A New Generation Draws the Line: Humanitarian Intervention and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Today
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Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is a prolific and prodigious writer famous throughout the world for his studies of linguistics and politics.
This book is an expanded edition compiled from Noam Chomsky’s articles, lectures, and the book The New Military Humanism. Chomsky’s provocative book examines the nature of Humanitarian Interventionism after the Cold War. For Chomsky, ‘the new era’ in international relations was opened by NATO’s bombing of Serbia on March 24, 1999. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed that ‘the new generation draws the line’ fighting for ‘values’ in an era in which ‘the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer be tolerated’ (p. 1). Fighting for human rights and upholding ‘principles and values’ became a privilege only to be exercised by ‘the enlightened states’ or so-called ‘the international community’. For the author, the dawn of ‘the new era’ is an unprecedented historical moment in which national sovereignty was disregarded in the name of human rights and ‘principles and values’.
By highlighting the ‘leading principles’ of ‘the new era,’ Chomsky evaluates proponents and skeptics of ‘the new era’. This evaluation is based on such criteria as the estimate of foreign and military aid that ‘the international community’ proposes and how members of this ‘community’ respond to atrocities in the world. Chomsky’s analysis is the result of his exhaustive empirical and theoretical work, and distinctive methodology. He uses a wide range of sources to research inconsistent strategies used in similar situations. Clearly, he investigates the nature of these inconsistences and parse out the forces that contribute to them. For example, military aid and diplomatic support were provided to Turkey during the XX century Kurdish resistance – which entailed mass atrocities – with no demands for assurances regarding the human rights for Kurds. Why was ‘the international community’ less concerned with ‘the protection of Kurds in Turkey’ than it was with the protection of Kosovars in the Balkans? For Chomsky, the proponents of ‘the new era’ do not offer credible reasons for this ‘inconsistency’.
One of the crucial questions posed in the book is why ‘the international community’ did not intervene militarily in response to human rights crises in East Timor as they had done in Serbia in the same year? Chomsky considers three officially proposed reasons for ‘the international community’s’ bombing of Serbia: ‘[to ensure] the stability of Eastern Europe,’ ‘[to thwart] ethnic cleansing,’ and ‘[to ensure] NATO’s credibility’. He argues that the third reason is most credible because from the standpoint of the global powers, only they ensure the ‘stability’ of the region. In other words, the region can be ‘stable’ only if it serves the interests of the global powers. In both cases, however, in East Timor where NATO did not intervene, and in Serbia, where NATO intervened, the consequences were tragic. In two subsequent chapters, he investigates applications of ‘values and principles’ to study both the cases of East Timor and Kosovo.
In East Timor, violence escalated after a referendum on August 30, 1999, in which the majority of the population of the province voted for independence from Indonesia. As a result of the referendum, atrocities conducted by the Indonesian army (TNI) sharply increased. Unlike the case of Kosovo, however, no War Crimes Tribunal was set up in Indonesia by ‘the international community’ to indict Indonesian forces for their violation of human rights. Chomsky exposes the ambiguous nature of ‘the international community’ and investigates the reasons for NATO’s action/inaction in both cases. He argues that the Indonesian army was supported and trained by the US and its allies. For this reason, ‘the enlightened West’ was blind to victims in East Timor.
In the case of Kosovo, the West needed the War Crimes Tribunal to justify the 78 days of bombing Serbia. In order to validate its airstrikes against Serbia, which occurred without approval of the UN Security Council, NATO searched for Serbian war crimes immediately when they came into contact with troops in Kosovo. The military intervention only made the situation worse in the region. In contrast, the United Nations civilian police had neither enough sources nor the support to investigate atrocities in East Timor. Chomsky states, that it was important for ‘the international community’ that the record about these atrocities in East Timor ‘remain hidden’ (p. 61). According to Chomsky’s research and evidence, the NATO’s bombing of Serbia was in fact followed by a substantial ‘escalation of atrocities and ethnic cleansing’. He claims that the bombing, but not human rights violations, caused the mass refugee crisis in the region. The author gives us a review of events leading up to the bombing, in which he concludes that there were not any substantiated reports enough to be a motive the bombing. Furthermore, he stresses that ‘the international community’ did not want to develop diplomatic options for solving the problem of Kosovo because NATO would then lose its own role in international relations.
From Chomsky’s standpoint, the only benefit gained by bombing Serbia were those accrued by Western militaries and NATO by confirming their own ‘credibility’ and domination in the Balkan region. He concludes that the world has only two choices regarding the use of force: either to follow the UN Charter or something better, or the great powers will do what they want when international crises arise guided by their own interests and profits.
In the wake of this, Chomsky pointedly asks: How can the universality of human rights only be applied in cases that serves the interests of the ‘enlightened countries’ who declare to have a responsibility to protect human rights in ‘the new era?’ This inspirational book offers a different study to this question and exposes the darker side of ‘humanitarian interventions’, which remain well-scrubbed for public consumption.
As in his other books, Chomsky demonstrates the wisdom of a philosopher and the precision of a linguist in order to reveal the truth about international relations and fuel a discussion about the uses and abuses of power inside it. The book is written in a clear and easily understandable language, and it will be interesting not only to scholars, but to a general audience as well. It is an important contribution to political science, and an essential reference for policy makers. The book stimulates readers to rethink different aspects of international relations with a deeper understanding of the world today. Certainly, the author’s findings and analysis are valuable for every researcher to observe the connection between military, business, and geostrategic goals.