the Council on the basis of "…it's ability to advance the American conception of what best ensures international peace and security'" (Badescu, p. 56). Badescu does admit that U.S. interventions without UN backing "…can seriously damage the role of the UN in the future" (p. 56). And she does explain the perhaps the American government figures it can make up its own mind as to UN authorization because the U.S. picks up 27% of the UN tab for peacekeeping forces.

Granted much of what Badescu says about the United States and its reticence to be totally cooperative in the Security Council -- especially when American's own pet interests are at stake -- has merit. What Badescu fails to mention is that during the time her article was written, that is during the Bush Administration, the ambassador to…