Intervention not always best option

By By Steve Warrick

By Steve Warrick

Uganda’s ambassador to the United States, Perezi Kamunanwire, spoke at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Thursday about some of the problems in Africa.

One of the things Kamunanwire said was that in cases of civil war, it is often the best thing to let the warring parties settle things themselves before sending in an outside peacekeeping force.

“Nobody can settle a civil war but the side that wins,” he said.

The idea of letting the parties of a conflict settle the matter themselves rather than rushing in to stop the conflict is controversial, but it makes sense.

American military strategist and historian Edward N. Luttwak expressed the same thought in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs in 1999 titled “Give War a Chance.” Luttwak said intervening in a conflict before either sides have exhausted themselves or the stronger side defeated the weaker actually tends to prolong the conflict by “shielding the weaker side from the consequences of refusing to make concessions for peace.” It also allows both sides a respite during which they can rest up, rearm and prepare for more intense fighting.

“Peace takes hold only when war is truly over,” Luttwak said.

British international relations theorist E. H. Carr offers another perspective in his book on modern realist thought in international relations, The Twenty Years’ Crisis; 1919 to 1939. Carr maintains that the reason the peace had failed in the interwar period between World War I and World War II is the balance of power had been broken.

Germany was the natural hegemon, or dominant power, of Europe by virtue of its industrial base, technological superiority and large population. With the Treaty of Versailles, it was forced into the position of “humiliated underdog.” When their country had recovered sufficiently, the Germans were not content to continue accepting an unnatural status quo.

The entry of the United States into World War I had artificially changed the balance of power in Europe, and America’s withdrawal into isolationism meant that this artificial balance could not be maintained. British military historian John Keegan writes in his 1999 volume on the First World War that the arrival of large numbers of American troops in France brought about a transformation of the war.

Before this, the Germans had been likely to win the war against the British and French. They had just beaten the Russians and as a result, were transferring a large number of troops to the Western Front, which was likely to break the long stalemate. Germany, like Britain and France, was thoroughly exhausted.

However, the United States had a huge pool of fresh manpower to throw into the war. America’s involvement in the war shifted the balance of power and allowed the weaker side to win the war. Britain and France were in a vindictive mood and insisted on extreme and humiliating terms in the Treaty of Versailles that outraged the Germans.

The new balance was artificial in that it depended upon American involvement in Europe and Germany’s temporarily weakened condition. When the United States withdrew into isolation and Germany regained its strength, the stage was set for a new and bloodier war.

Luttwak’s theory predicts if the United States had stayed out of the war, one of two things would have happened8212;either the stronger party would have won the war, resulting in a stable balance of power, or the two sides would have exhausted themselves, in which case neither side would have been in a position to impose humiliating terms on the other. Either way, it is considerably less likely there would have ever been a World War II.

We should listen to Kamunanwire’s advice. In most, but not all, cases, it is probably the best course of action to let the parties themselves work out a solution that reflects the real balance of power rather than for us to impose an artificial status quo.

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Steve Warrick