Bertrand Badie on the Failure of Western Intervention
LEMONDE.FR | 07 JUNE 07 | 17:06
On-line chat with Bertrand Badie, Professor of Political Science, France
Q: The US intervention in Iraq is a disaster and is likely to destabilize the whole region. NATO intervention in Afghanistan is also a failure, owing principally to the inability of the US to gain acceptance by the local population. As to Kosovo, secession is being legitimized and it could spread to other Balkan nations. Doesn’t all this demonstrate the profound ineffectiveness of the projection of foreign military force into ethnic powder kegs?
Your assessment is indeed trenchant and it raises the noting of the ability to transform a political system from the outside. This notion is enthusiastically defended now that the Soviet Union is no more and what we believed to be an active and interactive international community has emerged.
In 2001, a well-known report was published on the responsibility to protect, based on the idea that countries are not only responsible for their own citizens but also for those who, beyond their national boundaries, are subjected to maltreatment by their own states that they are unable to prevent.
The blunder of ideological use of the intervention principle, unilateralism and, above all, the failure to think about what the rebuilding of a political system by foreign actors actually entails have very quickly annihilated any chance for success.
Your appreciation is quite correct, although I would make a slight correction: the crises that have developed in Afghanistan and in Iraq were not originally ethnic questions. The problems there are the result of blundering and violent foreign intervention in States within an international system and the collapse of structures that banally have led to civil war.
As to Kosovo, although the ethnic nature of the cleavage hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention, it would be facile to reduce this conflict to a clash between communities: it is above all the grandiose, authoritarian Serbian project devised by Milosevic that is at the source of this destabilization of this region. The antagonism between Albanian-speaking Muslims and Serbian Kosovars was not a one-way street and the international community should have known better than to promote the inter-ethnic rationale that has polarized a situation whose reality is far more complex.
Q: The Iraq quagmire and the degradation of the situation in Afghanistan seem less revealing of "excesses " inherent with intervention and more of the insufficiency of the means used. Do you think that it is above all the reticence of Western powers to make a massive commitment in foreign theaters (as demonstrated by the recent pullout of French Special Forces from Afghanistan) that is at fault?
A: The term “excesses” is meant to underscore the impasses and the contradictions with which the intervening powers were immediately confronted. These are not causes but rather the description of the mediocre and quickly gained results of poorly planned and badly implemented interventions.
As to the rest of your question, the crux of the problem is not one of the extent of engagement by foreign powers in the conflict. The real question is far more qualitative and forces us to question our ability to rebuild a social contract from the outside, to reconstitute a nation unwilling to cooperate, and to build a state by imported artifice.
Moreover, the use of force can also be questioned: can you really create political order simply by force, especially by foreign actors? Moreover, I would counter you line of reasoning: the more massive the outside intervention, the more internal violence is fed and the more the purveyors of violence actually running things on the ground inside the suffering country are satisfied. Escalation produces results that were already observed during the wars of decolonization: the legitimization of actors and organizations which present themselves in the trappings of the legitimacy of resistance.
Q: What makes foreign interventions succeed or fail?
I would say that the results of any intervention rely on trust, as aspect that is often neglected. Trust among the populations concerned: impartiality and disinterest must be perceived, otherwise the intervention cannot succeed.
Trust presupposes the careful observance of international law, another forgotten aspect. Trust also presupposes widespread agreement among the international community, without which any unilateral intervention is invalid. Last, trust presupposes an intimate link between the interveners and local actors, who must be seen neither as puppets of the expeditionary corps nor as passive and powerless victims of invasion.
A last requirement for success has more to do with strategy: as the Brahimi Report (2000) showed, the intervention must be proportionate... The worst possible case is to plan intervention relying solely on a military offensive, thereby producing a conventional war...a war of conquest.
One of the most delicate aspects of intervention has to do with the fact that it must in no way resemble conventional war. Use of force invariably creates a dynamic of the banalization of the combatants –peacekeeping troops who quickly degenerate into warriors, just like all the others.
Since the beginning of the century, the United Nations has been very careful to establish a link between its interventions and humanitarian actions. However, this has been somewhat abandoned, which has contributed to the impasses and failures that we’ve been seeing.
In short, intervention presupposes respect for the society in which one is to act. It cannot be treated as a dependent and submissive society, which only revives the classic perception of war.
Q: Why should the intervention in Afghanistan be seen as a failure? There is no longer the risk of an anti-American state that would support Jihad. The price paid by the Afghans and Coalition troops there is acceptable and I think that the governments involved are satisfied with the results.
First of all, there is no central state in Afghanistan. Most of the country is not completely under the control of administration in Kabul or Coalition troops. The south of the country is de facto under the administration of the Taliban.
The warlords are far from being disarmed or defeated. Afghanistan’s civil society is under constant threat of boiling over owing to ethnicity and identity, which foreign intervention has only reinforced.
As to your claim that there Afghanistan does not constitute an anti-American state, this is debatable given that Afghanistan is now more than ever a cauldron of violence for which neighboring states continue to bear the brunt –above all Pakistan.
Perhaps the sole concrete result of foreign intervention in Afghanistan is the acceleration of the breakdown of the Pakistani political system and its institutions. A sad outcome.
Q. How can the United States get out of Iraq?
Recently it was announced that 50,000 troops from the present contingent in Iraq would ensure post-crisis management. But let us look more closely: this past May was the deadliest since 2003 for the US Army, and the month of June is likely to equal this figure.
A pullout, even partial, under the current conditions is unlikely. Total withdrawal is very far on the horizon unless it is motivated by the political desire for complete rupture, somewhat like the pullout of Soviet Troops stationed in Afghanistan ordered by Gorbatchev.
Q: After Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan, what can be done for Darfur? Isn’t intervention necessary?
First, "intervention” has become such a nebulous term and so discredited that the options cannot be limited to this type of action. Humanitarian assistance to Sudan is required. Any intervention should not replace assistance offered by humanitarian organizations, which, however, are encountering more distrust.
As to a major politico-military intervention on a scale comparable to the interventions that we have just discussed, it is extremely dangerous to contemplate it in the current climate, which one of mistrust, frustration and disappointments....
The increasing division in the international and regional community cannot be overlooked and without consensus, no large-scale action has any chance of success. More and more we are turning to the old idea of a humanitarian corridor with its inherent shortcomings and perverse effects but despite this, its ability to relieve suffering.
At the end of the Eighties, the idea of intervention suddenly took on a positive connotation. There was talk of the right of interference, even the duty of interference, to show that we lived in a world where national sovereignty was a thing of the past, and something to be jettisoned.
The paradox is that the failures that we have witnessed have inverted the terms: if the international community has failed, it is precisely because it never really knew how to intervene, that is, by actively intervening in rebuilding social contracts and torn nations.
Instead of interference in the strictest sense of the word, the international community contents itself with the use of force, military control, and, indeed, conquest without getting involved with the society. Given that this kind of intervention has been so unsuccessful, the word has now taken on a negative connotation: pure sovereignty is now forever gone but beneficial intervention has also disappeared. We now face a political and moral vacuum.
Chat moderated by Gaïdz Minassian and Anne-Gaëlle Rico