pasic and weiss, the politics of rescue

pasic and weiss, the politics of rescue - SIX The Politics...

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Unformatted text preview: SIX The Politics of Rescue: Yugoslavia’s Wars and the Humanitarian Impulse Amir Pasic and Thomas G. Weiss The humanitarian impulse is remarkably prevalent in the post—cold war world. Whether or not we have actually entered “the age of humanitarian emergencies” is open to debate,1 but the dramatic increase in the number of humanitarian in— terventions since 1991 has been Widely noted, as has sobriety after debacles or dis- appointments in Somalia and elsewhere.2 Humanitarianism as an expression of concern for the victims of armed conflict and political disorder has traditionally been spearheaded by nonstate actors. That states themselves have begun to in— clude humanitarianism in their policy architectures is evidence of the extent to which this orientation has become a prominent feature of both contemporary transnational civil society and interstate relations.3 The notion of rescue is also emerging in the philosophical and policy literature.4 There is, however, a dramatic downside to what might otherwise be considered a positive moral development at the international level. Rushing to rescue victims on the basis of a visceral reaction to their suffering may, depending on the circum— stances, be a palliative or, even worse, counterproductive. A poor basis for policy, it builds erroneously on the metaphor of saving a drowning stranger and distorts the context surrounding humanitarian efforts. It seems to initiate a new relationship With distant peoples who are suddenly of concern to us because they are subject to unacceptable suffering. At the same time, this link is exceptional and limited only to the duration ofa particular rescue effort. It does not alter significantly the relation— ship between the rescuers and the rescued. The multiple ties that bind rescuers and victims long before the onset ofa complex emergency, and throughout its evolution, are ignored. In particular, rescue does not 1 08 Challenges __—_—.—_——————_— capture sufficiently the absence of secure ground in war zones to which to bring im— periled victims. Furthermore, those in danger are not as foreign, unknown, and un- connected to us as often is implied by the rescue metaphor. Before, during, and after complex emergencies, rescuers and victims are related through many relationships that their representatives conduct in economic, diplomatic, and cultural domains. States have always intervened in one another’s affairs. Justifications and rational- izations for incursions across sovereign boundaries have included past grievances and the protection of co—religionists or nationals.S Remarkably, interventions along with other less invasive but more routine human rights intrusions into domestic af— fairs are now being justified in terms of humanitarian concerns.6 National interests and other justifications have not disappeared, not will they, but they have acquired a definite humanitarian flavor. Moreover, the humanitarian impulse is not limited to the most obvious agents: protectors, aid deliverers, peacekeepers, and journalists.7 It has also seeped into for- eign ministries and security agendas as heads of states proclaim the virtues of “doing the right thing,” despite the usual warnings that moral sentiments should not guide the ship of state.8 Indeed, pundits and professors use that nebulous term, “the international com— munity,” as a stock concept to analyze contemporary world politics, increasingly with the implication that there is a moral obligation to act even ifthere is no consen— sus about the requirement to do 50.9 Furthermore, a focus on multilateral military endeavors with humanitarian justifications is becoming a standard feature of strate— gic, operational, and doctrinal discourse in the United States military and NATO.10 In the process, humanitarians from both the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are being recognized as natural partners in what the British military first labeled “operations other than war,” now the preferred term in most militaries.11 Given the surge in humanitarian intervention and its impact on foreign policy, it is imperative to examine its limitations. This chapter explores the ethical challenges presented by the emergency mode of humanitarianism in war zones. One example is the former Yugoslavia, where the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Ref— ugees (UNHCR) was designated the lead agency by the UN secretary—general and orchestrated rescue operations in Europe’s largest involuntary displacements since World War 11.12 The UNHCR’S relative success in bringing assistance to 4 million victims in the Balkans reflected a principled extension of the organization’s charge to take care of refugees—that is, people who have no state to protect them. At the same time, the experience of the refugee agency in this instance demon— strates the limits of rescue. The Balkans benefited from a substantial resource abun— dance vis—a—vis the rest of the world, and the international community is unlikely to devote such ample material resources and political attention to other complex emer~ gencies. In 1995, the former Yugoslavia received more than 100 percent of esti- mated aid requirements—as it had in previous years—which contrasted with less than 50 percent received by Angola, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Le~ one, and others.13 Yugoslavia's Wars and the Humanitarian Impulse 109 However, rescue served also as a substitute for robust diplomatic and military en- gagement and prolonged the need for assistance. Moreover, as former U.S. assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke has pointed out, “the damage that Bosnia did to the UN was incalculable.”14 As long as something was being done to assuage the suffering, international leadership could declare that it had a policy for dealing with the former Yugoslavia. The means available amounted to what the former UN se— nior political adviser characterized as “trying to hold back the ride with a spoon.”15 The outpouring of help was manipulated by those political authorities who did not share humanitarian goals, thus damaging the long-term interests of endangered populations and the quest for peace and stability. Aid was diverted, access to civil- ians was denied in order to extort resources and recognition of territorial claims, and the multilateral humanitarian presence became a pawn in the capricious maneuvers of irresponsible demagogues whose policies would ultimately exacerbate the difficul— ties that the region would have in rehabilitating itself when peace finally came.16 The delivery of relief settled into a bizarre pattern, sustaining civilians who were be— ing manipulated by leaders whose primary political resource was their capacity to threaten civilians and even humanitarians. Simultaneously, scores of opinion leaders in the West and in the Islamic world agonized over the rescue effort and its meaning for the moral identities of all of us who were witnessing the tragedy.” Although it seeks to moderate the ugly realities of international politics, rescued even with the exceptional level of commitment it received in the former Yugosla— via—in actuality adds new ethical dilemmas to international politics. Perhaps the foremost of these dilemmas regards the proportionality of needs and the affirmation that life is as precious in one part of the globe as another. Thus, the “privileged posi— tion” of Yugoslavia’s Victims should trouble us as much as the failure of a policy based on such an extensive expenditure of resources. Rescue affects the political lives and identities not simply of victims but of the res— cuers as well. It reveals a troubled and unsettled link to sovereignty, which separates humanity into integral units, each pursuing a distinctive way of life. Does rescue seek to establish a new kind of “revolutionary” humanitarian relationship among peoples or is it “restorative,” seeking to rebuild the capacity of endangered popula— tions to continue their distinctive way of life under state authority as before the cri— sis? The former option would establish a transcendent moral link among human be— ings as such, thus overriding or at least going beyond sovereignty; the latter would seek to restore the autonomy of suffering populations within a self—contained polity, thus sustaining traditional sovereignty. On the one hand, revolutionary humanitarianism makes rescuers self—conscious participants in a “foreign” political community, thus rearranging the boundaries of the political space occupied by victims. Restorative humanitarianism, on the other hand, accepts the necessity of tolerating blatant abuses of rights because relief efforts are fundamentally directed toward reestablishing the endangered population’s au— tonomy with as little outside political involvement as possible. Rescue is thus a radi— cally ambiguous principle, persisting incoherently between revolutionary and restor— ative humanitarianism. Although these two points are at either end of a continuum, 1 10 Challenges with many gradations between them, they are not merely heuristic devices to amuse analysts. They are principled choices that circumscribe policy options. The funda- mental purpose of this chapter is to explore the normative tension between them, hoping to better explain why rescue founders. We begin with an overview of apolitical attempts to rescue the “wretched of the earth,” during which both outside aid personnel and victims are implicated in the politics of rescue. Then, by focusing on the UNHCR and its attempt to deal with the people displaced by Yugoslavia’s wars, we discern the shortcomings of any epi— sode of rescue and the implicit principles that could guide future rescue missions. This serves as background for a discussion of the ambiguity of humanitarianism—a principle that can be used either to buttress sovereignty or to challenge it. Whether one opts for the more conservative (restorative) or, alternatively, the more radical (revolutionary) vision, the Yugoslav case suggests the limits of humanitarianism. THE POLITICS OF RESCUE Disrinctions between humanitarian and political concerns are instructive, reflect— ing the difference between the goals ofrescue and ofstability. In spite ofthe ini— tial lofty rhetoric of the post—cold war world, the various members of the interna— tional community are becoming aware of the necessity for more reflection and fewer automatic responses to humanitarian tragedies. Removing superpower ri— valry clearly has been insufficient for the international humanitarian system to move from the pursuit of rescue to the institution of political order.18 There are inevitable trade-offs between the two goals. To pursue rescue is to seek the immediate and unconditional alleviation of human suffering. To institute politi— cal order is to seek to create and sustain viable social institutions that will prevent the need for subsequent rescue efforts. Political strategies to create an enduring sociopolitical order will sometimes require reining in the impulse to save lives and alleviate the suffering of noncombatants with all available means.19 In the prescient prose of Alain Destexhe, the former secretary general of Me’de’cins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders): All over the World, there is unprecedented enthusiasm for humanitarian work. It is far from certain that this is always in the victims' best interests. . . . In deal- ing with countries in ongoing wars of a local nature, humanitarian aid has ac quired a near—monopoly of morality and international action. It is this monop— oly that we seek to denounce. Humanitarian action is noble when coupled with political action and justice. Without them, it is doomed to failure and especially in the emergencies covered by the media, becomes little more than a play thing of international politics, a conscience—solving gimmick.20 To complicate matters, the use of the term “peace” as a synonym for “stability” is philosophically loaded. Decolonization, for example, showed that everything can— not be sacrificed at the altar of peace, and that not all political orders are worth pre— serving no matter how apparently stable. We confront the age-old tensions between Yugoslavia’s Wars and the Humanitarian Impulse 1 1 1 order and justice. There are situations in which it would be justifiable to increase suffering and create disorder for the purpose of fashioning a more equitable and sus— tainable political order in the long run. It is, of course, by no means obvious when we may justifiably calculate the costs and benefits of such endeavors. In fact, conflicts between order and justice have been temporarily obscured by a superficial consensus about the values of democratization and liberalization. Or— derly, just, and peaceful liberal democracies and their mutual relations do not neces- sarily provide guidance for states going through the potentially destabilizing transi- tion to democracy, where violence may become a favored option.21 Also, the normative guidelines are even less clear for a conflict that has become about whom to include or exclude from membership in a state. When the bounds of a state and its identity are contested, it is also not clear for whom there should be order and justice. What makes the problems of rescue, order, and justice stand out so vividly is the conventional wisdom regarding the impulse—some, for example, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), would say “imperative"——of rescue even in cases where de jure sovereignty presents a prima facie legal prohibition.22 Most hu- manitarian endeavors without the consent of a state take place in areas of turmoil supposedly governed by failed or collapsed states.23 That sovereignty should be sub— ordinated to the demand for rescue from calamity is less problematic than the moral and operational implications of actually assuming responsibility for those rescued. The subordination of sovereignty, even if it is only in situations where effective po- litical authority is absent, still implies an obligation to assume a longer—term per— spective, a commitment to the sustainability and health of a society rather than merely to one episode of rescue. Without such a commitment, rescue can become self‘defeating. No matter how intense and heroic an intervention to deliver food, resettle people, or even eliminate an irresponsible tyrant or an armed threat, such an intervention is only a start. A simple declaration that sovereignty presents no bar to our interven— tion against intolerable suffering only begins to expose obligations across borders.24 We do not know how the decentralized international humanitarian system might work to maintain order after an intervention. Nor do we possess normative criteria to trigger interventions and guide them so that there is more consistency, or perhaps less selectivity, in unleashing the humanitarian impulse.25 The dilemmas of humani- tarian challenges—in particular the reality of unanticipated negative consequences resulting from well~meaning but counterproductive humanitarianism—are thus truly unsettling.26 Ideas move people figuratively and can also serve to displace them literally, espe— cially as manipulated by Serbian and Croatian politicians to justify ethnic cleansing. And in situations Where people are not threatened at gun point, fear can move them whether or not it is ultimately warranted. In the Yugoslav context, ethnic identity became a potent guiding principle, even for those national and international actors who most wanted to stop hostilities and were appalled by the disappearance of a multiethnic society. As Susan Woodward writes of the September 1992 peace con— 1 1 2 Challenges ference in the Hague, convened under the auspices of the European Community: “No pro-Yugoslav parties were represented in the formulation, nor were the repre— sentatives of non—ethnic parties, the civilian population, or the many civic groups mobilizing against nationally exclusive states and war consulted.”27 Genocidal exter- mination, forced migration to achieve ethnic purity, and national animosity did not fester in a vacuum. They were clearly and faithfully reported and legitimated by the actions of humanitarians, governments, and the media even before Violent hostilities commenced. The overarching lesson to be extracted from the lot of war victims in the former Yugoslavia is the extent to which humanitarianism and politics are inextricably in— tertwined. The policy response thus should not be to try to keep the two as separate as possible, but rather to understand how they should be addressed simultaneously. Those who support the apolitical approach of separating the two advocate keeping the issue of who makes decisions about the distribution of aid to those at risk their own affair. As such, humanitarians can only provide relief to those in need, making Whatever compromises are required. Aid providers typically respond Viscerally to massive human suffering. As such, immediate and direct access to civilian victims becomes an absolute priority. Issues of sustainable order, much less its quality, ap— pear so distant that even thinking about them detracts from the immediacy of the life—saving tasks at hand. Thus, humanitarianism becomes the emergency-response mechanism of the sovereign state system, seeking to restore the viability of sovereign compartments that have temporarily become irresponsible and dysfunctional, as re— vealed by the gross suffering that they contain. Mitigating the suffering begins to re— store the viability of the sovereign container. That outside intervention can save lives and reduce suffering without advancing anyone’s political agenda is at best an outmoded notion. This notion—long cham— pioned by the ICRC and many other humanitarians—is increasingly viewed by crit- ics as naive and wrong. Humanitarian efforts have never really been neutral; there is no such thing as “pure” humanitarianism because the distribution of aid always has political ramifications. As former US. secretary ofstate for African affairs Chester A. Crocker reminded us in commenting upon the November 1996 crisis in Zaire, “in— tervention (just like nonintervention) is an inherently political action with inescap- able political consequences.”28 Even Without military forces, humanitarian efforts are profoundly political; and unless they are carefully designed, they can actually exacerbate conflicts.29 If done properly, civilian humanitarian efforts, and certainly ones supported by the use of military forces, should alter the balance ofpower in favor ofvictims. Decisions to re— main on the sidelines can be considered a form ofintervention in that by failing to help the oppressed, humanitarians comply with the oppressors. This latter view, championed especially by Méde’cins Sans Frontieres, has been gaining ground in the debate with the more traditional view espoused by the ICRC. Those of us who support the more calculating and political approach recognize that virtually all humanitarian agencies, even the iZS—year—old ICRC, are necessarily involved in political calculations and have had to compromise in many post—cold Yugoslavia’s Wars and the Humanitarian Impulse 113 war efforts.30 For example, the ICRC, in spite of its principles, relied upon armed escorts, including the infamous “technicals” in Somalia, because sometimes only such private mini—armies or gangs can secure access and protect humanitarians in ar— eas of turmoil. By actually diverting a portion of aid as bribes to those who control infrastructure, or giving in to extortion, humanitarian efforts are already deeply in~ volved in political affairs.31 As UN high commissioner for refugees Sadako Ogata has stated, ignoring the political consequences ofhumanitarianism is not an option: “Mass displacement of the most cruel kind imaginable has become a conscious ob— jective of the combatants in many armed conflicts. Humanitarian assistance i...
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