This article, by Timothy Garton Ash, is a must read for anyone out there who still does occasional battle with conflicting arguments for and against the liberal intervention principle. Like most people on the left, I was an unqualified supporter of an ethical foreign policy, generally supportive of the government’s right to intervene in other nation’s affairs if and when the situation demanded it (cf. Kuwait, Kosovo, Rwanda etc), and then had horrible second thoughts around the time of (or in my case, shortly after) the invasion of Iraq. These days I hum and haw, prevaricating my way around stating a firm case either way, grimly conscious that there’s so much I do not know. I’m no longer so angry about Iraq, at least.
Anyway, Garton Ash is I think my favourite journalist of international affairs, and this piece takes an insightful look at two threads of the argument – that we can either judge liberal interventions by whether or not they achieve a stated and limited objective (for example, averting a massacre), or in the long term, by helping to establishing a free nation. Garton understands that the latter must prey on our minds, but essentially recognises the necessity of the former. He writes:
Liberal, humanitarian interventions must be rare, exceptional responses to extreme, inhumane circumstances, and should be judged above all by their achievement in averting or reversing the disaster.
Click here to read the whole thing.