Recently, I published an article on PolicyMic entitled "Kazakhstan, Libya, and the Double Standards of Western 'Humanitarian' Intervention." It argued that it was hypocritical of the West to use human rights as a reason to intervene in other countries when it is so clearly dismissive of those rights elsewhere in the world. Comments on the piece were largely critical, and as the different commentators mostly raised the same points, I’ve decided to address them together rather than piece-meal in the comments section of the original article.
The first point raised was “Kazakhstan is much more remote than Libya, and borders Russia, so how can you expect a humanitarian intervention to take place there?”
This is a reasonable question and I can’t say that it never crossed my mind while I was writing the article. However, in response, I would ask readers to take a moment to imagine if Kazakhstan’s recent crimes had taken place 25 or 30 years ago, when Kazakhstan was still a part of the Soviet Union. Intervention, for the reasons mentioned in the comments on my article (and others besides), would still be impossible. However the Western response would likely not be to shrug and gently chide Kazakhstan, as happened last month. The massacre would be publicized as evidence of the immutable Stalinist evil of the Soviet Union, a reason to break off détente, another argument for the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. It would, at the very least, see far more publicity than Kazakhstan has.
The West, even if it were mostly powerless to affect conditions in Soviet Kazakhstan, would protest vehemently. However, it would do this at the same time it was supporting the repressive regimes of Pakistan, Indonesia, Chile, and Egypt, among many others. It would do this at the same time it funded the Contra death squads of Central America and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. I would think that the hypocrisy in this position is obvious.
The second criticism raised was that “It is impossible for the West to intervene everywhere all the time, so you should be thankful that they manage to take action when they can.”
The problem with this argument is that it presupposes several things, first that the West cares about human rights at all, which is sadly not borne out by the record. If human rights were a concern, immeasurable good could be accomplished easily, not through intervention, but merely by ending the support given by the West to dictators around the world.
However this is politically impossible. The West fears democracy in the third world, since it often leads to people like Hugo Chavez being elected, leaders who have the temerity to announce that the wealth of their countries will be used to help the people of that country, rather than funneled out of the country by foreign banks and other corporations.
So in practice, the West supports dictators and sponsors coups as a safeguard against this sort of popular democracy. This is obvious if we look at the history of Iran, where a democratically elected leader was deposed after attempting to nationalize foreign oil companies, or if we look at what happened to Allende in Chile, or Arbenz in Guatemala or many, many others, from Pakistan to Guiana.
Secondly, when the West does intervene directly, when it eschews the use of local allies like Pinochet, Suharto, or the Shah, its actions are hardly better than those of its proxies. In the name of humanitarian intervention, the West imposes collective punishment on the civilian population of enemy states. We have seen this in Serbia, Iraq, and recently in Libya. Claims of humanitarian motivation are somewhat undercut by a strategy of war that seems to focus on destroying power plants, sewage treatment centers, and factories. In addition to the methods of Western intervention, even the weapons used sharply undermine any claims of benevolence. In Iraq, subject to nearly two decades of bombardment by the United States, the use of depleted uranium weapons is likely behind the considerable increase in cancers and birth defects found among Iraqis.
My article was not intended to be a feasibility study on regime change in Kazakhstan, it was intended to show the hypocrisy of governments that claim human rights as a priority and as a mandate for intervention in other states while they support egregious violations of human rights elsewhere in the world.
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