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When should the west intervene?

By: Jared Milne

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 06:00 am

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The Winter Olympics are now part of the history books. However, while this celebration of global unity was happening, the gruesome civil war in Syria has continued unabated. The civil war in Libya prompted western countries like Canada to provide military support to the rebels, but so far no western country has done the same thing in Syria.

Past interventions by western countries have been extremely controversial. The 2003 invasion of Iraq by an American-led coalition was widely condemned, while the lack of western involvement in the Rwandan genocide was also condemned. In the first case, the west was criticized for intervening in Iraq, while in the second case it was criticized for not doing anything.

This raises the question of how and when countries like Canada should intervene, or participate in, foreign conflicts. Canada helped the Libyan rebels fighting against Moammar Gaddafi and joined in the mission in Afghanistan, while it stayed out of the 2003 Iraq war. In the meantime, other oppressive regimes, like the communist dictatorship in North Korea, remained untouched by the west.

What is the difference between the conflict in a country like Syria, and a country like Libya? Why would, or should, the west intervene in one conflict, but not the other? In Libya, Canada participated in enforcing a no-fly zone to hamper Gaddafi as part of a mission endorsed by NATO and the United Nation. The mission was justified as part of a responsibility to protect the people of Libya, although one might ask why no such justification exists for the people of Syria.

Similarly, what is the difference between a dictatorship like Saddam Husseinís former regime in Iraq, and the Kim dynasty in North Korea? One of the main reasons that the American coalition intervened in Iraq was to overthrow Hussein, but in that case, why has no action been taken against the dictators of countries like Iran, Zimbabwe or North Korea?

Some critics might say that intervention is done simply to benefit the westís own interests. But if thatís the case, then how is it in anyoneís interest to have North Korea testing missiles? How did the west benefit by helping the rebels in Libya, or by not interfering in Rwanda?

Western nations like Canada only have so much money and resources that they can commit to such conflicts, particularly when the public is often less than keen to commit so many resources and lives to doing it. Not to mention that, in some cases, interference can just as easily make things worse, as many critics have claimed the intervention in Iraq has done. With all this in mind, it becomes particularly difficult for political leaders to decide how and when their countries should interfere.

There are no easy answers to these questions, particularly not when the reasons for interfering or not, and the potential consequences of the decision, can have such a huge impact.

So how do we know when the west should intervene in a conflict, or stay out of it?

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.


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