Could We “Ethically Source” Humanitarian Intervention?

(picture) USAID/OFDA Mt. Sinjar, Iraq, 2013

 By:  Trevor Jones, Co-Founder at Lynx Global Intelligence


*I owe an intellectual debt to Tyler Rauert for referring me to this concept.

Populist governments around the world are looking inward to appease voters, not outward to assist the most vulnerable populations on the planet. It takes the right mix of domestic political will and international collaboration to save the lives of those persecuted by violence. When a leader or nation is unwilling to protect that basic measurement of human security, life itself, their legitimacy and sovereignty are compromised. At that point, an outside actor has the moral responsibility to intervene to save these lives.

The world stated “never again” after the Holocaust and more recent genocides and massacres in Rwanda and Srebrenica. Shockingly, that tone has been substantively absent in the political community during conflicts in Iraq and Syria where violent persecution based on identity have been the norm. Atrocities are also happening in South Sudan and Rhakine State in Myanmar. Our political will to intervene has waned during the post- George Bush/Iraq years and newly elected populist governments in the US and elsewhere will do little to advocate for saving innocent lives through the use of force. Oddly, we are able to view the destructive effects of war and ethnic-cleansing far easier than ever before, with widespread smartphone video use.

Governments and the UN have failed in protecting the innocent from violence, and NGO’s are limited by their funding and mandate, which must uphold humanitarian neutrality, preventing the necessary force protection from saving lives. That leaves the private sector to take up the slack.

But how? Mercenary forces have been frowned upon over history, and for good reason. But the dire situations in the world today beg a question: could privately sourced civilian protection, the kind needed to save lives in South Sudan, Rhakine, Aleppo and elsewhere, be achieved?

It is a challenging and interesting thought. A couple guidelines that could help shape the debate:

  1.  It is better to train humanitarians to use force than to train those who are well-versed in force protection to protect civilians. Traditional military training may be inappropriate for interacting with civilian populations in dire need (see: Afghanistan). That said, the conversation is moot unless those with the ability to suppress violence are involved, to deter or prevent mass killings.
  2.  The academic theory and practice of humanitarian neutrality will need to be modified. To protect civilians from destruction, the instruments of that destruction must be removed from the operating environment. Destroying the helicopters Bashar-al Assad used to drop barrel-bombs on civilians, early on in the conflict, is a good example.
  3.  Consensus and buy-in would need to be achieved on the international level. Although governments may be unwilling to intervene and the UN unable due to a lack of standing forces, these entities would still need to endorse and support private civilian protection. The services the UN provides are irreplaceable.
  4.  Force protection would have to be ethically sourced. Private military contractors may not be completely appropriate in this setting (see #1). Complete transparency would be needed, forces cannot be present for any other reason than destroying direct threats to civilian populations.

The reality of private humanitarian force protection is difficult to imagine, but the reality of current world events dictate that a new solution must emerge, unless mass atrocities are to continue in their current form.


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