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Why we should be against armed humanitarianism

Article by Gene Healy.
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The president allowed that “America cannot use our military whenever repression occurs.” But when our interests, values, “unique abilities” and the will of the international community properly align — he’ll let us know when that is — we’ll act “on behalf of what’s right.”

But when it comes to armed humanitarianism, deciding what’s right may not be quite so simple, argues international relations scholar Alan J. Kuperman, author of “The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention.”First, generally speaking, “killers are quicker than intervenors”; second, “more intervention might actually lead to a net increase in killing,” not just from “collateral damage,” but by changing the incentives of actors on the ground.

Take the case of Rwanda. Our failure to intervene there in 1994 is now widely considered a shameful missed opportunity to avert mass murder.

But “had the United States tried to stop the Rwandan genocide,” Kuperman writes, “it would have required about six weeks to deploy a task force of 15,000 personnel and their equipment,” meaning that “by the time Western governments learned of the Rwandan genocide and deployed an intervention force, the vast majority of the ultimate Tutsi victims would already have been killed.”

Indeed, sometimes intervention increases the pace of violence. Serbian forces sped up ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in response to NATO’s March 1999 decision to bomb. “Most of their cleansing occurred in the first two weeks, and they managed to force out 850,000 Albanians.”

Further complicating matters is what Kuperman calls “the moral hazard of humanitarian intervention.” Such interventions can have the perverse effect of encouraging risk-seeking behavior by those expecting rescue.

That happened in the 1990s, Kuperman argues, when the policy of humanitarian intervention “convinced some groups that the international community would intervene to protect them from retaliation, thereby encouraging armed rebellions.”

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