TED Conversations

Arjuna Nagendran

Doctor,

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Do you support militiary intervention in countries which make civil war with their own citizens?

Syria, Egypt, the Dem. Rep. of Congo, Sri Lanka...
Why do we let millions of citizens (not soldiers) suffer and turn a blind eye?
Should we not always support intervention by any means necessary to stop civilian killing en masse?
Do they, as fellow global citizens, not need our protection?

Topics: human rights war
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  • Sep 25 2012: All matter outlined are not 'Stories' nor are they 'opinionated' these were from News Media most from the USA. I merely pointed out the dangers of military intervention. When I used the term "Headoffice" I did not intend to give the impression that all data got corrupted! But, you have to look at what I have outlined in a more broader perspective. The moot point I was making was that Military Intervention does not work! It has not worked in Iraq nor Afganistan. It may have worked in both countries if it was handled better - but when cultures clash the good intentions gets lost in the translation! You seem to think that the intervention is working - I sincerely hope it is working but I cannot hold the same hope! Just in the past few days, the Taliban conducted a somewhat of a successful mission in Afganistan - Tell me Rick, how is this possible? Every News Media that I listen to says that the US has ground the Taliban to a complete stand still. and this happens! Look at what happened in Vietnam! quite similar situations! As the US withdrew, the Commies came in to the South, a lot of heads would have rolled - they did it their way. After a while, the Vietnameses themsleves realised the System did not work for them, and now, that country is doing well all things considered! I often wonder whether it is the 'inteligence gathering folk or the news media that get's the whole picture?
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    Sep 23 2012: Tough question.

    I guess case by case it might be worth consideration. I suggest often intervening may not address the route cause.

    Also intervening can range from financial support, providing weapons and aid to military support.

    I'm not sure what the criteria might be to get involved. But suggest this would be a good starting point.

    These might be based first on ideals and then secondly on political practicalities. E.g. intervening in a nuclear armed state is a different situation.

    The less that is about our national interest the better in an ideal world, but it is not ideal.

    That is why the West has supported so many dictators.

    Which side to take?

    It is sad to see the Syrians killing each other. I'm not sure if the rebels will be better than Asad even though I oppose dictatorships on principle.
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    Sep 22 2012: Military intervention by foreign nations usually complicates things.
    In most cases the intervening nations do not even understand the causes of such crises, and the geo-political/socio-cultural peculiarities of a nation at war. The result of this is that the focus shifts from the real issues(the causes) to symptoms.
    Someone hopes to stop a war. Good idea! But why is the nation at war? Is it really known or is it assumed?
    As far as civil wars are concerned, things are not usually as they seem. One side proclaims itself as the right and just fighters, while portraying the opposition as the evil ones.

    In some cases one side is as evil as the other; in some cases there may be an evil side; in some cases it is just a foreign nation that would sponsor regime change by violent means in pursuit of a certain agenda.
    Lies are told; the media may be manipulated; and the truth may have to be consciously sought to be found.
    It would be bad for world peace if there is always a military intervention anytime a group of disgruntled individuals take up arms to fight against legitimate government and the government fights back.
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      Sep 22 2012: I have to respectfully disagree with you on one main point you made, Feyisayo. It's not the government who doesn't know what is really going on in most cases. It's the general public.

      I spent many of my military years working Intelligence (gathering). What intelligence gathering does is give you a much more realistic picture of "world affairs" than what the general public sees and gets on the nightly news. I lost track of how many times I would go home at the end of the day knowing the how and why something was happening in the world, only to turn on my TV and see the news media reporting something that was totally wrong, and in many cases totally absurd, about it.

      And no...you can't release the information you have gathered through intelligence sources to the general public in most cases. To do so would compromise your ability to continue doing effective intelligence gathering in the future. And it would also place the lives of some of the people gathering that intelligence in jeopardy...not just from your own country, but from countries you may actually be gathering the intelligence in and from.

      In a democracy the voter gets to vote. Whoever they vote for then has the legal right to make decisions FOR the voter. If that means, "Sorry, but no, you can't see the information or our sources of it", and that upsets you, then you need to move to a different country. You either trust the system or you don't. I'm not advocating blind trust, but rather a common sense trust. If you think everybody who gets elected in your country is a crook, you need to move somewhere else where you won't feel that way, or just put up with your own misconceptions and quit griping about it.

      EDIT: My use of the word "you" in the above is meant to mean "anybody". Not directed at you personally.
      • Sep 24 2012: I agree with Feyisayo that intervention often complicate matters. Iraqe and Afganistan are cases in point. Intelegence gathering does give the gatherer a more realistic picture of what is going on but when it goes to "Head Offcie" the gathered inteligence get's corrupted then it is used to profit the interested parties of the "Head Office" Haliberton Company is a case in point. If one were to take the Sri Lanka situation, for 30+ years a bloody civil war went on. Being of Sri Lankan origin, I told a very close Tamil Friend of mine, logically the Tamils with 18% population cannot win a civil war with the majority of 70%. Many interested countries contributed towards the lengthening the war. India interfered by giving areas in India as bases for the Rebel; Norway, U.K. USA and many other western countries interfered in very many different ways by interpretting the intelegence gathered to suit their ends. The story goes, that the USA was so sure that the Rebels would win the war they covertly played their hand towards that end happening! The Sri Lankan President did an unprecedented deal with China which proved to be very effective in ending the civil war! The deal was by negotiation - Sri Lanka agreed to give China a small plot of land which the Chinese used to develop first class port to ensure they have an uninterupted oil supply! This is a civil war where the victor got all the 'spoils'! There were so many agreements that were reached during the warring period which would have given the Tamil folk a better outcome, but the sheer stupidity of the leader of the Rebel group prevented this outcome!
        There are so many hotbeds of trouble and I do not think militatry intervention is the answer. Is 'nuking' Iran as the Isralites want the answer to the Iranian problem? Iran is a better repositary to a nuclear bomb than North Korea! Then the Syrian situation - it has to be solved by the Syrians - like in Sri Lanka, many civilians will die the price of war!
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          Sep 24 2012: Your reply contains so many undocumented and opinionated assumptions, I don't even know where to start a reply to it.

          "Stories", the belief that all intellignece going to a "Head Office" gets corrupted then used for profit, and comparing "nuking Iran" to the current use of military intervention in today's world don't even come close to the realities of the military interventions used in Iraq and Afganistan. But if that's what you want to believe is really happening, OK.
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    Sep 22 2012: Usually, military intervention by foreign nations usually complicates things.
    In most cases the intervening nations do not even understand the causes of such crises, and the geo-political/socio-cultural peculiarities of a nation at war. The result of this is that the focus shifts from the real issues(the causes) to symptoms.
    Someone hopes to stop a war. Good idea! But why is the nation at war? Is it really known or is it assumed?
    As far as civil wars are concerned, things are not usually as they seem. One side proclaims itself as the right and just fighters, while portraying the opposition as the evil ones.

    In some cases one side is as evil as the other; in some cases there may be an evil side; in some cases it is just a foreign nation that would sponsor regime change by violent means in pursuit of a certain agenda.
    Lies are told; the media may be manipulated; and the truth may have to be consciously sought to be found.
    It would be bad for world peace if there is always a military intervention anytime a group of disgruntled individuals take up arms to fight against legitimate government and the government fights back.
  • Sep 22 2012: It is highly attractive to be brave and idealistic, neither of which solve problems of the world.
  • Sep 22 2012: "Do you support militiary intervention in countries which make civil war with their own citizens?"

    It really depends on the situation: is one of the parties in the civil war a clear violator of human rights in both its methods and its goals, while the other party is not, do the countries doing the intervening have good intentions, will they live up to them (i.e. are they leading by example within their own borders?), is there a decent chance of a success intervention and subsequent resolution of the problem? If these conditions are met then intervention can be justified.
  • Sep 22 2012: Arjun, I see the problem as that of degree and hence indeterminate or indeterminable. Let us try to understand various nuances related to "en masse killing of civilians". Just for the sake of argument consider this: Recently I read that 2976 people died in 9/11; 0.25 million people died in wars justified by 9/11; and 0.5 million people died from hunger since 9/11. Tell me what would you consider "en masse killing of civilians" and do give me reasons for what you think. I badly need the reasons. There can be other varieties: In some poor country if the government fails - either because it does not have sufficient funds or administrative means for the purpose, or even if it lacks scientific knowledge - to stem some fatal epidemic, would it qualify for the category we are considering? Do we really have enough reason to take a view on this?
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      Sep 23 2012: With respect to your figures, those quoted about hunger are not really relevant here. Yes, inequality in the world is one of the largest "killers" and the fight against it is a problem that unfortunately many official and unoficial bodies place barriers against. Again, I don't really understand the relevance of your point about epidemics, global health is an ongoing issue that is not to do with the direct action of governments or dictators.

      I think a line must be drawn though between these and when civilians attack their own populations; genocides are one example. This is not idealistic; it is the justification for why there was intervention in Egypt for example. This may have been in the guise of arming the civilian forces that were then better armed and assisting with air strikes but without it there would have been greater bloodshed. Unfortunately dictators especially have been notoriously unforgiving of their own citizens when it comes to their deposition.

      So given that the moral justification we are often given for such intervention is indeed to stop further bloodshed and to stop dictators killing their own unarmed civilians... Let me give you an example.

      Is it not just as or, if not, more morally justifiable to defend the (at the very least) 7,000 civilians that died in the last 4 months of the Sri Lankan civil war. In spite of the deplorable actions of Tamil Tigers who are alleged by the government to have been using civilians as shields, as many rebel organisations resort to, I do hope this is not your justification for such indiscriminate bloodshed.
      • Sep 24 2012: Thank you for your reply. The question remains where we draw the line. Indeed loss of human life is deplorable, especially when it occurs through avoidable violence. You are focusing on death or violence caused to civilian population. I am focusing on distress caused by not only overt but also covert violence. This is because I do not differentiate between different types of `killings'. I cannot see why deaths of civilians would be more a point of debate than deaths on account of unnecessary or unjust wars. I fail to see why oppression by government on their own people should be considered differently than oppression of one State by the other. To me at least, in all cases, what is damaging is distress caused by oppression. . And oppression takes many forms. Intervention to stop such oppression would be a grey area of philosophy. This includes a special case of sanctity of military intervention against civilian violence.
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    Sep 22 2012: Seems people are confusing the issue. "Intervention" comes in many different flavors. Just because it is "military intervention" doesn't mean the use of the military force will result in a bunch of "military people" going in and blowing up the entire country. Could there be deaths caused by the military being there? Certainly. But in all my time in the military, I never shot someone just for the fun of it. They usually had to be shooting at me first...or shooting at someone else I was trying to protect.

    By definition, a military force is "an instrument of it's nation's power". As an instrument, it can be used violently, OR to support the ability of a nation to conduct diplomacy if the military presence reduces or eliminates violence occuring within the borders of the nation it is in at the time.

    If an "outside" nation sends it's military into a country where mass "civil war" casualties are occuring because of an internal civil war, it means the "civilians" of that country haven't been able to diplomatically resolve their own differences using diplomacy to begin with. Should we just say, "To heck with them. Let them just kill each other off. Then we won't have a problem anymore."

    I don't think so.
  • Sep 22 2012: Answer to your question is buried in grey areas of philosophy. Do I have right to enter home of my neighbor and use force to stop him ill-treating his children or wife? Will it be alright to intervene if he is a threat to his family? Will my actions be justified if my neighbor merely drinks too much or smokes? What about drugs? There are no easy answer as yet.
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      Sep 22 2012: There really doesn't seem to be any "grey area of philosophy" about it. Only the one you created in your own mind.

      1. No...YOU may not "have the right" to enter his house and intervene to protect his children from being killed by him. But does that mean you would just turn your head and look the other way? Or might you call some proper authority (police?) to do the intervention?

      2. Your actions in preventing the abuse of other family members in your neighbor's home would hopefully be taken regardless of the reason he is doing it. If he is a threat to his family's physical safety, it should make no difference what his reason is for doing it. If his own family members are powerless to stop them, then they need help from those who AREN'T powerless to stop him...using lawful means, of course.

      The crux of Arjuna's question is in the last sentence of his posited question's narrative: "Do they, as fellow global citizens, not need our protection?"

      You have two choices:

      1. Turn your head and look the other way..."It's not my problem. Let the killing continue."

      2. Decide to do something about it, if after diplomatic resolution attempts have failed and the killing continues. If you aren't willing to do this, you have resorted to option #1 above.
      • Sep 22 2012: Rick your comment shows that you failed to appreciate the nuances involved. Let me enumerate my comments further, perhaps it would help.
        Whether I should intervene if my neighbor slaps his family member? What if the neighbor keeps shouting and insulting? When should I intervene? If the neighbor slaps say thrice a day or once every week? When do I judge him to be coercive? Should I approach psychologist for a certificate that stress of the oppressed person is causing that person various ailments like hypertension, ulcers, etc.? What if the boss oppresses an employee? What if the wife wants to spend more than husband earns? What if husband wants to flirt out of marriage? More relevantly, what steps one takes against racial or religious discrimination? There will be number of situations causing severe distress.
        And, if I am unable to enter his home, how do I prevent the occurrence? Phone police? When? And what should I do if the authorities do not intervene as they often don't. Let us not forget that domestic violence is a universal issue and it happens in each and every country.
        Perhaps you are now able to appreciate that there are no simple choices like "Look the other way" or "Do your best" in life.
        In view of such confusing questions and choices I decided to cryptically call the problem as `grey area in philosophy.' I think it is easy to be on high horse of idealism but there may not be easy answers as in this case.
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          Sep 22 2012: Mukesh, I appreciate the philosophical greyness in the examples you describe; however, I have to agree that I think you are missing the point of the question.

          The example is deliberately extreme to avoid greyness in terms of severity required; where Government’s inflict killing on their civilians EN MASSE and do so rapidly with escalating violence and bloodshed, do those people as fellow global citizens and not part of a combative force not require our protection?

          What is “normal”, “appropriate” and “right” in your examples is heavily influenced by local culture and as such you do not see governments intervening in other countries on such a basis. I would agree that these issues are often best left for countries to decide for themselves, leaving aside the fact that I don’t think domestic violence is condonable regardless of culture.

          Life and death is fundamental to humanity and isn’t culture specific. Surely they deserve to be protected from this?
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          Sep 22 2012: As Arjuna said, I responded based on the criteria he set in his question. There were no "grey areas"...mass killings were taking place. In that kind of situation, I can either ignore it or attempt to do something to stop it. If I ignore it while HAVING the power to posssibly stop it, I have a hard time, and little credibility, trying to convince somebody that I am "humane".
  • Sep 22 2012: I am 100% against intervention, in almost any situation. I believe that the nations have a right to self determination and often it takes a lot of bloodshed to find the identity they want. Foreign intervention often ends up with they get the government that we want, which is doomed to fail into more bloodshed.
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      Sep 22 2012: Hi Scott, I do agree that what to do once foreign intervention has occurred is a problem with no right answer. However, I'm curious as to why you said "almost any situation" - where is the line to you?

      War between militiary factions, jostling for who gets the power, is one thing. Cases where there is deliberate killing of civilians, who are essentially unarmed is another surely? They did not choose to be born there and they are people like you or me.

      Surely the deliberation over what to do afterwards takes a back seat to the the immediate protection of hundreds of civilians, when they are dying rapidly by the day?
      • Sep 22 2012: For me the most important thing is whether there are rebels in the area, because if there are rebels, the government may be trying to fish them out, and rebels are infamous for trying to blend into the general population in order to say to the world "look! These guys are killing civilians!" If there is no rebels, and the government is killing indiscriminately, I think pressure should be put upon them, but unless the violence starts spilling over borders then military intervention should take place.

        For example in Syria I believe there is no way anyone should get involved, and serious sanctions be put upon Turkey for supporting the rebels and making this more of a multinational event.
  • Sep 21 2012: If we want to protect, we would need to kill. A big problem of current interventions is, that once the press shows a killed foreigner, or a killed soldier, the people rapidly turn against such intervention and the political support for the soldiers falls apart.

    Then all they do is protecting their base against numerous attacks, but they are neither allowed to shoot back, nor to establish safety in a larger area (what would mean kill people, destroy infrastructure, etc.). The people at home are amazed, because "we protect", and the civil war continues, soldiers die without reason.

    As long as "we" believe there is something like a "soft war", where nobody gets hurt and even the opponent works with us together as a team to establish peace, we should not send our soldiers out.

    I think a better solution would be if we do not send soldiers, but send citizens out, who force our governments not to sell weapons to failed states anymore. They are just able to kill that many people because of our weapons, without them, they would still kill each other, but much slower and with less victims.

    That is a big problem for our soldiers, that the opponent sometimes gets better weapons by our government, than the governments own soldiers, due to political reasons at home. That would also erase the problem of freelancers, who commit crimes without being touched, because "we" do not want to hurt people, so our soldiers get wasted and they (the freelancers) are not "us" and can do almost whatever they want.

    I think that a total stop of official weapon trade, and the total ban of the use of freelancers would make a large step forward.
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      Sep 21 2012: Stopping the arms trade, that covertly done by governments to governments and that done directly to people the government "can't be seen to sell to" is of course a massively important focus that, you're right, would drastically reduce at the very least the efficiency of killing around the world.

      That said, the issue of what to do when you are faced with an escalating war on civilians that escalates daily remains. Syria, for example, or that less covered by the press in Sri Lanka - the aim of such wars are to achieve their objective rapidly, before the world can get together and make it's mind up to form a reaction. This doesn't really do any good to the hundreds or thousands of people who have to die.

      Yes, there would inevitably be losses suffered by those that Intervene - but particularly in cases where you are dealing with countries which do not have well funded/equipped/trained armies and which do not have a nuclear armoury just waiting to fire, it is feasible to try and defend the masses of civilians that die every day? Surely that would be a worthy cause and something worth the militiary's efforts?

      Should doing the right thing (and protecting human rights falls into this category I hope) only be acted upon when you have the voiced support of each and every one of your home citizens?
      Isn't this what you elect a Government or a President to do - to make decisions as and when they are needed as they have been elected by the population to represent them?

      I accept your points, but why must the decision be based upon what the press think and what their impression is? Often, even in countries with a free press, they just say what they think their readers want to hear.
      • Sep 22 2012: I think the problem is, that we could not say which one we should protect and if that would be the right decision afterwards.

        When looking at Syria, most of the so called rebels are no syrians, but self-announced muslims from all over the globe who celebrate their own private jihad, and like in Lybia it is much likely that the civilians do have no real problem with Assad, but with the non-syrian terrorists.

        If we look close, than these are not even civil wars, because the civilians do not fight. In almost all cases it have been foreign extremists, who want to establish islamic nations in that region, over the heads of the civilians.

        This war can not be won by foreign armies, only by the people. They must protect their borders, they must identify who is a foreign fighter and work with their government. A foreign army would need to stay for decades, would not be able to control the border without building a wall like in east-germany (without a physical barrier every border will be crossed), and so on.

        I think the only thing we should do is to provide care in form of food, medicine, and such.
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    Sep 21 2012: I don't think that we should use military might in this way. But I do think that we should use educational might. Knowledge is power. But if a people don't want the knowledge that will free them, even that won't work.