Mary Kaldor: In 2001, before 9/11, there was it seemed like a consensus around humanitarian norms. It seemed like the outcome of the 1990s. 2001 was the year that the Canadian commission on sovereignty and intervention came out with the idea of responsibility to protect. It was the year that Britain intervened rather successfully in Sierra Leone and stopped the violence there—or at least began the beginning…created a situation which led to a peace process. And so I think there was a general feeling that we were moving towards a world characterized by international law, war crimes, intervention for humanitarian purposes.
And then came 9/11. And I think that consensus was really shattered by 9/11. Of course, at the same time as 9/11 there were all kinds of…there was quite a momentum to responsibility to protect. It was introduced into the United Nations in 2005. There’s been an enormous emphasis in the United Nations on protecting civilians. Many countries have developed new security policies that move away from national security that emphasize a range of threats, from hurricanes and tsunamis, to terror. And many of them are emphasizing civilian crisis management. And all of that comes out of the momentum and the consensus of the 1990s about responsibility to protect and humanitarian intervention.
But at the same time of course, we had the War on Terror. And we had Iraq. We had Afghanistan. We had the debate about Darfur. And we had Libya. And all of them in a way were ways in which a new kind of discourse was constructed, undermining and weakening the humanitarian consensus that characterized the period just before 9/11.
Of course the first intervention was Afghanistan. And those people who supported Afghanistan were of course the people around Bush. We call them the neocons. They came out of the American Enterprise Institute. They came of The Heritage Foundation. They had actually had this project called the Project for a New American Century, in which they said we need a big increase in defense spending so that America can take advantage of this unipolar moment. And they said but that’s unlikely to happen unless there’s a catalyzing event like another Pearl Harbor.
And I think it’s interesting that of course Bush reacted in a typical way, as though 9/11 was Pearl Harbor. He used the language of Pearl Harbor. He used the language of World War II. And so Afghanistan going to war because 9/11 was an attack by a foreign enemy against the United States was the obvious way to go. And the neocons were supported by the liberal interventionists. And what I mean by the liberal interventionists are those people who thought you could prevent genocide, you could prevent ethnic cleansing, all the things that the humanitarian consensus had been built around in the 90s—Srebrenica, Rwanda—by using force. And of course probably the most well-known voice in that liberal interventionist consensus was Tony Blair. But there were also well-known journalists like Michael Ignatieff or Christopher Hitchens, who were supporting this, and creating a general consensus.
And I think at the time of Afghanistan there were a few sporadic peace demonstrations. But opposition was muted because people were so shocked by what had happened in 9/11. But of course there was one very important stream of thinking, with which I associate myself, which said look, it’s all about how you frame 9/11. And if you didn’t frame 9/11 as an attack on the United States but you framed it as a crime against humanity, then this would require a very different response. Not a war response but a law and policing response. There might be an argument to attack Afghanistan to destroy the terrorist camps, or there might be an argument to be putting pressure on the Taliban to deal Al-Qaeda. But there isn’t an argument to go to war with Al-Qaeda. The aim has to be to try to arrest Osama bin Laden and to try to deal with him in a court of law.
Interestingly, Richard Falk, who’s very-well known as a professor of international law and usually is on this line was actually arguing for a just war. He argued that a trial would give bin Laden a kind of platform from which he could start mobilizing international and global support, and that therefore a limited war was needed in Afghanistan.
Well of course the Afghan War then led to Iraq. And the neocons felt that in Afghanistan they had discovered an amazing model of how to bring about regime change and how to defeat dictators. And of course the argument for going to war in Iraq was not humanitarian, either. By the way, in Afghanistan the formal argument was self-defense, and the United States informed the Security Council that it was undertaking a unilateral act in self-defense. In the case of Iraq this was much harder. And the neocons set their sights on Iraq. And they were once again joined by the liberal interventionists.
And although the formal argument was to deal with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the argument that was used both by the neocons and the liberal interventionists was actually a humanitarian argument. They said that Saddam Hussein, quite rightly, was a hideous dictator. That he’d killed hundreds of thousands, especially the Kurds and the Shiites in the early 90s. And that this was an intervention really for humanitarian purposes, even though they were using a legal justification based on weapons of mass destruction.
The war mobilized an incredible peace movement. Millions demonstrated on February the 15th, 2003. I think… The total count varies from 9 to 11 million. And in a way it can be seen as one of the consequences of the spread of the Internet that it was so much easier to mobilize people all over the world on the same day, and the World Social Forum played a very key role in deciding on the date.
The opposition brought together the traditional left to oppose imperialism. And many in the Islamic community, who while not being jihadists accepted the argument that this was—or at least, promoted the— Not promoted, but went along with the argument that the War on Terror was a war against Islam. And in fact there were rather few people on those peace demonstrations who were really thinking about alternative ways of dealing with Saddam Hussein.
The human rights and humanitarian community was deeply deeply divided. The human rights community was split between the liberal internationalists like Christopher Hitchens and Michael Ignatieff and those who felt that you shouldn’t violate human rights when trying to protect people. Who felt that although Saddam Hussein was a hideous dictator, there was no immediate humanitarian emergency that could’ve justified the war and that the humanitarian consequences of the war were worse, or as bad, as what Saddam Hussein had done.
And I think a particular aspect of all this was what happened to the United Nations. Some people say that the blowing up of the United Nations compound in the summer of 2003, killing the much-loved and well-known diplomat Sérgio de Mello was the UN’s 9/11. And that was the point at which the consensus among the humanitarian NGOs started to blow apart. Because they felt this coming together of intervention and humanitarian aid was a huge mistake. That it was very important to keep humanitarians separate from the military. Because the military, that made you a target. And of course that was followed by blowing up of the Red Cross. So the humanitarians became very much opposed to ideas of responsibility to protect or humanitarian intervention. Or if not opposed, wanted to maintain their independence.
Both Afghanistan and Iraq led to long wars. And of course these positions were reproduced in the war. The people who were pro-intervention initially argued very strongly for a surge in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The people who were against argued for withdrawal. And the sort of beleaguered humanitarian community kept saying “Well we need troops to protect people from violence, but we don’t want them to be engaging in war.” And that position was increasingly squeezed.
Though an interesting aspect of the war has been the debate that it’s produced in the Pentagon. General Petraeus, who was the commander in Iraq and then is now commander in Afghanistan but about to leave to become head of the CIA, he produced a new counterinsurgency manual which really emphasized this concept of population security. That you really have to minimize civilian casualties, that you have to keep people safe in order to win the trust of people. And that was a real shift in American military thinking. And I do think it was a factor. I won’t go into how the Iraq War ended now but it was a very important factor in the sense that the Americans put joint security stations all over Baghdad to protect people and they negotiated lots and lots of local deals.
So, while all this was happening, there was this weird debate about Darfur. Suddenly there was a big campaign, which was led by the US Holocaust Museum. It started with a group of students on an outreach program arguing that there was a genocide going on in Darfur. And they created this campaign involving Mia Farrow, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt—every celebrity was supporting it—called the Save Darfur Campaign. And I think what’s interesting, of course what was happening in Darfur was typically what I would call a “new war.” People were being killed, there was very heavy displacement, there was ethnic cleansing. And I think there were very good grounds for an intervention by the United Nations.
But, the Save Darfur Campaign wanted to argue it was a genocide. And in order to argue it was a genocide, they had to arg— And the reason they wanted to argue it was genocide is because in international law, even despite the fact that responsibility to protect was passed by the United Nations, you can’t intervene unless authorized by the Security Council except in the case of a genocide. And so they wanted to prove this was a genocide, in order to trigger military intervention. And so there was a huge emphasis both on the numbers of people killed, but also on the Arab and African identity of the two sides. Essentially what was happening was that settler communities who had started a rebel movement were being dealt with very very harshly by a combination of the Sudanese army and local militias who were a mixture of nomads, unemployed, criminals—the typical kind of groups. And they were suffering a great deal. So, they were construed…the government side was construed as Arab, and the settler side was construed as African. Although as Mamdani has very convincingly shown, this construction was a rather recent construction.
So the people who were against intervention in Darfur said this is not genocide, this is a civil war. And the way to solve the problem is through negotiations. But if in fact as I would argue, it was neither a civil war nor a genocide, it was what I call a new war, in which all kinds of different state and non-state actors are engaged together with their international partners, then actually negotiations are unlikely to solve the problem—and indeed they have not. And there needs to be an intervention not on one side or the other, but in order to protect settlers, and to stabilize the violence. In the end, the UN came in after 2007 but there are still huge problems.
And finally, we come to Libya. So, here we have…this is the one we’re in the middle of. And again on the one side you have the liberal interventionists, very enthusiastic, saying let’s go in to protect people. Gaddafi is about to kill all of the protestors. And you have the people against, who say you can’t use war. And there are a few people like me who say yes, we should protect civilians but you can’t protect civilians with airstrikes. You can’t use the traditional methods of war to protect civilians. And that’s what hasn’t been understood, that’s what wasn’t discussed in Darfur. It was seen as a simple case of intervention or non-intervention. It was the same in Afghanistan and Iraq. That position of saying actually, the international community has a responsibility to protect people when they’re in situations of extreme insecurity, but how it protects people is absolutely critical; you can’t use traditional military methods, that position really in a way broke apart, because of 9/11.
In a sense, as I’ve tried to explain, the humanitarian consensus was pulled apart by the liberal internationalists who felt you could intervene militarily, and the traditional humanitarians who felt you had to keep your distance from the military. And in a sense what I think is really needed is a new kind of instrument for protecting people which I call “human security,” although it tends to be rather different from how human security is often defined in the literature.
So where are we now, in the midst of an ongoing war with Libya and the capture of Osama bin Laden? Well I think what’s extraordinary at the moment is the spread of nonviolence through the Middle East. I mean, this is an extraordinary, epochal moment when people are taking to the streets and being incredibly brave in the face of provocation. And what you realize has been going on is that here in the West we’ve been deeply involved in this debate about when is it right to use force to stop genocide and human rights violations. And oddly enough, the same debate has been going on in the Arab world. When is it right to use force to resist occupation? When is it right to use force to resist human rights violations by the state? And certainly I’ve been involved in these discussions, and young people in the Middle East felt that Osama bin Laden had discredited Islam. And the outcome of that debate I think has been a really important commitment to nonviolence.
But what we’re seeing in the Middle East is this terrible struggle between the nonviolent protectors and the dictators, many of whom have been long-supported by the West on the basis of a sort of cultural relativist position that people who are Islamic can’t have democracy. And I think it actually it’s incredibly important that we do rethink the whole issue of how do you protect people without using the methods of war. Because if you use the methods of war, as I fear it’s happening in Libya, you simply provoke a long war instead of laying the basis for democracy.
9/11 has done huge damage to the liberal ideal. And maybe part of the reason is that the liberal ideal has traditionally been seen in a nation-state context. So, there seems to us to be nothing wrong with the idea that you can be a liberal at home, and you can talk about values at home, and you can talk about politics, human rights, the rule of rule, and be a realist abroad. That somehow the international world is a world of violence and anarchy and it’s alright to use violence.
And I think in a way this position becomes most extreme when you look at a case like Israel. One of the arguments that’s made both by the neocons and liberal interventionists is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And what you realize is, how do you answer that? Because in some senses it’s true, although now we can happily have the example of Turkey and to some extent Lebanon. But to some extent it’s true that Israel has very deep political debates, it has a very lively and active civil society, it has alternation of political parties.
So what’s wrong with saying Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East? Well I think most of us recoil against the idea that you can have an exclusive democracy nowadays. And that’s a huge contrast to the past. If you think about the way we celebrate 1776 and the American Declaration of Independence and the establishment of democracy in America, it excluded black slaves and women and Indians—American Indians. And if that happened now we would be horrified. We’d say it was like South Africa. And actually what I think is really really significant is that we now do have a human rights consciousness. It does matter to us that Palestinians are excluded. We don’t think you can talk about democracy if a substantial number of people are excluded from that democracy.
And so what that means is that the international arena has to become more like the domestic arena. There has to be a liberal international order. And to some extent the liberal internationalists did want a liberal international order but they had this fixation with using military force to protect the liberal international order, just like in the Second World War there was a feeling that the Americans and the British were going to war to establish a liberal international order. And that it was alright to go to war. And yet, if you look at what the Americans and the British did, if you look at the war—what I consider to be war crimes in Dresden, Tokyo, and Hiroshima, there was a huge contradiction at the heart of this liberal international order.
So I feel humanitarianism and liberalism are very closely connected. I don’t think you can have any longer democracy in one country. I think you have to have a global debate. I’m not saying that you have to have a global democracy, because I think that’s…potentially totalitarian, actually. I’m not in favor of a world government. But you have to have a liberal, civil way in which different kinds of diverse political orders relate to each other. And that’s only possible if you outlaw traditional forms of war.
My version of human security came out of a study group that I convened for Javier Solana, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union. And it was a fascinating group of people, both military and civilians from across Europe. And what we were preoccupied with was what kind of a security policy the European Union should have. And we were arguing that it should not be a classic national security policy. It’s not about defending borders. The European Union from the beginning was a peace project. It was established to prevent another war on European soil. And it has to in a way spread that peace project.
And so what we were arguing was that you need new types of capabilities that can intervene in crises, not to win wars but to dampen down violence. And we argued for a combination of military and civilian capabilities that would be essentially more like policing than war fighting, and that would be under civilian control. So it’s a civilian type of security, not a military type of security.
Of course afterwards I discovered that there were all these other meanings. The Canadians equated with responsibility to protect. And the UNDP really equated it with development, which comes to the point about development and security. But I think the concept is really important because what it’s trying to say is that we do live in a world in which there is a difference between the inside and the outside but it’s becoming blurred. And as we try to extend security through the rule of law as opposed to security through diplomacy and war, then we have to have the appropriate tools to enforce that and the appropriate tools are not military.
They are linked of course to all kinds of other civilian capabilities. There is a link— Human security in the UNDP definition is really about development. And in the Canadian definition it’s really about freedom from fear. But I actually think there is of course an economic link to security. People do fight because…they have no choice very often. And so one doesn’t want to lose that link, but nor does one want to make development a security project, as it’s increasingly come to be.
And I think that’s what’s interesting about human security. Because the big difference I guess between a human security concept and Petraeus’ counterinsurgency concept, and even Tony Blair’s global values, is they still see the project as defeating the enemies of the West. And population security is a means to that end. It may be partly rhetoric. I mean, I’ve had this argument with people in Britain, with politicians who say we’re in Afghanistan to keep our streets safer.
And I say but nobody believes that our behavior in Afghanistan is going to make our streets safer. On the contrary it’s probably going to make our streets less dangerous. But there is a case of being in Afghanistan, because we’ve done such a lot of damage to the Afghans. Don’t we have a responsibility to prevent them from degenerating into civil war or coming under Taliban rule? So why can’t we say we’re in Afghanistan for the sake of the Afghans?
And for me that’s what human security’s about. Human security is saying an Afghan life is equal to a British life. And our security is guaranteed by contributing to a global security that treats all humans as equal. That’s something very very difficult for politicians to grasp. Partly because they still live in an old-fashioned world where they’re afraid if they use words like “human security” they’ll sound soft. They’ve got to be strong on national security, they’ve got to have Trident. Partly because they think the population won’t wear it. I actually have a very different view. I think precisely because of the spread of human rights consciousness, the Afghan War would be a lot more popular if we presented it as doing good to the Afghans than if we presented it for keeping our streets safer. And maybe what that shows is that the British population are probably a bit nicer than politicians are, a bit less selfish.
But I do think that this human rights consciousness is really important in the way that it’s grown and the way that people don’t accept collateral damage. They see it in human rights terms. I mean, in fact if you think about it, in a counterinsurgency war where you’re minimizing civilian casualties, civilian casualties are so much lower than they were in Vietnam, Korea, not to mention the Second World War. But they’re too high for us, because we find civilian casualties unacceptable. Which shows that we’ve gone through a really profound change in consciousness.
Looked at from a more theoretical position, why is it so important for politicians to construe the world in terms of friends and enemies? And at the moment, Carl Schmitt is incredibly popular on the left. And Carl Schmitt had what I regard as a very simplistic, and indeed essentialist, argument that all fields of human endeavor are characterized by binary distinctions. So aesthetics is about the good and the beautiful, economics is about the profitable and the unprofitable, morality is about good and evil. Did I say— Aesthetics is about the beautiful and the ugly. And so politics is about friends and enemies. And it’s absolutely critical, in order to establish sovereignty, that the basis for that is a notion of friends and enemies; that’s what the political means. And that must involve, said Carl Schmitt, the real physical possibility of killing.
Now, from a liberal perspective that’s really very peculiar, because actually…it’s very modernist, actually. Aesthetics isn’t defined by the beautiful and the ugly, it’s defined by the pretty, the modernist, the dark, the emotional, the…you know, if we only could define aesthetics in terms of beautiful and ugly how boring aesthetics would be.
And the same is true of politics. I mean, politics isn’t about friends and enemies, I don’t think. Politics is about debate, it’s about discussion, it’s about partnership, it’s about competition, it’s about collaboration, it’s about allies. And so this attempt to reduce politics to this binary distinction is a very…odd…step.
Now, for Schmitt, war follows enmity. What I suggest is that it’s exactly the other way around. Enmity follows war. And in order to establish a friend/enemy distinction, it’s necessary to have violence. Because you only think in binary terms if you’re really afraid. In other words, everybody— If we go to identity, everyone has many identities. I’m a mother, I’m a scholar, I’m a grandmother, I’m somebody of Jewish origin, I’m agnostic. I don’t know what I am; all of these things. Oh, and I’m British and I’m English, and I’m…it’s terribly confusing if you’re British, you never know quite what you are. And why would I have one identity? Well if we were at war with Germany I would stress my British identity above all else. And Sartre says it’s the anti-Semite that makes the Jew. If you feel that somebody’s trying to kill, then your identity really matters. And you could turn the whole thing on its head and say well war creates friends and enemies.
The second step that Schmitt takes is to say sovereignty has to be something above the law. The law can’t be based on a liberal discussion. It can’t be based on a social contract. There has to be something above the law, and that above the law is the monopoly to decide in situations of crisis. In situations of crisis the sovereign can suspend the law in order to defend the country. So, key to the friend/enemy distinction is also the notion of a state of exception. And that sovereignty has the right to create a state of exception.
And I think that’s one of the reasons why Schmitt has become so incredibly popular on the left. Because what Bush did after 9/11 was to pass the PATRIOT Act which allowed him to suspend normal law and allowed him to establish Guantanamo and so on.
The interesting thing is that if you look at some of Carl Schmitt’s later work, particularly during the Second World War when he was on the side of the Nazis, is that he was making the argument that a just war, or a humanitarian war, is unacceptable. Because it means the enemy’s treated like a criminal and not like a human being. And so he argued that what was going on was a global civil war, in which the Americans and the British were treating Germans as criminals.
And he said that in the modern period, war became bracketed, as he called it, rationalized and humanized. And European states respected each other because they were friends and enemies. They were all human, but they were different political groupings. Well I find that a very weird contradictory argument. Because if war is bracketed, why do you need to have an enemy in the first place? I think that’s a very very strange argument because it undermines the friend/enemy distinctions and suggests, in a way, that you need war to create a friend/enemy distinction rather than the other way round. Because if the enemy is like you a gentleman officer, then what’s the point of it all? It just becomes a game.
And I think the argument against his point about humanitarianism is the notion that you can have collective criminals. I don’t think you can have collective criminals. You can only have individual criminals. Criminals are people who’ve broken the law individually. You can’t have a collective group breaking the law. Which means that you can’t use the methods of war against an individual criminal.
And I suppose there’s an argument for saying that the liberal interventionists have made that same confusion. Namely that they think you can have collective criminals, like terrorists or whatever.
But I think that’s a key point and that leads back to the notion of human security. Because if you have a notion of human security, then if there are people who start wars, they are criminal, and should be arrested like Mladić has just been arrested. They are not respectable enemies.
I was, like many people in the West, appalled at the way it was celebrated. Many people in Europe, I should say, not in the United States. And so many of my American friends said yes, Obama has to do it in order to win American votes. And what I found really appalling is that that’s what you have to do to win American votes. In other words, this friend/enemy idea that underpins sovereignty and the state of exception in the United States has somehow become naturalized in the United States. It’s considered normal to behave in this way. And I think that shows that the thinking in the United States is very different from the thinking that I’ve been describing, this humanitarian human rights thinking. I don’t want to suggest that human rights, humanitarian, liberal thinking is taking over. Because obviously there is clearly a lot of competing discourses.
And what I felt really bad about the death of Osama bin Laden is that it occurred at the moment when the political death of Osama bin Laden was happening, the political death in the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring was the most wonderful affirmation and rejection of jihadist methods. And in a way what upset me about the whole assassination is that it brought back that friend/enemy idea, at just the moment when it was being killed. I hope the Arab Spring is strong enough to withstand it.
I do have some sympathy with the Richard Falk position that what one really wanted was for Osama bin Laden just to disappear, and not have a public platform through a trial. But I have no doubt that a trial…it would’ve been much better to arrest him than to kill him.
[One of the?]…problems about the humanitarian discourse is it’s been very much linked to the debate about the International Criminal Court, and the emergence of the notion that crimes of war, crimes of humanity— In my view, the establishment of the International Criminal Court has been an incredibly important step in the development of a liberal consciousness, if you like. Or a humanitarian consciousness. But it’s been criticized from both the right and the left. And the left criticize it because it’s one-sided. Because actually the only criminals that’re investigated are the Mladić’s, the Bashirs of Sudan, people in Uganda, Kenya. And neither Bush nor Blair have been…even thought of as potential war criminals. And so they argue that it’s unhelpful. And that it’s imposing a kind of Western set of norms on the rest of the world. So there’s also a kind of cultural relativist argument that at local levels people should use local justice mechanisms.
And then there’s an argument from the right which says you have to make peace with dictators. You have to make peace with war criminals. And if you bring them before the International Criminal Court, then it makes peace much more difficult. That’s the sort of realist argument.
And I supposed one of the— The one ar— I don’t share the cultural relativist argument. On the contrary my feeling is, having spent a lot of time in war zones, that local people really welcomed the International Criminal Court. And it’s been quite important in providing a backdrop to all kinds of local cases in Serbia, for example.
But what I do think is that Nuremberg was of course one-sided. And no one has ever really raised the issue of bombing and airstrikes as a crime. And I think that has somehow allowed countries to get away… Or particularly the West. I mean, I think at the moment one of the most appalling things that’s going on at the moment are the drone attacks on Pakistan. People sitting in places like Nevada behind a computer all day, and killing someone in Pakistan and then going home to dinner. It’s morally unacceptable. There’s a song in Pakistan, “The Americans Think We’re Insects.”
But it also keeps alive this narrative of friends and enemies. Sure, use the drones for intelligence purposes, to identify where Taliban leaders or Al-Qaeda leaders are, but then in locally and arrest them, even if it’s more risky. Because they are human beings. And I think there’s a kind of airstrikes with impunity which arises from the fact that the West’s war crimes were left out of Nuremberg. And so bombing is somehow acceptable, for the West, in a way that it’s absolutely not in other parts of the world.