“We no longer have wars, only humanitarian interventions that rest on assumptions of moral superiority. The privileging of some crises that are securitised over others that are not reflects the interests and perspectives of the powerful and the rich at the expense of the weak and the poor.” Ramesh Thakur, The United Nations Peace and Security (Cambridge University Press 2008)

Commentary: On Aug 3 the UN General Assembly voted to denounce Syria’s military response to the rebels trying to overthrow the Asaad government. On the same day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon conflated the situation in Syria with the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda during the 90’s.

The actions of the United Nations (member states) and the Secretary General, with respect to Syria and the Arab Spring, appear to be undermining the principles laid out in the UN Charter of 1945 — and along with it world peace and security.

Article 1 of the UN Charter says that the purpose of the United Nations is to maintain international peace and security — and to that end: To take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustments or settlements of international disputes or situations that might lead to a breach of peace.

The Charter says that in pursuit of the purposes of Article 1, the organization and its members shall act in accordance with “the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members” and “all members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” It was reported last week that President Obama has been backing the rebels, for some months now (presumably under the guise of humanitarian intervention), as they seek to overthrow the legitimate government of Syria — one of the founding members of the United Nations.

“State sovereignty is the bedrock principle of the contemporary international system that provides order and stability. The most important task on the agenda of the international community, therefore, should be not to weaken states or to undermine the doctrine of state sovereignty, but to strengthen the institutions of state and make them legitimate and empowering of people, respectful and protective of their rights.” Ramesh Thakur

Mr. Thakur comments in his book, The United Nations Peace and Security:

The hardest line against intervention and in defense of sovereignty was taken at the Round Table Discussion in Bejing on 14 June 2001. The Chinese argued that humanitarianism is good, interventionism is bad, and ‘humanitarian intervention’ is ‘tantamount to marrying evil to good’.

A number of reasons were advanced for rejecting the ‘doctrine of humanitarian intervention’. First it was claimed that there is no basis for it in the UN Charter which recognises only self-defense and the maintenance and restoration of international peace and security as legitimate grounds for use of force. Second, the use of force for moral reasons is dangerous and counterproductive in its practical effects. On the one hand, it can encourage warring parties inside a country to be rigid and irresponsible in the hope if internationalizing the conflict. On the other hand, it can facilitate interventions by those exploiting the cloak of legality for their own purposes. Both can prolong and result in large-scale killings.

Ban Ki-Moon suggests that the genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda were situations where humanitarian intervention was necessary (and not done in the case of Rwanda). We would agree, but also suggest that UN member states contributed to the conditions that led to the genocides, in both countries, for years prior.

Since the first Iraq war the US has pursued a disruption, plunder and domination strategy in the Middle East — calling it humanitarian intervention and claiming to advance the cause of security, freedom & democracy. Jefferson would disagree. The UN and world community are less well off as a result. Promoting sectarian violence and looting are not the stuff real humanitarians. The question has become, “Who will protect the world from the humanitarians?” The world is not yet ready for a borderless society.