Friday, March 4, 2016

Rajan Menon's "The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention"

Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science, City College of New York/City University of New York, and a Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, and reported the following:
Well, one page: quite a challenge. But I'd say page 16 sums up some key ideas in the book much better than page 99 does.

Page 16 doesn't capture all of the many senses in which I use the word "conceit" (the attitude that gets humanitarian intervention into moral and practical quandaries--and worse); but it does summarize some key points.​

Page 99 begins to tell of our history with Suharto, who with our knowledge and arms (and Britain's and Australia's), killed over 600,000 people between 1965-1990--500,000 of them in 1965 alone. So that page provides a historical example to illustrate a point (double standards and humanitarian intervention, which invokes a singular standard) but does not get into the point itself.

As for the thesis of the book, in brief, it's this: The idea that there can be a plan of action for intervening in countries that is effective, consistent, and commands considerable legitimacy in the world is false, even though the proponents of humanitarian intervention insist that all of this is not just possible in theory but feasible today. States do intervene to prevent the slaughter of innocents but only when they can do so with no deaths among their soldiers--hence the resort to airpower: Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya--and ​they don't have to act against friendly or allied states. In many instances they have been all too willing to look the other way. As a rule, states tend to use interventions for strategic purposes, although they dress them up in noble and ethical garb. Western democracies, their liberal principles notwithstanding, have cooperated with all manner of vicious regimes (and still do). States are also quite willing to do nothing (or next to nothing) when mass killings take place: consider Iraq (1988), Indonesia (1965), East Timor (1975 and several years thereafter) Rwanda, Syria, Darfur, East Pakistan (1971), Cambodia (1975-78), and the Kurdish regions of Turkey, for example. Finally, knocking over a cruel regime is one thing; building a decent replacement, as Libya shows, is quite another. This is why I titled the book The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.
Learn more about The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention at the Oxford University Press.

--Marshal Zeringue