March 8, 2011

The Responsibility to Protect

My hope is that in this 21st century, a more realistic philosophy of human life will emerge as we recognize that it is impossible to permanently change human nature by social and political means - by education, persuasion, coercion and law. Humans can no longer rely on instincts and let nature take its course. Nor can progressive humans carry on with outdated social, religious and economic ideologies based on misunderstandings of human nature, human history and planet ecology. Life is a project with a one billion year history. Obviously, life systems can endure. The sad realization is that some humans destroy other life everywhere they go. The solutions to the problem can be summarized by asking how can humans be persuaded, educated and motivated to create sustainable systems without harming each other and the environments that sustain them?

Canada has tradition of peace-seeking and peacekeeping. Canadian military forces have specialized in peace keeping as part of the UN effort to restrain conflict in other countries. Canadian Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, worked to establish International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) with the help of U.S. foundations and the assistance of the British and Swiss Governments. The commission published a report in December 2001 that advocated the right to intervene and the responsibility to protect victims of conflict.

The challenge: “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, as an international community, be prepared to act. We won't be able to live with ourselves if we do not.”

Axworthy's idealism should appeal to everyone who enjoys a relatively peaceful life in a civil country.

The problem is that genocides occur within countries who have not achieved a stable infrastructure that supports civility and whose governments permit, plan, and promote killing of selected populations within the country. Rebel forces emerge in these countries to overthrow despotic military regimes. Fighting between rebels and military forces leads to social chaos which invites a third group of criminals with no political agenda to rob, rape and murder without fear of punishment.

Tribal groups in these countries who have been fighting for thousands of years will refresh their group identities, recall past grievances and renew their timeless battles with enthusiasm.

The right to intervene is a contentious idea, since an overwhelming military force is usually required to constrain state-sponsored killing, rebel militias and sociopathic criminals. Experiences in Africa, Iraq, and Afghanistan do not suggest that military occupation is successful in restoring civil order, but instead, adds an extra dimension of death and destruction. A military force is trained to blow up buildings and kill people. In the best case, a specially trained military force can act as a temporary police force and guard civil populations at risk.

There are enduring obstacles to constructive action in international affairs. The U.N. Security Council, for example, has the power to authorize military interventions, but the council has a history of inaction because its members cannot agree. Powerful nations such as the US, China and Russia are selling arms to governments that kill their own citizens. Every nation remains enthralled by military force, despite overwhelming evidence that soldiers and weapons do not bring peace,happiness and prosperity.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, suggested helping decent states protect their people; or by having an effective early-warning system, triggering “constructive action” when states start to collapse. He minimized the idea of using military force by external powers as a last resort. Ban Ki-moon is an idealist.

A report in the Economist described growing resistance in 2009 to the Responsibility to Protect UN resolution (R2P): “Assurances have failed to convince critics of R2P, who are adamant that the whole idea is just a cover to legitimize armed interference by rich Western powers in the affairs of poor countries. One person who takes that view is Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, a Nicaraguan diplomat who is now president of the General Assembly. .. he says a more accurate name for the concept would be the “right to intervene” or R2I. Quite a number of countries might be persuaded to support a resolution diluting the commitment to R2P that was made by over 150 states at the UN summit in 2005.”

The use of military force has seldom been successful in restoring lasting peace in any country. Canada’s role as a peacekeeper shifted to combat in Afghanistan in 2001. Canadian combat troops increased in 2006, expanding to 2,500 personnel deployed as part of International Security Assistance Force. The effort to tame belligerent tribes in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is doomed to fail, but good men will die trying to kill the bad guys. A pragmatic and American acquaintance with military experience told me you cannot have a really effective military force unless the guys get out there and do real combat. “Peacekeeping is for cowards. If you don’t want to die, don’t sign up.”

Opposition to the Afghanistan “war” (a new description of international peace-keeping efforts) continues to be very active in Canada. In August 2006, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton called for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from the south of Afghanistan, to begin immediately and soon afterwards pursue peace negotiations with the Taliban insurgents. In October 2006, protesters opposed to Canada's participation in the war in Afghanistan rallied in 40 cities and towns. The demonstrators demanded that the troops come home and affirmed that Canadian Forces should not accept combat roles but should remain a peace keeping and humanitarian influence in foreign countries. Another contingent of Canadians at home bought yellow ribbons and stickers for their cars to show their "support for the troops."
 Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason.

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