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Lesson From Humanitarian Intervention In Syria

That many Syrian civilians and innocent people were treated inhumanely by their own government through the use of chemical weapons ‘would never be imagined, let alone accepted by the Indonesian people. That the United States, supported by the United Kingdom and France, responded by launching missile attacks against Syria is similarly intolerable to most Indonesians and the government alike.

A simple question then arises: what is more important, protecting civilians’ human rights or respecting a state’s sovereignty? The discoilrse was and is ongoing over whether it is legally and ethically acceptable to protect human rights for the sake of State sovereignty. As anticipated, the discussion is not likely to reach a unanimous agreement by all students studying conflict resolution, nor would it in global politics. Contrasts are quite clear.

Liberalist like-minded students highlight the importance of protecting human rights upon which the state was naturally and culturally established and for which the State is relevant and significant. They argue that failure to provide security and protection to its own people renders the state meaningless.

On the other hand, realist like-minded students argue that the primacy of state sovereignty is the fundamental principle of international relations. They further say that any form of intervention in domestic affairs of other countries is against international law and such practices will lead to anarchy.

For them, anarchy is more dangerous than any kind of dictatorship or authoritarianism. Failure to protect human rights should not eliminate states and diminish sovereignty.

The case of the US and allies’ humanitarian . intervention in Syria by launching missile attacks, which some called a onetime strike or precision strike, has brought about many other lessons to be learned for other countries. For Indonesia, it is timely and relevant due to the widely questioned notion that the country might fail apart in 2030. Two common issues are beingdiscussed.

First, international intervention just takes place in a state that is seen as weak or nearly collapsed. The term “failed state” points to the incapability and/or unwillingness of a state to control its territory, defend its legal status and run an effective administration over the entirety of state affairs.

On this ground, humanitarian intervention would never happen in North Korea, let alone China, India or Russia, despite allega-tions of massive human rights violations there. The international community, including big powers, does nothingbecause of those countries’ retaliation power. In this context, the sense of a realist perspective applies without any further question.

The second issue concerns international governance, which refers to the sets of norms and principles of relationship among states. The governance is basically divided into partnerships and rivalries, with respective variations. Since the term “[humanitarian] intervention” is commonly perceived as negative, it only takes place in a country that is seen as a rival or enemy.

For a country deemed a strategic partner, intervention does not apply — it is instead aid, help or assistance, which is widely welcomed and appreciated. For the US and its allies, Syria is a dangerous enemy and the air strikes are seen as justified. On the other hand, for Russia, Syria is a strategic partner that should be protected and assisted, and the US and its allies’ military intervention was illegal and unaccepted.

In this context, global security governance remains characterized’ by a rivalry, with no movement toward’ the global security society dreamed about by those. who adhere to an institutional-liberalist perspective.

Scholars and human rights ac-tivists have published or referred to a huge number of papers in order to justify humanitarian intervention. On this issue, a number of former presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, ambassadors and experts joirted the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) sponsored by the Canadian government and introduced the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was adopted by the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit.

While the R2P has been widely praised as one of the most powerful and promising innovations, pros and cons on any form of humanitarian intervention persist. And it was very obvious in the proposition underlined by the commission that “the primary responsibility for protecting its own people from mass atrocity crimes lies with the state itself. State sovereignty implies responsibility, not a license to kill”.

The commission’s proposition does not merely give ethical grounding to state sovereignty. The state’s responsibility also means that states have to have the capacity to hold such a responsibility. The lack of capacity will not only result in mass atrocities happening internally, but also it will open the window to intervening external forces. The R2P should be read first as a warning to all state governments, rather than as a justification for humanitarian intervention.

The primacy of the state is to encounter inconsistencies in the implementation of humanitarian intervention, which has led to a common view of hypocrisy in international relations. Big powers used to propose humanitarianism either in the name of universal human rights or humanitarian laws to justify their military deployment into other countries. Instead of putting forward the UN’s provision of self-defense and/or restoring international peace and security, they are likely to manipulatively utilize humanitarian principles to woo a broader support from the international community and seek legitimacy of their coercive acts.

The view of hypocrisy introduces another popular narrative that in dealingwith humanitarian catastrophes, there are not only double standards but rather no standards at all.

Since intervention is in reality carried outby, and only by, stronger powers against weaker states, it is very obvious that each country requires enough strength to defend against any unexpected external forces. This is unnecessarily viewed in line with classical realist propositions. It has to be accompanied by other fundamental terms and conditions, such as an effective government administration.

Furthermore, to be strong enough to avoid any external forces, a state must possess the economic capacity to provide its people with social and economic welfare above the minimum level. Its political institutions must also mature enough not only to minimize potential internal conflicts but also to ensure aneffective and democratic government.

No one in the society, regardless of their size, identity and strength, can be left behind or experience marginalization and discrimination becaUse their plight can be used as a pretext for external forces to get involved and intervene, eventually tearing a country apart.


Mangadar Situmorang, Ph.D

The writer is a senior lecturer at the Department of International Relations, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.


Sumber: The Jakarta Post (Jumat, 27 April 2018)