Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On UN Protection of Foreign Nations' Minorities

This is a consumer issue for reasons that should be obvious: the UN isn't free, and the military interventions and occupations and proposed by the various sides mentioned herein have a nontrivial cost, whether measured in treasure or measured in blood.

I'm obviously slow reacting to a 2006 article, here, but so long as folks want to discuss the steps outsiders should take to protect ethnic or religious minorities from being butchered within the borders of foreign countries -- whether by the local government, or while it yawns -- it's worth taking a moment to think about what this outside intervention requires.

Dafur, the subject of Mark Steyn's 2006 call for a new multinational force, discussed the then-current the attention of some high-profile entertainers who urged action to halt the ongoing genocide(s), but over a year later a Boston Globe article on the subject began:
THIS IS the fifth year of the Dafur genocide. The protracted failure of the international community to rescue the victims has made a mockery of the United Nations' 2005 resolution declaring a reponsibility to protect civilians who are not protected, or who are being killed, by their governments. Given the UN's sad record of allowing Sudan's National Islamic Front regime to thwart efforts to halt the ethnic cleansing, murdering, and raping of villagers in Darfur, it is hard not to be skeptical about the outcome of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit this week to Sudan.
The Boston Globe, September 7, 2007
Steyn's point was pretty blunt, and as his article points out, he's made it repeatedly: by the time the UN does something that might work, everyone will be dead already. They're not all dead in Dafur yet, but ... give it time.

But the fact the UN won't act because certain veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council know full well what would happen to their operations if people had externally-enforceable rights that could effectively prevent government oppression of domestic populations, and will oppose votes to create such an environment on principle even if their financial incentives did not, in fact, exist, is not the principal point of my own post.

The folks who are most upset about the ethnic and cultural and religious cleansing at work in Dafur, if I may be permitted to generalize, belong to a segment of the population which is unhappy with the idea of Americans participating in large numbers in long-duration military action in hostile territory where (a) they are not welcome and (b) where it is extremely costly to support them while (c) they are getting killed. But at the Boston Globe, they want us to hurry up and get on with the process that will lead to soldiers, now wearing blue hats instead of green, doing this very thing in yet another theater of operations:
The task of the hybrid peacekeeping force is much more daunting today than it would have been if the UN had acted in 2003, when the raids on Darfur's African villagers began. So there must be no more hesitation, no more yielding to the Bashir's stalling tactics and broken promises. As the record of the past years has shown, the longer his regime is permitted to rebuff any serious UN effort to enforce a cessation of the killing, the harder it becomes to establish a peace in Darfur that peacekeepers can preserve.
The Boston Globe, September 7, 2007
I'm not sure whether the authors suppose Saddam Hussein's regime should have been prevented from rebuffing UN action via ouster in the early 1990s, when the Republican Guard was surrounded and cut off by American armored units. But I would ask the question differently. Is there some credible reason to believe the forces vying even now for control of Iraq after Hussein's ouster would have been less willing to murder and kidnap and bribe and steal their way into personal advantage merely because the ouster came early? And consider Afghanistan. United States citizens seemed proud to support Afghanis to secure liberation from Soviet occupation, and genuinely happy to hear the Soviets finally slunk home. Did Americans really notice being hated and reviled in the country they thought they'd helped? Were Americans informed in the 1980s that religious extremism promised both destruction of local freedoms and the export of murder abroad? Ought we to have done something in Afghanistan even earlier than we did, and is there a reason to believe it'd have been easier then than it's proven since?

I submit that "keeping the peace" may not get easier as one moves back in time. Swiftly dismantling the murder-and-poppies regime in Afghanistan didn't prevent bloody reprisals, or efforts to execute locals for adopting the religion of their liberators.[1] The meme that if we'd acted sooner to enforce peace in some hotbed of longstanding hatreds halfway across the world, we'd have saved ourselves some trouble, seems a bit weak on evidence.

The editors of the Boston Globe don't seem to get the fact that the kind of naked force and destruction required to reorient the powers at play in Dafur aren't the kind that can be effected with an eloquent toast for a local charity or that can be delivered in an emotional appeal to the hearts of those with the power to stop raping children
A striking lesson of the current push for a humanitarian intervention in Darfur is that it came more from human rights groups and popular movements than from governments. Those wishing to lend support to that grassroots campaign can join with like-minded people today at the new Institute of Contemporary Art....
The Boston Globe, September 7, 2007
Exactly how will an event at the local art museum help folks who are being gunned down, and whose descendants are being crafted in the genetic mold of their murder/rapist oppressors? The message requires delivery at the supersonic speeds of modern munitions. Either (a) this is something worth an investment of blood and treasure collected from your friends and your colleagues and your children, or (b) it is something you are willing to allow to occur. Pretending government "should" fix distant evils, using some kind of government resource that is distinct from the blood and treasure acquired from you and those you love, without committing to the kind of bloody rampage required to reprogram residents in those distant lands against the conduct you would disapprove, is an exercise in fantasy.

And I might add: when considering which of a thousand injustices requires redress, might one prioritize the injustices close enough to touch? It's easy to get passionate about distant evils whose specific solutions won't create local argument; you get together for an event, you agree with the folks who want to do something that makes them feel good without costing them too much personally, and you make a public statement memorializing your advice for others. Too easy. Within a stone's throw is an injustice whose solution will require arguing with wielders of political and economic forces at odds with your objectives -- it's not an easy fix, because it will cost you personally to address, because it will place you in the crosshairs of a conflict right at home, and because it will require you to argue with your neighbors.

But this close-by injustice -- whatever the nature of the evil -- it's something you might actually fix. Demanding strangers bleed all over a distant continent is easy. Demanding a little sacrifice of our own, right here, to make life better for our own families ... it's tougher.

[1] The money quote:
The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Mr Rahman converted back to Islam, but he refused. "He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one," Mr Wasi said. "We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty."
If there's no cultural value supporting tolerance of the different, and no belief in the equality of the foreign, how could we ever hope to enforce peace, equality, fairness, justice, democracy, or the like in some distant land? Is it possible we're doomed to failure any time we undertake a foreign mission whose success criteria cannot be achieved with mere bullets? This is, after all, the difference between our program against Islamofascist enemies (and before them, the Communist enemies we faced in Vietnam and North Korea) and the programs we rolled out against the Axis in the second world war. Against the Axis, we were satisfied to kill, and failing that, obliterate the means to make war. In our conflicts over the governing principles of foreign powers, we need to do vastly more than simply rolling up a foreign government's ability to function. The United States has acquired mastery of massive-scale warfare, but hasn't got a handle on public relations that's worth a dime. Perhaps there's an out-of-work propaganda minister willing to consult.

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