Insurrection and Intervention: The Two Faces of Sovereignty
Ned Dobos, 2012, 978-0521761130
The once clear-cut distinction between human rights law and humanitarian law is now blurred more than ever. If one of the outstanding reasons of the condensing closure of distance between these two distinct disciplines is the changing nature of our environment, another significant one is the meaning we give to this environment. In other words, it is not only some kind of an explicit change regarding the world we live in but also the change regarding the way we interpret this world which leads to different and even sometimes contrasting reactions to events in comparison to past practices and unders- tandings. In this new world, if the reader allows me to use the term, it is not only conflicts between states where humanitarian law is applied and we cannot speak of an absolute approach to “state sovereignty” as the term had been perceived in the past. This is because crimes defined under the international humanitarian law are applicable not only in time of war, but also in time of peace. The extension of the scope of application regardless of the existence of a defined time of war merges the once distinct two fields. The convergence between two fields is not particular to practice but it pervades also through the legal discourse (re)constructing both political and legal philosophy. Ned Dobos’s recent book “Insurrection and Intervention: The Two Faces of Sove- reignty” introduces a different and alternative perspective on the intersection of disciplines of law, international relations and politics, and tries to explain the lasting differences as well as common points between insurrections and interventions.
The book comprises 6 chapters with an elucidative Introduction section where the writer clarifies the historical process concerning interventions and insurrections. Following the now and then comparisons of interventions and insurrections, the reader is enabled to see how they have evolved in time. Despite the ongoing affiliation between human rights and humanitarian law norms and rules, it is widely accepted that intervention should not be an option for all types of human rights abuses. In the first chapter, Dobos begins with questioning the roots of classification and prioritization of some of the human rights which inevitably leads to a follow-up classification and prioritization of some crimes legitimizing intervention. A vast majority of thinkers from diverse fields of law and social sciences argue that intervention is and should be a course of action when it is necessary to prevent large scale abuses of the most basic human rights such as massacre, enslavement, or ethnic cleansing. We have to ask to ourselves why the rights to personal security, to the means of subsistence, to liberty from enslavement are regarded as a “special class” of human rights the breach of which can lead to intervention while others such as freedom of speech and religious practice, freedom of association, the right to education or democratic suffrage cannot.
Dobos’s main reference point here is Michael Walzer’s “communal integrity thesis” which denies intervention for human rights abuses of the second group and accepts it only for the so-called “most basic human rights’ abuses”. The underlying logic is that it is unconceivable to think of freedom of speech and religious practice, freedom of association or the right to education and democratic suffrage when the ‘right to live’ is not secured. Walzer approaches interventions when there is not a serious and/or imminent threat to personal security as imperialistic initiatives as he supports the view that the union or “fit” between the rulers and the ruled is corrupted only when personal security of individuals and groups are under threat. So, the third parties do not have a genuine right to intervene to particular fits between rulers and their societies reflecting different cultural backgrounds. Dobos challenges the view pointing that it is quite possible that members of a nation can grow averse to their inherited culture and become threats to current administrations as the latter represent the political manifestation of this past culture. Besides, it is highly impossible to expect a unanimous degree of support for the current order so that there will always be minority groups opposing the rulers in any society. If fit between the rulers and the ruled cannot be an absolute one, there will always be a sacrifice favoring the majority. It is also possible that such a fit might exist in fascist or illiberal orders where significant numbers of society become agents of massacres or genocidal policies. If it is approvable to legitimize interventions only in cases of threat to personal security, then what prevents us from claiming that the same can be said for the rebellions?
Chapter 2 handles the question of prudential constraints on the use of mi- litary force comparing interventions and insurrections. Three basic constraints on the use of military force, namely “the existence of peaceful alternatives that have not been exhausted”, “the foreseen costs that exceed the potential benefits”, and “the probability of success in achieving objectives”, seem to put a higher threshold for interventions than insurrections. Proportionality prin- ciple which forces belligerents to evaluate actual and potential costs and bene- fits comprises numerous problems in an extremely wide scale. These are not only material or statistical indicators such as demographics, the structure and formation of armies, or the properties of military and communication tech- nology, but also changing perceptions and attitudes such as changing attitudes to war and life which make things at the end more complicated and difficult for a possible evaluation. In fact, proportionality and success principles are quite hard to be handled in an isolated fashion from each other which also determines the frequency of taking the decision to initiate an intervention or an insurrection. The problem carries us to the next level of “jus ad bellum” discussed in Chapter 3 where Dobos concludes that humanitarian interventi- ons fall short of meeting the higher requirements of the three aforementioned principles compared to insurrections reflecting very similar or even identical conditions. So, despite costing no more than an insurrection in a very similar or identical case and accomplishing no less, interventions rarely take place due to prudential constraints on the use of military force.
Asymmetries do not pose problems only when it comes to the use of military force, jus ad bellum, but also for the rules and norms applied while military force is used, jus in bello. Such asymmetrical problems are discussed in detail in Chapter 4 where Dobos points out that a higher level of professiona- lism and acting like a police force elicit higher expectations from intervening military forces in contrast to rebels. The former ones are presumed to have the knowledge, skills and expertise to enforce law while such an expectation would not be very reasonable for the rebels in an insurrection. On the other hand, that rebels share naturally more with civilians than foreigners intro- duces a contradictory factor on expectations. The moral, ethical or cultural distance as well as ‘real’ distance in spatial terms due to advanced technologies has the very potential of alienating the intervening soldier from the rebels and civilians. In Chapter 5, Dobos turns to the other side of the coin to discuss responsibilities of intervening state(s) to its own nationals. Even though taking a rigid stance against humanitarian intervention is not what Dobos aims at, he remains extremely precautious on the issue when national interests conflict with the prospect of an intervention. Chapter 6 is devoted to the problems arising from the selective approach of intervening forces. And here, the reader is perturbed by possible scenarios such as what would happen if there were more than one conflict-zone and the would-be intervening force was unable to take charge more than one, or would it delegitimize intervention if the in- tervening state was motivated entirely by interest-oriented motives. Finally, in Chapter 7, Dobos questions legitimacy of humanitarian interventions in absence of proper authorization in accordance with international law.
Though Dobos seems to take notions such as “national self-interest” or “states as main actors” as being fixed, stable or inflexible and thus disregards any potential of change regarding such notions, his work is inspiring for the developing interaction and cooperation between different disciplines of law, political science, international relations, philosophy, and even more. Accep- ting such notions as taken for granted, and bypassing their inter-subjective constructed nature, leads to reaching out for one-dimensional perceptions. Dobos tries to enrich his own perspective by including differing approaches of rebels, civilians, intervening forces, or constituents of intervening states. Still, his approach remains highly state-centric taking the state and its narrowly described national self-interest as primary determinants in explaining attitu- des towards intervention and insurrection. Besides Dobos does not hesitate to take a normative approach concerning how a state should decide and act in certain circumstances. Such an approach might be problematique in many respects particularly when the complex nature of relations between states and international/transnational institutions and organizations, or the ever-chan- ging understandings on interests, responsibilities and duties are taken into account. But one has to bear in mind that any contribution on interventions and insurrections is extremely valuable as it is highly challenging to handle such a topic which stands on many intersection points between various dis- ciplines and approaches. Dobos’s book, therefore, deserves more than plain appreciation especially in our current environment rifted with hot debates on intervention(s) in Arab countries experiencing insurrections under the famo- us epithet of “Arab Spring” and in a world divided on the meaning and effects of both theory and praxis of humanitarian intervention.