A New Interventionism
by David Moberg
In These Times, February 2000
Corporate globalization called into question the _ sovereignty
of national governments, as global capital outvotes citizens.
But there is another globalization, a growing recognition that
individual human rights and the right of people to democratic
self-government transcend national sovereignty. Indeed, more than
ever, a government's legitimacy rests on its recognition of individual
rights and some system of democratic accountability.
The elevation of human rights as a principle in international
affairs is one of the great accomplishments of the late 20th century.
A priority of this new century should be expanding protection
of human rights, along with heading off deadly conflicts and reducing
inequality. How those rights should be enforced is not obvious,
but clearly the left must go beyond its traditional defense of
self-determination and establish a definition of principles for
international intervention in the affairs of other countries.
Ideally, human rights could be defended equally everywhere
in the world. But popular struggles within countries, however
uneven, are the best guarantee of rights. A multinational outside
force faces severe limits in protecting human rights. Such enforcement
ultimately depends on the most powerful nations, especially the
United States, which have a checkered record of defending those
rights. A U.N. report recently condemned both the United Nations
and the United States for failing to act decisively to stop genocide
in Rwanda in 1994. The killing was ignored because black Africans
are of marginal interest to the major world powers.
Old-fashioned realpolitik is unavoidable: Despite abuse of
civilians, the United States and Europe won't intervene in Chechnya
against Russia, as they did in Kosovo against Serbia, in part
because it would risk a major conflict. While acting through the
United Nations may make interventions less fickle and inequitable,
the imbalance of power there still warps international relations.
The United States, as the most powerful nation, has a responsibility
to create a more uniform and accountable system, not to abuse
As the use of economic sanctions has increased, so has the
debate on when they are justified. Though American business prefers
a world with no sanctions to interfere with commerce, sanctions
can be deployed as a weapon that targets elites (seizing foreign
assets, cutting off military supplies) and minimizes harm to innocent
civilians. They can work-as they did in South Africa-with careful
political and diplomatic groundwork. But sanctions must be judged
on their effectiveness, not their political appeal. In Cuba the
United States has been driven by hostility to Castro's socialism,
not his human rights offenses. While sanctions against Iraq and
Serbia are losing whatever legitimacy they had, ordinary people
suffer without much hope of long-term gain.
Beyond military intervention or sanctions, the United States
could do more for global human rights by taking a few positive
steps: promoting human and labor rights through global economic
institutions; ratifying key International Labor Organization conventions
on workers rights; curbing the international arms trade (where
the United States is the main profiteer); expanding our extremely
niggardly foreign aid budget to reward countries that make progress
on human rights; ratifying international conventions on the rights
of women and children, the International Criminal Court and prohibition
of land mines; and paying our U.N. dues in full.
If the United States wants human rights respected around the
worId , then it must start respecting them at home. When the interests
of American corporations conflict with human rights around the
world-in Burmese pipeline projects or Chinese sweatshops- the
United States must be willing to stand up to protect those rights.
Human Rights, Justice, Reform