Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Georgian War and Liberal Interventionism

In his column today Simon Jenkins blames the liberal interventionism of Bush and Blair for reinvigorating 'separatism across the world'. I can see that troubles in the Caucasus- where history is a fissiparious weave of brutally hostile nationalities- make it an unpromising area for any kind of intervention but I wonder if Jenkins' magisterial dismissal of the approach is wholly justified:

'liberal interventionism, especially when it leads to military and economic aggression, means one costly adventure after another - and usually failure.'

The present situation is complex. Georgia intervened against two 'statelets' within its own territory to fulfill its president's political promises. To invent such objectives now seem the height of folly as they merely encouraged reciprocal intervention by Russia, ostensibly on behalf of the statelets but in reality to punish Saakashvilli and the west for daring to encourage Georgia to join NATO. The result is a dangerous mess but I'm not sure it invalidates liberal interventionism across the board.

When formulating his approach to the topic in his 1999 Chicago speech, Tony Blair cited five conditions before action could be justified, of which one was:

Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?

According to Blair's guidelines any entry into South Ossetia would have been ruled out on grounds of prudence and good sense. This is important because there are horrific situations which regularly occur where some intervention is indeed necessary and justified. I'm thinking of the Safe Havens idea for the Kurds, the Rwandan massacres where tragically, no action was taken, or Srebrenica when UN forces held back while 8000 were killed, or currently, indeed, Darfur. Unfortunately there are vicious rulers and ethnic groups prepared to inlfict genocidal violence on their fellows which the world just should not stand by and idly accept. Occasionally, if something can be done military, intervention is the lesser evil.

Good post.

'liberal interventionism' will always be inextricably linked to Blair, and Blair to Iraq.

It must be remembered that Blair broke his own rules during that terrible disaster.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you call interventionism potentially a 'lesser evil'

It is impossible to intervene militarily without violence, but that does not default the fact that sometimes it is the right thing to do.
"Unfortunately there are vicious rulers and ethnic groups prepared to inlfict genocidal violence on their fellows..." e.g. S. Hussein Esq. and his clan?
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