Just Cause for Intervention

By Lieutenant Commander Glenn T. Ware, U.S. Navy

The U.N. Security Council finally did act on 21 April, approving a resolution to reduce General Dallaire's force to 270 troops. Numerous groups condemned the action in the face of such genocidal atrocities. Many nongovernmental organizations were appalled by the United Nations' failure to intervene in a massacre that showed no signs of abating.

Apparently, even the secretary-general "was having second thoughts." On 29 April, Boutros Boutros-Ghali asked the Security Council to reverse its decision and examine the option of reinforcing General Dallaire's troops. On 17 May 1994, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a small first deployment but requested that Boutros-Ghali report back on a potential cease-fire before the main force would be sent in. In mid-June, as the killing reignited, France sent in a contingent of troops under U.N. auspices to protect refugees in west Rwanda. In July, the government of Rwanda fell to the Tutsi rebels, who counterattacked in retaliation for the initial Hutu slaughter.

The United States took action on 29 July 1994, after news spread of "a million people being hacked to death," and the public outcry became too great to bear. Approximately 2,350 troops were dispatched, acting in conjunction with the United Nations, solely to assist the million plus refugees who now were facing disease, starvation, and dehydration in the refugee camps.

Why didn't the United States or the United Nations intervene to stop the massacre? When the United States did act, why was it on the periphery of events? Rwanda was unfortunate to have erupted when it did-while the tears of Somalia were still fresh on the cheeks of America. It simply came down to a strict national-interests test, as summed up by a senior White House official: "The fact is that in terms of classic American national interests, we have less in Rwanda than in Bosnia, Haiti, or Korea. . . . that is simply a fact.

The United States will not intervene or support intervention absent those traditional strict national interests (e.g., aggression against the United States or its allies, threat to U.S. economic interests, etc.). This is a retreat from the more expansive notion that existed at the end of the Cold War-when the bases for intervention were expanded based on the emerging norm of humanitarian intervention-and it threatens to escalate the potential for further violence, genocide, human-rights violations, and other atrocities in those areas of the world where the United States does not have a classic national interest. We must, therefore, reevaluate the justification for intervention, to strike a balance that accounts for U.S. interests but does not leave the door open in the Third World for atrocities to go unchecked.

J. Bryan Hehir argues that the justification for intervention must be expanded on a "systematic basis," to ensure international order. If Rwanda was ignored because the criteria for intervention were not met, then it must follow that if the United States is to take the lead in preventing further such occurrences, it must expand the justification for international intervention. The "dire situation in many African countries" alone "highlights . . . the need to play a more forceful role," or we will be reliving the atrocities of Rwanda over and over.

This argument no doubt will draw fire from countries afraid that the United States will attempt to advance its own economic interests worldwide under the banner of humanitarian intervention. Hehir recognizes this concern:

Broadening of the reasons for intervention involves the risk that states will invoke humanitarian reasons while pursuing other objectives through military intervention. Disparities in size, power, and status among states and the historical memory of how states rationalize their policies under the guise of moral humanitarian motivation illustrates the need to use the proper authority criterion as an instrument of restraint in the politics of intervention.

He advocates the following criteria for intervention: First, we must systematically and formally expand the basis for intervention to account for humanitarian concerns while still maintaining the norm of nonintervention that flows from national sovereignty. This expansion was expressed by then-Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar as having wide-ranging support:

We are clearly witnessing what is probably an irresistible shift in public attitudes toward the belief that the defense of the oppressed in the name of morality should prevail over frontiers and legal documents.

The specific standard must gain international consensus but be flexible enough to cover a broad range of scenarios. This will be a Herculean task, considering other efforts at drafting universal standards for international activity; the Law of the Sea Convention took 12 years to complete. But with the Cold War over, international consensus now is at least theoretically possible.

The second criteria is that "multilateral authorization should be the norm." This will not ensure legality, but it "does draw on the wisdom and experience of constitutional governance within states." Hehir does not, however, propose an absolute prohibition on the right of unilateral intervention. Specifically, he notes that it may be necessary to thwart aggression or for self-defense or the defense of alliance commitments. These types of intervention have long been recognized under international law and were the justification used in the Gulf War.

The final Hehir criteria is a "means test," an analysis that weighs the "ends pursued" against "the destruction caused" by the intervention. Any intervention must provide a "systematic a priori assessment" of the likelihood of mission accomplishment while maintaining proportionality and noncombatant immunity.

An additional criteria not mentioned by Hehir would be the practicality of the intervention itself. In other words, even if there is a clear case for intervention, is it worth the costs? For example, the world community may call out for intervention in a small nation where atrocities are being committed. The operation meets the means test in that the technology exists to ensure proportionality and noncombatant immunity, but it will cost $100 billion. Is it worth it? How do you measure it? In Somalia, the question was, Are the benefits of intervention worth the deaths of 18 Army Rangers? As National Security Advisor Anthony Lake noted, the United States would like to "end every conflict" and "save every child," but neither America nor the international community has "the resources, nor the possibility of resolving every conflict."

The military can and should assist in answering the question, Is it worth it? by calculating the costs in terms of personnel and equipment that are required for mission accomplishment. The civilian leadership can assess the political costs and benefits of a given mission. For example, if a particular intervention was estimated to cost $2.5 billion, then based solely on a cost analysis, the mission most likely would not be worth it. However, if the operation would deter other nations from acts of aggression, or if our national reputation would suffer if we turned away, then the scale may tip the other way. Potential operations must always be considered in the global context of the overall return, and not simply by cost.

Turning the current basis for intervention away from national interests and toward a more broad-based norm means earlier engagement. In Rwanda, this could have stemmed the killings and prevented the mass exodus to refugee camps. Instead, the world community was called on to support and feed 1.7 million plus refugees in Zaire and other areas around Rwanda.

We no longer can rely on a strict national interest test for humanitarian engagement. The United States must seek international consensus on when, where, and how to intervene in these complex humanitarian emergencies.

Commander Ware is staff judge advocate, Commander, Carrier Group Five.



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