Effectiveness of intervention
Wrong road to Damascus As Syria slides towards civil war and fears of a nuclear Iran intensify, the debate about Western intervention in the Middle East has resurfaced. But, warns a former British diplomat, military action would be unlikely to produce a result acceptable to the peoples of the region
Even the most unswerving supporters of the “Whig interpretation of history”, the view of the past as a progressive process leading to an enlightened, liberal, democratic present, must find recent events in Syria and its neighbourhood giving them pause.
The murders of civilians continue on a daily basis (massacring mourners at a funeral is the latest instalment reminiscent of Northern Ireland at its worst) as the Assad regime, emboldened by the Russian and Chinese vetoes of condemnation of the violence, repeats Assad père’s policy of ruthlessly crushing aspirants after freedom from tyranny. (President Bashir al-Assad’s father killed 20,000 dissenters in Hama in 1982.)
Indeed, there were reports this week of a massive ground assault on the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs to eradicate resistance to the Government in that tortured city. One of the last messages sent by reporter Marie Colvin from Homs before she was killed during an attack said, “They [the Bashir regime] are killing with impunity here.” That regime’s cynical offer of constitutional reform and dialogue comes about half a year too late to carry any shred of credibility, and seems more designed to give their Russian and Chinese allies a fig leaf for their stand at the UN. What, as Lenin put it, is to be done? It’s probably wise to start with the limitations
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and reflect on past mistakes. Prime Minister David Cameron and President Sarkozy of France were no doubt pleasantly surprised that they persuaded Russia and China to agree to a UN Security Council resolution on Libya, allowing the use of air power for strictly defined humanitarian purposes to prevent civilian massacres. But the West swiftly made it clear by deeds and words that the real aim of the use of muscle was regime change. Bleating from Russia and China was ignored.
So can the Western powers have been surprised that their latest Security Council draft resolution, this time on Syria, attracted vetoes from these two? (Of course, some less ideological considerations come into play here. Russia currently does a trade in arms with Syria worth US$1.5 billion a year and the traditional Russian desire for a warm-water port has been satisfied by their use of the Syrian port of Tartus as a naval base.) What about the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” adopted in 2005 at a UN world summit? This commits the international community to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to protect populations from war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and if necessary to take stronger measures, including the collective use of force through the UN Security Council.
But the key phrase comes at the end: any use of force has to be condoned, indeed authorised, by the Security Council. And it is clear that the US and the UK have been willing to interpret creatively vague, outdated or ambiguous resolutions and to morph them into a right to intervene usually defined as “humanitarian intervention” when the real aim is often regime change.
However much some might wish it otherwise, the international community does not have the right to intervene in the affairs of states for the purpose of pursuing regime change. And without Security Council authority, intervention by one or more countries
Smoke rising from Baba Amr near Homs. Photo: Reuters presupposes a moral or value judgement by a group of states which is not validated by international law. So Western willingness to play fast and loose with Security Council resolutions has now come back predictably to bite us as authoritarian states like Russia and China fear regime change and any interference with national sovereignty.
The history of intervention without full international approval is at best mixed and often disastrous. For the “something must be done” school, something is always better than nothing. And, the argument continues, just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something. The trouble with this school is that it is virtually a Western monopoly. Large chunks of the world don’t see it that way. Above all, they hate the sound of Western boots on the ground in their part of the world, or having the virtues of a liberal democratic system dictated to them. And they much prefer a local regional solution.
The Arab League and their ill-fated mission to Syria haven’t fared too well so far, but they might yet give Assad and his lieutenants a way out, through exile, which the regime currently lacks and which encourages it to continue the repression. While this solution may not appeal to the interventionists and the disciples of international justice, there is a recent precedent. Saddam Hussein was offered the chance of exile in 2003. Had he taken it and spent the rest of his days writing his memoirs in Jeddah, countless thousands who have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion would still be alive today.
The irony is that this time, after what seems like decades of our being on the wrong side of the moral divide as seen by the Arab street, it is we in the West who are in sympathy with the mood of the Arab awakening, even though the regime in Damascus seems able to turn on massive shows of confectioned support
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A word or two of caution, however, about the Arab spring – again likely to play badly with Whig historians and their Panglossian theories. A survey of Libyans has found that, far from democracy, most Libyans prefer oneman rule. It’s just that they didn’t want Gaddafi or his kith and kin any more. And Islamists have the keys of government in Tunisia and Egypt, and don’t give one much confidence that they believe in the possibility of alternance of power, as good a test of democracy as I know. And now our allies in seeking the removal of President Assad include al-Qaeda, though here one suspects their motives are entirely religious as the Assads are Alawites, an offshoot of Shi’ism, and therefore apostates in the eyes of Salafi Muslims like al-Qaeda. This is doubly so, given that the ruling Ba’ath party are avowedly secular.
To counterbalance our strange bedfellows in al-Qaeda we might take comfort from the fact that the only people as keen for the Assad regime to stay in power as the Assads themselves are the Iranians. Tehran fears that a new Sunni-dominated regime in Damascus would cut off their supply lines to their allies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, thus depriving the Iranians of considerable regional power and influence.
Heightened tension in the West’s relations with Iran will in any case give the leadership there plenty to be going on with. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, warns of a new Cold War if Iran actually acquires a nuclear weapon because others in the region – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – would follow suit.
Meanwhile, the timelines provided by the Iranians’ rush to develop a nuclear weapon capability before the Israelis try to stop them intersect with the US electoral timetable. No incumbent or candidate will expose themselves by failing to back the Israeli Government, however ill-judged and risky its military ambitions vis-à-vis Iran. And the deadly game of tit-for-tat assassinations continues between these two as Iranian nuclear scientists and Israeli diplomats are targeted by their enemies’ hit squads.
In the cases of both Syria and Iran a policy of action is fraught with risks, and of physical (as opposed to diplomatic) inaction distasteful, though on balance preferable.
If, as recent reports suggest, the International Committee of the Red Cross can negotiate a temporary ceasefire around Homs to allow a humanitarian corridor through to the areas most affected by the intense fighting between the rebels and the Government, we should give them any support we can. But the horrors of a full-scale civil war in Syria can best be averted by fellow Arabs. Western enlightened liberalism is light years away from providing the outcome the region will accept.
■ Sir Ivor Roberts is president of Trinity College, Oxford, and former British ambassador to Yugoslavia, Ireland and Italy.
‘Out of gratuity and fraternity comes trust; without them, trust withers’
The bonus season is upon us again, likely to be more bad-tempered than ever. “All of us would prefer that we lived in a country where we didn’t have this culture of bonus entitlement,” said Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, when asked about the expected rush of millionplus bonuses in the banking industry. Mr Alexander was expressing a widespread view: that far too many people expect to have large annual salaries boosted by one-off cash payments, plus, in the private sector, extra shares in the business.
The bonus expectation has become routine, bonuses for failure as much as for success, bonuses for doing what most people imagined was covered by basic salary. With bonuses, the typical chief executive of a FTSE-100 company now earns 100 times more than the national average, £2.7 million compared to £27,000.
There is a telling contrast between the bonus culture and one of the core insights of Pope Benedict’s 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, which was articulated in a lecture given last week by the Italian economist Professor Stefano Zamagni. What a business needs to be sustainable, he explained, is to embrace two concepts, both aspects of the virtue of charity, caritas. They were “gift” or “gratuitousness”, and “fraternity”.
His thoughts, offered in the second lecture in “The Crisis of Capitalism and the Common Good” series at the Margaret Beaufort Institute, Cambridge, followed the encyclical’s arguments – which is hardly surprising as he was one of the Pope’s principal advisers. Gratuitousness means going beyond what is contractually necessary, so that it becomes a truly human interaction. Fraternity means regarding all the participants in the business process – workers, suppliers, customers and so on – as entitled to respect, treating them, in fact, like brothers, fratres. Fraternity is more profound than solidarity or philanthropy because it is mutual and relational. Gratuitousness means a generous action without a guaranteed prospect of return. As Professor Dan Finn put it in the first lecture of the series, if we are carrying heavy books and someone opens the door for us, it is not because they expect us to do exactly the same for them. No law said they had to. But both of us are enriched. Sooner or later someone will hold the door for them. Such actions are done out of fraternity.
Out of gratuity and fraternity comes trust; without them, trust withers. Business without trust eventually becomes impossible, as all economists agree. In modern business culture is a crisis of trust, which almost destroyed the banking industry three years ago. How far trust has departed was shown by a recent survey of people working in the City of London, more than 80 per cent of whom had never heard the city’s motto, “My word is my bond”. This simply declares that to hold me to a promise you need not threaten me with lawsuits and penalty clauses. I will do what I say because I can be trusted.
Somehow, if capitalism is ever to be reliable again, the business world will have to claw its way back to that, rebuilding its social capital as well as its balance sheets. How? By admitting into its culture and by practising the concepts of gratuitousness and fraternity.
Caritas in Veritate is relevant both to the issue of breakdown of trust and to the bonus culture, the polar opposite of gratuitousness. It declares: “Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of ‘social capital’ – the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence.”
Does Pope Benedict’s emphasis on caritas undermine the emphasis in traditional Catholic Social Teaching on social justice, making the common good too reliant on the benevolence of the wealthy or the virtues of the businessman? This seemed to be the fear of the third Margaret Beaufort lecturer, Professor Johan Verstraeten, speaking in Cambridge on Monday night (and published here in The Tablet on page 12). Or is it simply that to keep the world turning, we need gratuitousness, fraternity and justice woven together, each one deficient without the others?
If the engines of our economy are ever to fire again on all four cylinders, these are the debates business people need to have too.
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