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World: New Concept Of Intervention Emerging

  • Ben Partridge



A leading Western analyst says a new political doctrine is emerging in Europe and Asia that justifies intervention in the internal affairs of states. RFE/RL correspondent Ben Partridge reports from London on the theory that intervention is now internationally acceptable when leaders allow atrocities against their own citizens.

London, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The major international crises this year in Kosovo and East Timor resulted in international interventions in sovereign countries, setting a new theme for global security. John Chipman, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, says those crises have helped erode the traditional distinction between international and internal conflict.

Chipman spoke at a news conference in London to mark the publication of the annual "Military Balance," his institute's review of the main global military and security policy developments in the past year. Conflicts reviewed in the report ranged from the fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the bloody border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea to the incursion by Pakistani insurgents into disputed Kashmir.

But two conflicts stand out from the others in the international response they drew. In Kosovo, NATO embarked on air strikes aimed at stopping repression of ethnic Albanians by Serbian forces. In East Timor, an Australian-led force intervened to halt a rampage by pro-Jakarta militias after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia.

The outside response to these two crises reflects a move away from sovereign immunity towards a new concept of international law. This holds that some crimes are so grave they must be subject to laws and conventions that reach beyond national boundaries.

Chipman says both U.S. President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have referred to an "emerging right of humanitarian intervention" in situations of genocide, ethnic cleansing or other human rights abuses.

"NATO's intervention in Serbia increased the perception that, at least within Europe, a form of regional international law is emerging where the normal protection against intervention is suspended when leaders allow atrocities to be committed against their own citizens. Professional international lawyers may dispute that, but it is increasingly the attitude taken by some leading politicians."

Chipman says Blair attempted to formulate the case for outside intervention into a new political doctrine in a largely-overlooked speech he made in Chicago back in April, soon after the NATO air strikes began. Blair described the Kosovo intervention as a "just war" based not on any territorial ambitions but on humanitarian values. He also said the fact that the NATO allies decided to intervene in the Balkans -- something unthinkable 20 years ago -- reflected a wide range of political changes, including the end of the Cold War, improved military technology, and the spread of democracy.

The British prime minister argued that the trend toward globalization has not only transformed economies and working practices, but is also a political and security phenomenon. He said the world community in future cannot turn its back on conflicts and violations of rights within other countries if it wants to safeguard its own security.

But Chipman says while Western politicians use "soaring" political and legal rhetoric to argue for intervention in other countries, they are likely to actually act to curb human rights abuses only after a precise calculation of their own national interests.

"The difficulty with such attempts has always been that since the preconditions for international intervention normally include the existence of some national interest in the issue, an allied context, and the probability of success at acceptable cost, political doctrines defending the right to military intervention appear to many to involve a legal ratification of a realpolitik consideration."

Chipman says the absence of any national interest helps to explain why the outside world was so slow to respond to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and other remote humanitarian crises.

Still, Chipman says, 1999's crises in Kosovo, as well as in Kashmir, East Timor, and across the Taiwan Straits, all brought in a measure of external diplomatic interest and, in the case of East Timor, outside military involvement.

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