Was there a moral responsibility for outside powers to intervene in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Kuwait and Afghanistan? The failure of the United Nations and major powers to intervene in the conscience-shattering ethnic cleansing in Rwanda provokes the dilemma: to intervene or not to intervene? That 1994 war resulted in an estimated death toll of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Rwandans, mostly members of the Tutsi ethnic group.
When mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape and enforced starvation are out of control, shouldn’t other nations intervene? But who, how and to what extent? Adding to this dilemma is global terrorism’s appalling attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on New York and Washington, D.C.
A report presented to the UN outlines many of the problems. It is insightful in its recommendations.
For several years United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been urging the international community to forge a consensus on the sensitive issue of the right of humanitarian intervention. Responding to his challenge in the fall of 2000, Canada established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), with a membership of 12.
After a year of intensive worldwide consultations, research and discussions, the ICISS released its report titled “The Responsibility to Protect.” The report wrestled with one major question: Should the international community accept the sanctity of state sovereignty and do nothing to stop massive human rights violations, or should it intervene to protect populations in danger?
Kofi Annan thanked Canada for establishing ICISS and lauded its work. He said, “You are taking away the last excuses of the international community for doing nothing when doing something can save lives” (Canada World View, Issue 15, Spring 2002, p. 17).
The report outlines the intervention dilemma for the international community, stating: “ ‘Humanitarian intervention’ has been controversial both when it happens, and when it has failed to happen. Rwanda in 1994 laid bare the full horror of inaction. The United Nations (UN) Secretariat and some permanent members of the Security Council knew that officials connected to the then government were planning genocide; UN forces were present, though not in sufficient number at the outset; and credible strategies were available to prevent, or at least greatly mitigate, the slaughter which followed.
“But the Security Council refused to take the necessary action. That was a failure of international will— of civic courage— at the highest level. Its consequence was not merely a humanitarian catastrophe for Rwanda: the genocide destabilized the entire Great Lakes region and continues to do so. In the aftermath, many African peoples concluded that, for all the rhetoric about the universality of human rights, some human lives end up mattering a great deal less to the international community than others” (“The Intervention Dilemma,” 1.1, www.iciss-ciise.gc.ca).
Our 20th-century conscience
Increasing world crises after World War II clamored for humanitarian intervention. Encarta Yearbook prods us with uneasy reminders. “Social scientists estimate that since the end of World War II at least 16 nations have attempted or committed genocide. From 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia, the Communist Khmer Rouge killed close to 1.7 million Cambodians. During Guatemala’s civil war, from 1960 to 1996, an estimated 200,000 people were killed or disappeared” (Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2002, “genocide”).
How quickly we forget. Or is it that one conscience-numbing event after another makes us lose track of what has been happening in the past century? But can we forget what has happened, or is happening today? We might want to forget the horrific murder and torture caused by despotic genocide, like the killings orchestrated by Ugandan presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote during the 1970s and early 1980s. Both Amin and Obote ordered the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans belonging to groups who had opposed, or whom they feared might oppose, their tyrannical rule.
The “right to protect and rebuild” vs. “the right to intervene”
Recognizing the need for change, the ICISS report proposes a challenging new approach. “Millions of human beings remain at the mercy of civil wars, insurgencies, state repression and state collapse. This is a stark and undeniable reality, and it is at the heart of all the issues with which this Commission has been wrestling. What is at stake here is not making the world safe for big powers, or trampling over the sovereign rights of small ones, but delivering practical protection for ordinary people, at risk of their lives, because their states are unwilling [or] unable to protect them” (“A New Approach: ‘The Responsibility to Protect,’” 2.1).
Along with protecting states unable to resolve their crises, the report also recognized the need to rebuild their structure after intervention. “The responsibility to protect implies the responsibility not just to prevent and react, but to follow through and rebuild. This means that if military intervention action is taken— because of a breakdown or abdication of a state’s own capacity and authority in discharging its ‘responsibility to protect’— there should be a genuine commitment to helping to build a durable peace, and promoting good governance and sustainable development. Conditions of public safety and order have to be reconstituted by international agents acting in partnership with local authorities, with the goal of progressively transferring to them authority and responsibility to rebuild” (ibid., “The Responsibility to Rebuild— Peace Building,” 5.1).
The problems of intervention
The report insightfully tackles the many difficulties facing peacemakers of today’s world. Here are some:
• “There is no longer such a thing as a humanitarian catastrophe occurring ‘in a faraway country of which we know little.’ On 11 September 2001 global terrorism struck the US homeland where around 40% of the victims of the World Trade Center were non-Americans, from some 80 countries. In an interdependent world, fragile security and ill-will can constitute a risk to people everywhere” (ibid., “The Responsibility to Protect,” 1.21).
• “[If the international community] stays disengaged, there is the risk of becoming complicit bystanders in massacre, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide. If it intervenes, it may not be able to mitigate the abuses” (ibid., 1.22).
• Disarmament has been one of the most difficult tasks to implement. It has been extremely hard to collect all weapons, disarm warlords or prevent a trade in small arms long after withdrawal.
Problems for achieving consensus
The nature of the United Nations often precludes achieving a united front in handling conscience-shattering crises.
• The veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council is too often exercised to serve individual ends. There is a need for a “code of conduct” among them so that they will not use that veto when there is a significant humanitarian crisis.
• Only the UN can authorize military action, yet the UN does not have its own military or police force. Most countries have shrinking military budgets since the post-Cold War era and peacekeeping states are often unable to maintain military commitments. Even Canada, as affluent a nation as it is, was unable to replace its military detachment on withdrawal from Afghanistan because there was no fresh operational unit available. UN peacekeeping peaked in 1993 at 78,000 troops but at the time of the report, including both NATO and UN missions, the number of soldiers in international peace operations had soared by 40 percent to 108,000.
• UN membership has grown from 51 member states in 1945 to 189 today. This brings a whole new array of voices, interests and competing aspirations. o The “CNN effect” of media with satellite images of suffering from troubled states can make it difficult for the UN and Security Council to take the time to properly assess what action to take.
Will the world respond?
Will our world meet the challenge? The ICISS report champions civilized aspirations. Notice their heartfelt warning. “Meeting this challenge is more than a matter of aspiration. It is a vital necessity. Nothing has done more harm to our shared ideal that we are all equal in worth and dignity, and that the earth is our common home, than the inability of the community of states to prevent genocide, massacre and ethnic cleansing. If we believe that all human beings are equally entitled to be protected from acts that shock the conscience of us all, then we must match rhetoric with reality, principle with practice. We cannot be content with reports and declarations. We must be prepared to act. We won’t be able to live with ourselves if we do not” (ibid., “Meeting the Challenge,” 8.34).
“Won’t be able to live with ourselves”! We give full credit to all with a humanitarian heart who are trying to ease suffering in this world. But will they be successful?
Bible prophecy shows that human attempts to solve the ongoing crises will eventually fail. In fact, crises will worsen to the point of bringing the earth to the brink of self-annihilation. See our booklets You Can Understand Bible Prophecy and Are We Living in the Time of the End?
God will intervene
We learn by hard experience that man often needs outside intervention to bring him back to decent values in life. However, God gives man the freedom of choice, and that choice does not always involve God. Man does not want his Creator intervening in his life or the lives of the nations, and mostly God has accommodated mankind’s wishes. He lets people write the painful lessons that hopefully will eventually result in repentance. “Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you” (Jeremiah 2:19 Jeremiah 2:19Your own wickedness shall correct you, and your backslidings shall reprove you: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter, that you have forsaken the LORD your God, and that my fear is not in you, said the Lord GOD of hosts.
American King James Version×).
Soon God will step into human affairs by sending Jesus Christ to establish and rule over a world government. Only then will peace come to the nations. Zechariah shows how God will intervene in the affairs “of all the nations” who fail consistently to respond to His way. Chapter 14 tells us that when Christ returns, God will act when needed on all “the families of the earth” who refuse to worship Him at the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-19 Zechariah 14:16-19  And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.
 And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even on them shall be no rain.
 And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, with which the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
 This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×). We might say His withholding of rain is a way of imposing economic sanctions to bring people around.
God’s soon-coming intervention will enable all nations to be prosperous and secure. —WNP