Saturday, June 07, 2008

At What Point?

This question is asked of the western world’s population so they can provide direction to their leaders.

At what point do we say a country’s people have suffered so much that we must ignore their sovereignty and take military action to remove the government causing that suffering.
There have been several examples of when the UN or a coalition of countries decided to act unilaterally to resolve a problem.

If we look at the last two decades the following examples of action and inaction jump out at us:
1992 Somalia – The US administration of George H. W. Bush gathered a coalition of countries and under a UN chapter 7 resolution (chapter 7 allows UN troops to use force against an unwilling member state to achieve a specific aim) invaded Somalia with the stated aim of regaining control over the lawless country so aid agencies could feed starving people. The intervention was extremely successful until it was turned over to UN peacekeeping troops led by Pakistan after which it deteriorated quickly and anarchy returned. The Clinton administration refused to re-engage and after the Battle of Mogadishu or as it has become known as the “Black Hawk Down” incident he withdrew all US troops and the UN followed shortly thereafter allowing the country to return to anarchy.

1994 Rwanda – Under a Chapter 6 resolution the UN began peacekeeping operations in Rwanda. Just prior to the beginning of the genocide, the UN commander General Romeo Dallaire of Canada warned then Secretary of Peacekeeping Operations Kofi Annan of what was coming and begged for permission to preemptively strike, he was refused permission and the killing began. When it was over almost a million were dead and still the US and world ignored it.

1999 Kosovo – After failing to obtain a chapter 7 UN resolution at the Security Council to allow a coalition of troops led by the US and Britain to prevent further Serbian aggression against the minority citizens of its province of Kosovo (Russian and China blocked the resolution) the US, Britain and Canadian air forces collectively began an air campaign meant to not only drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo but to destroy Serbian infrastructure. It was a punishing effort against the small nation and was followed up with a ground invasion and the occupation of Kosovo. While the running of the province was eventually turned over to the UN it was indeed the first time in over a decade that the US had used its military might without UN sanction.

2008 Burma – While the people of Burma have been under the control of the current military Junta for many years and having been repressing democracy through violence it’s only been in the past 9 months that world seems to have remembered this former Allie from WW II. First there was a new “Rambo” movie set in Burma, and then peaceful demonstrations by monks led to violent crackdown by the authorities after which it was learned that hundreds of monks had been killed for their peaceful efforts to bring change.

Recently a cyclone ravaged the country leaving many dead and many more suffering in its wake but the military rulers still refused assistance from the world instead trying to keep the world out. Finally when it did relent it did so in such a small way that tens of thousands if not more continued to suffer for more than a month after this natural disaster. Even Iran allowed US help when it last hit with a major earthquake but not Burma and yet regardless of the pleading from the various world leaders the Junta stood firm willing to allow tens of thousands to continue to suffer or die.

2008 Zimbabwe – Again a country that has been suffering for over a decade but only recently began to draw the attention of the wider world. Led by President Robert Mugabe the country has in short order gone from being a net exporter of food to requiring enough food aid to feed 4 million people per day, roughly 25% of the entire population. Inflation is at a rate that recently forced the central bank to private $500,000 dollar notes (equals about USD$2.00) so that people don’t have to use a wheel barrel of money to by a loaf of bread if they can find one for sale. There is 80% unemployment and many have migrated illegally to neighboring countries to try and save their families.

What has been done so far, well on 20 March 2002 the Commonwealth (54 countries) led by Britain expelled Zimbabwe from the group initially for 12 months which has been continued each year, restrictions have been put on his government’s ability to travel (doesn’t included UN or World sponsored conferences) and there have been attempts to limit the import of luxury items.
The results of these restrictions have done nothing. Mr. Mugabe remains in power regardless of the results of recent election, luxury goods flow through South Africa, weapons arrive as need from China, the UN Security Council remains incapable of agreeing on further sanctions and the African Union continues to support him. In fact the current government of South Africa (the ANC party) is still beholden to Mugabe for his support and sanctuary of many of its leaders during apartheid.

Recently, Mr. Mugabe’s party, the Zanu-PF, lost the parliamentary elections but has refused to hand over power to the opposition MDC. Mr. Mugabe himself lost the popular vote for President to Mr. Tsvangirai but after of month of trying to decide what to do they simply announced that he hadn’t won the necessary 50% and declared the requirement for a runoff election for the Presidency.

So far dozens of Mr. Tsvangirai’s supporters have been killed (at least 65), jailed or beaten, He has been detained on at least 2 occasions, his rallies have been banned until after the election and when the US and British embassy staff charged with the duty of reporting on the campaign to their respective governments attempted to do so they were detained by armed men including security forces, threatened with death, had their vehicles damaged, equipment stolen and one of their local national employees (a driver) beaten severely for his troubles.

Just prior to all this the government decertified several food agencies that the UN was using to distribute food aid claiming that they are funneling money and support to the opposition party in exchange for food, since that early decision all agencies including the UN and International Red Cross must stop their distribution of food aid and reregister with the government. The real irony of this specific issue is that it was done while President Mugabe was in Rome attending the World Food Security conference and complaining that his country was suffering not because of his government’s decisions that led to the destruction of farming in Zimbabwe but because of the British government’s spies and activities.

While these are only a few of the cases and precedents that could be used to support the use of military force to save a sovereign country from its own government there are many more cases currently and in the past where dictators and elected dictators have been allowed to destroy their counties and kill millions in the process. Pol Pot of Cambodia, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda and Kim Jong IL of North Korea come immediately to mind but here we are.

Do the actions of the governments of Burma and or Zimbabwe rise to the necessary level whereby the world says enough? I would think that they do, so why won’t we (the Western nations) intervene? In the case of Burma it’s very simple, China is looking out for Burma and to intervene in Burma could have a huge economic impact on Europe and the US in terms of cheap imports quickly drying up. The other sad fact is that Burma is of no real strategic importance to the West so why bother.

In Zimbabwe we have several factors but in my opinion the largest single factor is white colonial guilt. Not only did the West ignore for many decades the colonial activities of the Europeans on the Africa continent but we also enabled the Apartheid regimes of both Rhodesia and South Africa to survive much longer than they would have without Western support or at least in many cases apathy, so to remove a black African elected government (regardless of how rigged the elections were) using primarily white armies from Europe and North America would have a devastating effect on all of Africa and again China who are moving heavily into Africa in search of better oil deals would most likely respond with economic penalties and security council actions.

Here’s my predication, at the end of the day the Western powers will do nothing beyond words for the oppressed peoples of the world and CNN and the BBC will get bored and move on, so again I ask at what point do we say everybody counts regardless of their counties strategic value and that we should collectively stand up against the worlds bullies when their people can’t stand up for themselves. Remember they can’t eat words.

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