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This article was first published in The Age on 3rd February 2003, here. While this was published before the war, in hindsight would the opinion be different? I would welcome your views in the comments section….
|February 3 2003
War would be dreadful. Non-intervention would be dreadful. But there is no third choice, says Andrew MacLeod.
In 1994, during the height of the Bosnian conflict, aid workers often faced a staggering moral dilemma – and this story is true.
Local militia (of ethnic group one) would approach an aid worker and say: “See that village down there (full of ethnic group two)? Well, we are going to ‘ethnic cleanse’ it. Will you bus the people out, please?”
The aid worker could succumb to the request, become the tool of ethnic cleansing, lose the neutral status of the aid organisation in the eyes of ethnic group two and, consequently, be refused access to other areas where populations may die through lack of food and other aid. This is not a good choice.
Or, on the other hand, the aid worker could refuse to bus the people out. The result would be an immediate attack on the village and the aid worker would watch perhaps hundreds of people die. This is not a good choice either.
And here lies the heart of a moral dilemma. In the case given above, one may be tempted to search for another answer. One may say: “Well, we could ask for intervention, or consult colleagues, or try diplomacy, or . . .”
With this real dilemma there is no “better option” to choose. The aid worker has two, and only two, choices: bus the people out and thousands of others may die later, or don’t bus the people out and watch hundreds die.
No matter how much one may like to have another option, no matter how many better choices one can create in theory, fact reveals only two options – and on several occasions young delegates of aid organisations had to choose not the best but the “least bad” option. Young delegates had to choose who would die.
We are now faced with a global moral dilemma of a similar type.
Many of those who do not support intervention in Iraq argue that the human cost of intervention is too high – yet they ignore the human cost of non-intervention. No one outside Iraq denies that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant. No one denies that he continues to torture, murder and use rape as a tool of control.
For example, Saddam has a systematic plan to eradicate the Ma’dan, or so-called Marsh Arabs. Human Rights Watch estimates that the population of Marsh Arabs has dropped from 250,000 to 40,000 in just 15 years (see http://www.hrw.org). That is 210,000 real people dead or missing. This is on top of an estimated 100,000 Kurds who have suffered the same fate. This is on top of the countless numbers who are members of ethnic groups, political organisations and normal members of Iraqi society who have suffered at Saddam’s hand without any international attention.
Added to this is the repression, rape, torture, amputations and branding that are part of the Iraqi system of “justice”.
The eradication of Marsh Arabs, the repression of Kurds, the continued rape, murder and torture – this is the cost of non-intervention.
If the United Nations, the United States and Australia have the power to stop this, yet we do not, are we not then to some degree morally responsible for the activity?
Some say: “Well, the US helped create Saddam!” – as if that is a reason to not intervene now. Some say: “The US only wants to change the regime to get their hands on Iraqi oil” – as if preventing the US from doing so is reason enough to allow rape, torture and killings to continue. Some say: “There has to be another way” – as if that had not been attempted for the past 12 years.
The fact is, we have a moral dilemma. Like the aid worker in Bosnia, we are searching for a “third option”, a better way. Like the aid worker, we are slowly coming to the realisation that there is no third option.
To say “continue with diplomacy” is to say “continue with rape, murder and torture”. To say “it is not our problem” is to say “continue with rape, murder and torture”. To say “the US is a global imperialist that just wants to control the oil” is to say “continue with rape, murder and torture”. Anything except regime change is to say “continue with rape, murder and torture”.
In 1994, the world had advance warning of the Rwandan genocide. The world, Australia included, ignored the pleas of General Delaire, the UN force commander, when he asked for a mere 2500 soldiers to stop genocide from happening.
The world said “this is not our war” and refused the request. Just 100 days later, up to one million people were dead. That is 10,000 a day, every day, for 100 days. That was the cost of non-intervention.
In 1992, the Europeans (especially the French and the Germans) said to the US that Bosnia was a European problem and that the US should keep out. “We will fix it,” they said. For three years, the Europeans tried and failed, and 250,000 people died before the US intervened. That was the cost of non-intervention.
I find it interesting that many of the people who oppose US intervention in Iraq also believe that human rights are more important than national sovereignty. But if diplomacy and sanctions fail, how else do you support human rights if not through the use of force?
At an anti-war rally in Melbourne last week, federal Labor MP Carmen Lawrence said she had heard no “talk of the Iraqi lives that would be obliterated, the inevitable legacy of disability, homelessness and the stream of refugees that would result from attacking Iraq . . . We are invited to deny our shared humanity with the people of Iraq”.
But doesn’t her argument apply equally to the cost of non-intervention?
The US is far from perfect. But we have no “perfect” world policeman. If we want human rights to be enforced, then it has to be with US help. There is no “third option” here, just as there was no third option in Rwanda and Bosnia.
There should be intervention in Iraq for regime change and the UN Security Council should back this, because the cost of non-intervention is just too high.
If the Security Council does not support intervention, then the equation changes and we have another “moral dilemma”, don’t we?
Melbourne-based international lawyer Andrew MacLeod is a former delegate and negotiator for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
More discussion like this is in: :