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Issue No. 21 (January / February 2001) -- Mark Satin, Editor

Humanitarian military intervention:
The “peace movement” of the ‘00s?

Vietnam taught my generation that nothing good can come from U.S. engagement in foreign wars, but these days different lessons are being taught. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (supposedly the beginning of “peace in our time”), over five million people have been killed in unimaginably savage ethnic conflicts. Over ten million more have been wounded or maimed. Over 35 million have become refugees.

Among many decent and pacific people around the world, there’s a haunting sense that we have an obligation as human beings to stop the slaughter of innocents -- and help create stable social and economic environments -- in places like Somalia, Bosnia, the Sudan, Haiti, Kurdistan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Kosovo, and East Timor. Even if that means taking up arms.

Because of this new sensibility, an utterly new kind of “peace movement” is coming into existence.

In the Sixties, the peace movement was pacifist in orientation. It raged against injustice in the world with slogans like “Stop the Killing” and “Yankee Go Home.”

The emerging peace movement doesn’t have Yankee Imperialism to blame for the murderous ethnic and civil conflicts flaring up all over the world. If it recognizes an “enemy” at all, it’s a more abstract enemy -- prejudice, ignorance, intolerance, injustice, disrespect for human rights.

Hence the impulse isn’t to rail against the Bad Guys, drop out of The System and put flowers in your hair. It’s to urge the world -- hopefully from a position of leverage within The System -- to take responsibility for stopping the killings and for bringing life-giving order to countries where order has broken down.

The Old Peace Movement disavowed use of the gun. The New Peace Movement will learn -- is learning -- when to call on the world to pick up the gun and intervene in the affairs of sovereign nations.

Obviously, it’s best to stop a conflict before it starts, and in coming months this newsletter will focus on innovative attempts at “preventive diplomacy” and aid-driven structural reform.

But only humanitarian military intervention can protect the innocent once a conflict starts, and no society can rebuild itself without a modicum of physical security. That’s why the New Peace Movement’s immediate task consists of building public support for armed peacekeeping missions.

Opposition abounds

The opposition to the New Peace Movement is broad and deep.

On the right, the Heritage Foundation wants us to stick to our “vital national interests.”

On the left, the Nation sees Clinton’s half-hearted attempts at intervention as Vietnam redux, evidence of a sinister plot to dominate the world.

Even the Pentagon is unhappy with the new interventionism. According to Bob Shacochis’s fine book on our Haitian misadventure, The Immaculate Invasion (1997), many in the Pentagon see the new interventionism as somehow beneath us, as a kind of “babysitting” that only countries like Canada and Sweden should engage in. (Note the sexist logic.)

But beneath the drumbeat of all these naysayers (who are of course all offering us excuses to ignore the killing and get on with our little lives), a powerful case for the New Peace Movement is being made.

It’s being made in bits and pieces by people as diverse as the Secretary-General of the United Nations and an obscure Congressman from Maryland, a co-founder of the French humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders and a Canadian Lieutenant-General who served in Rwanda.

Put their arguments together and you get a pretty good sense of why a generation teethed on Vietnam has begun calling for armed intervention in ethnic conflicts and collapsed societies; when it would intervene; and how it would intervene.

Why intervene?

Probably the most persuasive single argument in the New Peace Movement’s arsenal is pragmatic: Military intervention can make a huge difference in terms of saving lives and restoring civil order.

No one’s made this argument more powerfully than General Romeo Dallaire, the former commander of the straitjacketed and inadequately prepared U.N. forces in Rwanda. He’s repeatedly said that with 5,000 combat-ready troops and the right mandate, he could have saved about half a million lives. The writer Philip Gourevitch gave Dallaire’s claim wide publicity in his award-winning book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families (1998), and more recently a report by Scott Feil to the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict (“Preventing Genocide,” available at www.ccpdc.org/ pubs) backed up Dallaire’s claim in convincing detail.

Another pragmatic argument for humanitarian military intervention -- favored by some conservatives -- is that too much disorder in other countries is bound to lead to an explosion later on.

“Washingtonians would have us keep our heads down until threats loom on our doorsteps,” says Joshua Muravchik, once head of the Young People’s Socialist League and now a scholar at the center-right American Enterprise Institute. “[A better alternative is] to make every effort to defend the peace. . . .

“[Those] who drive around with bumper stickers [saying] ‘Work for Peace’ have in mind methods, like unilateral disarmament, that would bring results opposite to those intended. But the spirit is right. Peace is hard to come by and hard to keep. . . . Sometimes it will entail military action to deter aggression. . . .”

A third argument for intervention, very different in tone, is coming from some humanitarian aid workers.

When the French group Doctors Without Borders (DWB) won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year, few commentators noted that what sets DWB apart from other aid groups is its workers’ controversial insistence on calling for political or military action against the regimes whose depredations they’re ameliorating. DWB was founded because dozens of young French volunteer doctors couldn’t get the Red Cross to speak out against Nigeria in the Sixties.

“Classic humanitarianism protects the victims and accepts [massacres] as a reality,” writes Bernard Kouchner, one of the doctors who founded DWB. “Modern humanitarianism accepts no such thing. Its ambition is to prevent the massacres” (for DWB, see www.msf.org).

“I am arguing for the limits of humanitarian aid,” Kouchner once told a student reporter. “It is not the humanitarian that is needed now, it is the military. . . . [I]f we do not find common values to create a common mechanism [for military intervention], we shall have to cure again and again [the suffering from] wars of desolation, always too late” (www.mcgill.ca/uro/Rep).

A more purely moral argument for humanitarian military intervention is being made now by globally minded political philosophers and even some politicians, including Steny Hoyer, a U.S. Representative from Maryland.

Hoyer is by most measures your standard-issue Democratic pol, but he also happens to be a member of the Helsinki Commission, whose task is to monitor human rights and economic / environmental cooperation around the world. In a remarkable speech to the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled “Military Intervention for Humanitarian Purposes: A Congressional Perspective,” a speech that generated zero publicity, Hoyer had the moxey to speak of morals and ideals.

“Americans want to do good,” he said. “They want their foreign policy to have a moral and idealistic component. . . . Genocide and mass slaughter debases our nation’s principles and insults our collective conscience, whether it occurs in Kosovo, Rwanda or East Timor. . . . [A]s the world’s one military and economic superpower, we have the opportunity -- and, in my view, the responsibility -- to promote an international moral order. . . .” (wwwics.si. edu/NEWS/speeches).

A deeper moral argument for the New Peace Movement can be found in Michael Ignatieff’s book The Warrior’s Honor: Ethnic War and the Modern Conscience (1998), a book that’s become essential reading in the human rights community.

The author, a young British political philosopher, writes of our vital human need to struggle against the “culture of death.” He warns us against the temptation to feel totally separate from raggedy-looking people who seem to have nothing better to do in life than hack each other to death (the “seductiveness of moral disgust,” he calls it), and urges us to uphold whatever it is that distinguishes people from beasts. Even if that means taking up arms.

Right to intervene

The New Peace Movement is not only saying we should intervene, it’s saying we have a right to intervene.

Historically, parties have respected the concept of “national sovereignty,” have said it’s wrong to intervene in other nations’ affairs; but as Ignatieff points out, 50 years of human rights discourse have “begun to erode the sanctity of state sovereignty and to justify effective political and military intervention.”

DWB’s Kouchner now speaks of a “right of interference that supersedes natural sovereignty in cases where countries are massacring or otherwise oppressing a minority within their own borders.” Even Rep. Hoyer, in his Woodrow Wilson lecture, said that the “centuries-old principle of sovereignty . . . increasingly has given way to a conditional sovereignty based on how [a government] treats its citizens.”

But the person that’s done most to put the new, conditional view of sovereignty on the map is U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Deeply embarrassed by his inept handling of the U.N. rescue mission in Rwanda, Annan now makes no bones about the need for a redefinition of sovereignty that would permit the U.N. or nations blessed by the U.N. to contain intrastate conflict.

The fullest expression of his new position came last summer in a speech to diplomats at the Ditchley Foundation in England, a forceful and even moving speech that -- surprise, surprise -- the media in this country failed to notice (www.un.org/ Docs/SG/quotable).

“[Y]ou may think I have come to preach a sermon against intervention,” he began. “I suppose that would be the traditional line for a citizen of a former British colony to take, [or] the U.N. Secretary-General. . . .

“[But w]hy was the U.N. established, if not to act as a benign policeman or doctor? Our job is to intervene. . . . That is what the world expects of us. . . . It is also what the [U.N.] Charter expects of us. . . .”

He proceeded to creatively re-interpret Chapters VI and VII of the Charter, concluding that “even national sovereignty can be set aside if it stands in the way of the Security Council’s overriding duty to preserve international peace and security.” Moreover, he said (in language that DWB had been trying to impress upon U.N. operatives for decades), “[t]he Charter protects the sovereignty of peoples. It was never meant as a license for governments to trample on human rights and human dignity.

“[National] sovereignty implies responsibility, not just power.”

 When to intervene

When should we call for military intervention in other countries? Put the ideas of the New Peace Movement together and you’ll come up with a list of eight questions that any potential intervenor -- the U.S., the U.N., the Organization of African Unity, whomever -- might want to ask:

1.) Are the lives of large numbers of people at stake?

2.) Is a question of justice involved (i.e., are some people truly being victimized)?

3.) Is a significant chunk of the international community willing to get involved?

4.) Is the effort within the military means of the intervening body?

5.) Is it within the economic means?

6.) Is there a high probability that the intervention would make a sustainable difference?

7.) What unforeseen consequences might the intervention have?

8.) What would be the probable results of other policies -- including doing nothing?

“[O]bjective questions are no substitute for situational judgment,” warns Richard Haass of the Brookings Institution (who offers his own list in Foreign Affairs). “[T]here can be no intervention template. But they do provide discipline and, with it, some potential guidance.”

How to intervene

The New Peace Movement has also begun addressing itself to another crucial question: Ideally, who should be doing the intervening?

None of the most prominent spokespeople wants the U.S. to go it alone. Even Joshua Muravchik -- who titled his book The Imperative of American Leadership (1996) -- says it would be “foolish to exhaust the American public’s willingness to accept casualties in peacekeeping missions that can readily be performed by others.”

On the other hand, only one prominent interventionist -- David Callahan of the Century Fund -- wants the U.N. to set up a volunteer, autonomous army. “A U.N. military corps of . . . experienced, battle-hardened [professional volunteers] could be deployed by the Security Council into crisis situations without member states anguishing over casualties in their national contingents,” Callahan writes in his thoughtful book Unwinnable Wars (1997).

The emerging planetary consensus is for the U.N. to set up a small “rapid reaction force” consisting of troops drawn from U.N. member states, with plenty of “standby troops” from member states’ regular armies ready to join the reaction force on a moment’s notice.

“Surely things [in Rwanda] would have been different if the Security Council had had at its disposal a small rapid reaction force,” Kofi Annan told the diplomats at Ditchley. “Member states must have appropriately trained stand-by forces immediately available, and must be willing to send them quickly when the Security Council requests it. . . .”

Amazingly, 85 countries have officially offered to participate in such arrangements. The British alone have offered to make 10,000 troops available; the French, 5,000.

Support for a rapid reaction force is present in the U.S. as well, ready and waiting to be tapped by the New Peace Movement. The Final Report of the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict recently called for a rapid reaction force “the core of which would be made up of 5,000 to 10,000 troops from members of the Security Council. The force would also need a robust planning staff, a standing operational headquarters, training facilities, and compatible equipment . . .” (see www.ccpdc.org/pubs). Karl Meyer, long-time member of the New York Times editorial board, has just written a major article supporting a rapid reaction force (“Enforcing Human Rights,” World Policy Journal, Fall 1999).

But the New Peace Movement isn’t putting all its eggs in the U.N. basket. Even Kofi Annan, in his Ditchley speech, conceded that the Security Council’s “unique legitimacy . . . does not mean that the intervention itself should always be undertaken directly by the U.N. . . . [Some] such operations will have to be undertaken by member states, or by regional organizations.”

What tomorrow may bring

In the Sixties, the quasi-pacifist peace movement fostered certain appropriate qualities in its followers -- gentleness, modesty, alienation from The System. . . .

In the new millennium, a New Peace Movement calling for humanitarian armed intervention in terror-torn countries will undoubtedly foster qualities appropriate to it. Physical courage? A new vitality? A certain gravitas?

I can hardly wait.


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