In 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), led by the US, carried out a bombing campaign in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in response to perceived human rights abuses committed by the Serb dominated government on the minority ethnic population of Kosovo Albanians. Although none of the NATO nations were directly under attack and the Security Council did not grant authority, NATO justified its actions on the basis of egregious human rights violations.
Similarly, in Iraq, it has been estimated that roughly 5,500 civilians have died only this week because of ISIS. Thousands of women have been detained; many of them have been sold to ISIS fighters where they have been repeatedly raped. Moreover, the Iraqi population is constantly subjected to beheadings, crucifixions and amputations.
What responsibility do we have to protect innocent civilians from egregious and horrific human rights violations? Realistically, the international machinery to authorize the use of force, as described in the U.N. Charter, has yet to materialize. The Security Counsel rarely grants authority for a universal coalition to stop the prosecution of innocent civilians. Since atrocities still continue to happen, states have justified their invasion of another country based on humanitarian intervention (i.e. Nigeria’s role in Sierra Leone and Liberia; although extremely late, the role of the French & the Dutch in the Rwandan genocide). Many fear that the use of force on the basis of humanitarian intervention will become a norm, which will free countries of liability. For example, let’s take a closer look at US foreign policy in Latin America during the Cold War. The United States consistently argued that their influence (military and aid to rebel groups) in Latin America was to stop the social regimes from committing atrocities against their own citizens. It can be easily argued that the US was simply promoting their national interest abroad: stopping the spread of communism and promoting democracy. So my primary question is this: what draws the distinction between a state’s political and economic interests and moral principles?
I am not one to promote armed conflict; however, the US and the International Community should be exercising the use of armed force and taking action in Iraq. As seen numerous times in history, extremists will not stop until their views and opinions are carried out. The size of the issue is no longer contained in Iraq; thus, it has a huge potential to spread throughout the world (if it has not done so already). But, where do we draw the line? How many times will we use the excuse of human rights violations to invade a country? To what extend does the international community pick and choose “whom” to save? What draws the distinction between Iraq, Kosovo, Rwanda or Armenia?