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[casi] Douglas Hurd: Intervention on humanitarian grounds

Douglas Hurd: Intervention on humanitarian grounds

>From a lecture by the former Foreign Secretary, at the London School of

12 November 2003

The concept of intervention on humanitarian grounds in the affairs of other
countries has been around a long time. It underlay the efforts led by the
Royal Navy to stamp out the slave trade in the 19th century. John Stuart
Mill puzzled over the question when the Hapsburg empire repressed revolts
among its subjects in Hungary and Italy.

The virtual collapse of a justification based on self-defence for the attack
on Iraq has led to a sharp switch back to the humanitarian argument. The
Prime Minister has always found himself at home with the argument that
whatever the truth about weapons, Saddam Hussein was an evil ruler and that
Iraq and the world are better off without him.

Put simply like that, the statement cannot be denied. There can be no
serious questioning of the evil nature of his regime or of the great harm he
did to his own people and their neighbours. But such simplicity is not of
this world. In the real world, two further questions fall to be answered -
the question of authority and the question of aftermath.

Who is to decide that a ruler is so evil that on humanitarian grounds it is
right to go to war to remove him? The answer is clear in the UN Charter:
this judgement cannot be left to those who plan a war, but it is reserved to
the Security Council. Having served four years in the British Mission to the
UN, I have no illusions about the shortcomings of the Security Council. It
is certainly not a gathering of democrats. But it does not follow that
because the Security Council is flawed we should go back to the jungle and
believe that we, because of our strong right arm (or that of the
superpower), are the only valid judges in authorising war.

There is no precise remedy, which will fit all cases. But recent events show
that the involvement of the UN, with all its faults, is indispensable.
Without some form of UN legitimacy a major armed intervention is likely to
run into trouble; without access to UN skills and resources, nation-building
is unlikely to thrive

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