Thursday, January 21, 2016

Towards a humanitarian politics – a brief policy note that everyone will likely ignore, at our collective peril

Humanitarian Politics: from aid delivery to conflict resolution and prevention: U.S. Soldiers unload humanitarian aid for distribution to the town of Rajan Kala, Afghanistan, Dec. 5, 2009
Just as we care about the environment and climate change, we should also be interested in advocating for humanitarian politics. No, humanitarian politics cannot be just summed up in the dual concepts of democracy promotion and human rights, as they also include working on conflict resolution and preemption, and for establishing a moratorium on mass slaughter through enforcement of the legal doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. They also call for meeting to meet such challenges as the influx of refugee and migrants, for adopting higher preparedness for dealing with this phenomenon, as well as working to mitigate the push factors involved, be they natural or man-made disasters including war, corruption, poor development and economic opportunities, and educational needs.

Adopting a humanitarian approach to politics is indeed in line with our concern for the environment and the future wellbeing of humankind, and it’s extremely strange and counterproductive how some, in the name of realism, can advocate for one, while shying away from the other as it calls for intervention and sacrifice, and could involve major errors. But the complexity of a certain task does not make less urgent, and the future of humankind is no less dependent on our ability to find solutions to this problem than it is on finding ways for saving ourselves from man-made and natural environmental disasters. There is no such a thing as Laissez Faire security. Leaving problems to fester and legitimizing anti-modern forces are not solutions. Those who still refuse to commit to democratic reforms and to respect fundamental human rights under spurious claims of religious or cultural particularity represent a serious problem that needs to be managed. We may not be able to impose change on them both out of respect for the very values we are trying to protect as well as for practical considerations such the limits of our political reach and military power. Be that as it may, we should never delude ourselves into thinking that a conflict does not exist, or into believing that we can find formulas for working with these forces as they expand their influence and their reach around the world at the expense of the democratic aspirations of their and other peoples. The more power and influence we allow these powers to have, the more serious the threat that will eventually pose to our way of life. In an age of hyper-connectivity, asymmetric and hybrid warfare, and growing intersection between organized crime, terrorist networks and autocratic regimes, security cannot rely on military superiority alone, no matter how wide the gap separating us from the rest.

Maintaining our security in the future requires more not less intervention and involvement in global affairs and in steering the various transformations taking place in regions across the world, in order to ensure that the right actors are emerging on top. Now the right actors may not necessarily be ones who are committed to immediate electoral democracy, but they should be committed to a specific timetable for reforms, political, social, economic and educational. In the meantime, they should refrain from curbing activities by the political opposition, and from such odious practices as torture and jailing of dissidents.

But this would only represent a small step, the real step is to revamp and strengthen NATO, because most interventions will probably need to take place under its auspices, hopefully, in coordination with regional forces such the African Union, ASEAN, and an Arab force that needs to be formed soon. When possible, of course, the UN should the logical mandate-giver, but due to Russian and Chinese vetoes in the UNSC this might prove impossible. Still, attempts should be made to act under authorization of the UNGA.


This is everything that the realists hate. The usual anti-Western crowd will not like this a single bit. But, in my mind, this constitutes a necessary undertaking to defend democratic values and prevent civilizational collapse. Development and democratization are not issues we can afford to keep ignoring. Those who are betting on our ability to ride the impending wave of state failures and mass violence in a number of regions around the world are deluding themselves. People will not fight out amongst themselves while we watch on. It’s better to intervene on our terms, rather than be made to intervene on theirs. Reason does not triumph when it’s under siege.