Are We Really Willing to Wage War to Protect Civilians?

Posted on Sun 04/24/2011 by


Is the West truly ready to commit to fight wars on the premise of protecting human life? The UN office for the protection of civilians UNPC has reiterated that article 4 of the Geneva Convention was adopted in 1949 yet we have most often failed to live up to that article. Indeed after the numerous failures throughout the 90’s and in the early millennium in stopping conflicts that resulted in massive losses of civilians the UN created this new office in 2005-06 to further demonstrate the need to protect civilians from unnecessary violence. Whether it was Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo or the Darfur region of Sudan, the world and the UN stood by and watched or talked until it was far too late to make a difference.

The last time the West agreed to stop a slaughter was in Kosovo when the US, Britain and Canada bombed Serbian targets in both Kosovo and in Serbia without a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force under the guise of protecting Kosovar Albanians who were fleeing to Macedonia and telling tales of mass executions, mass rape and mass graves. It turned out to be mass lies but that’s a seperate article all together. The point was the one time the West did act they were duped and had to move forward without a UNSC resolution because Russia and China refused to agree to use force (which didn’t stop the Russians from deploying a brigade of combat troops to the Pristina Airport).

Recent events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen suggest we still have mixed feelings on the issue and have responded very differently in each case.

In Tunisia I think the world was stunned and reacted after it was over, in Egypt the world stood by because after a few days of violence between the police and the protesters the Army took over and ended the violence. In Libya we acted quickly and at least initially with overwhelming force but as the debate over the justification of the actions and the Obama administrations unwillingness to lead the effort or provide the bulk of the military hardware has lead to a horrific number of unnecessary deaths as Muammar Gaddafi realized that NATO was unwilling to use ground troops and like the Serbs before them were more than capable of withstanding an air attack without the threat of ground troops (In Kosovo the Serbs held firm for almost 90 days until NATO troops massed in Macedonia, they then agreed to remove their standing army from Kosovo back into Serbia). I believe that the promise of NATO military support has emboldened the rebels in Libya but the reality of air power alone has ensured 100’s more have died in the fighting of which most have been civilians. It continues to be a stalemate on the ground with a trickle of deaths on both sides daily.

In Bahrain, we ignored the violence, ignored the fact that Saudi Arabian troops moved into Bahrain to put down the protests using deadly force and switched channels, why because Saudi Arabia is a friend perhaps? Or is it because a dozen dead doesn’t cut it anymore? In Syria, the estimates are over 200 dead and counting including an armed attack on a mass funeral procession on Saturday 23 April, yet the West barely speaks of the Syrian uprising, it’s hard to imagine why one group of civilians is more important to protect than another but here is a perfect example, you  have a dictator who supports terrorist groups, has attempted to build a nuclear weapons facility and who has willingly ordered his security forces to use deadly force against unarmed civilians protesters yet nothing…we turned the channel and said Libya is enough to allow us to feel that we’ve done our duty.

In Yemen we have a cooperative dictator who was more than willing to allow the West to help rid his country of Al Qaeda in exchange for ignoring his abuses against legitimate protest over a lack of basic services being provided and a quality of life that is shrinking. Again nothing from the West beyond an honourable mention on the BBC once a week when they grow tired of the Japanese Nuclear disaster or the Libyan war.

It’s hardly worth mentioning the other disgraces in the world like Zimbabwe but we really need to decide a couple of things if we are going to advance our civilization. First are we willing to do something tangible to dissuade radicals who pervert religion or culture to encourage wanton violence against others and second are we willing to say no to the ability of dictators around the world to slaughter their own people, only acting when they decide killing their own isn’t satisfying enough?

These are tough calls and the UNSC is not structured properly to ensure a uniformed outcome so how do we truly live up to the idea that civilized nations living in peace can continue to do so without fear and all people’s living on this earth can do so freely and without fear of their own governments?

My first suggestion is that we need to do away with the P-5 veto powers. We also need to expand the P-5 to at least the P-8, adding Germany, India and Brazil immediately and then electing 13 nations to the council for 2 year terms with all 21 nations having an equal vote. Second the authorization of the use of force should require a super majority of at least 14 nations voting yes before force of any kind can be used and finally I believe it’s time to create a standing UN military force that is governed and controlled by the UNSC. This force can be created in two ways, one from donor countries as it is now or from creating a force that is within a unified UN chain of command which ensure that no donating countries can add caveats that limits the usefulness of their troops on the ground. This would also allow for common equipment, common training and a clear understanding for the soldiers that would make up the force of who they are fighting for. A Canadian joins the Canadian Armed Forces to defend Canada and her interests so when they are deployed to Croatia and find themselves wearing Blue Helmets and being used for target practise by all sides they aren’t very highly motivated to sacrifice for Croatia but if a UN soldier joins the UN standing army they know in advance that they are fighting for human rights and may find themselves anyplace on the planet defending those general rights.

While I don’t have all the answers I do know one thing, for too long the world has debated and discussed human rights and dignity while watching millions die horrifically while we pick and choose which conflicts are worthwhile and which aren’t. It’s time to believe in this world and that all peoples are equal and worth saving and that those who choose to slaughter the innocent will not be tolerated any longer regardless of who their friends are, what natural resources they may have to offer, what religion they practise or what colour their skin may be.