Edward Herman Pt2: The development of humanitarian intervention as a concept is essentially an overthrow of international law
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you today from Penn Valley, Pennsylvania. We’re carrying on our discussion with Edward S Herman.
Edward is an American economist and media analyst with a specialty in corporate and regulatory issues, as well as the political economy and the media. He’s a professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania, and he co-authored Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky and recently The Politics of Genocide. Thanks for joining us again.
EDWARD S. HERMAN, ECONOMIST AND MEDIA ANALYST: Glad to be with you, Paul.
JAY: The whole way that military intervention by theâ€”mainly by the United Statesâ€”has been dressed up as humanitarian, liberating, but primarily, more recently, humanitarian, and there used to be, at least in international law, the concept of self-determination and non-interfering in another country’s internal affairsâ€”and not that I don’t know anybody really really followed it; at least it was a norm that was supposed to be followed. And that seems to have disappeared now with this idea that if you can get enough countries on board and say there’s a humanitarian crisis, you can’t intervene. This became a very important issue for you. So why, and speak about it.
HERMAN: Well, because the interventions were so outrageous. And I’ve been driven to quite an extent in my long career as a writer by outrage. I mean, there have been so many outrages. And the humanitarian intervention era is a new era of outrages. As a matter of fact, the development of humanitarian intervention as a concept is actually essentially an overthrow of international law. The UN Charter, that system was designed to protect sovereign states against aggression. If you look at the charter, it’s really a charter outlawing international aggression. So along comes humanitarian intervention, and that’s actually a cover for de facto aggression.
JAY: I mean, to some extent this came out of the Nuremberg trials, did it not,â€”
HERMAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Absolutely.
JAY: â€”the idea that the highest crime is war againstâ€”.
HERMAN: Yes. Yes. Yeah. And I’ve always quoted Robert Jackson where he describes aggression asâ€”and the Nuremberg laws, the Nuremberg trial findings mention aggression as the main crime, with war crimes kind of following on in derivative from that fundamental crime.
JAY: Okay, now, just one moment. For any of the younger people watching this interview, if you don’t know what the Nuremberg trials are, you’d better hit pause right now and get on Wikipedia and go read what the Nuremberg trials are, because these are the trials that took place after the Second World War where the leaders of the Nazi Party were put on trial for crimes against humanity andâ€”.
HERMAN: And the crime of aggression.
JAY: Which is what led to this idea that you don’t interfere in other countries.
HERMAN: Yes, yes, yeah. And here, when United States wants to go after Yugoslavia, it built up a whole arsenal of claims about the crimes being committed by the Yugoslav government against the various peoples of Yugoslavia. So we therefore have to go in and bomb as part of a humanitarian operation.
And, of course, also the responsibility to protectâ€”the R2P doctrineâ€”came into play in this same time horizon: we have a responsibility to protect those poor civilians in countries where their leaders are doing damage to them. This gives right to engage in what might be aggression if it’s just a cover.
I mean, and, in fact, under the modern propaganda systems, it’s extremely easy to find ethnic groups in practically any country that are engaging in an uprising. You can actually subsidize them and encourage them. And, in fact, in the case of Yugoslavia, it’s well-established fact, for example, that in Kosovo the CIA was in Kosovo actually training and encouraging the Kosovo Albanians that they should do something, and we were going to come and help them. Same thing was true of the Bosnian Muslims.
Weâ€”actually, in the Bosnian case, culminating of course in the Srebrenica massacre and the Dayton Accords, in that case, actually, all the parties had agreed to a settlement, the so-called Lisbon Agreement, back in 1992, and the Bosnian Muslim head withdrew, with advice from the U.S. ambassador saying maybe he could do better. So here you had a settlement that would have prevented the serious ethnic cleansing, mutual ethnic cleansing that followed and the Srebrenica massacre. It was sabotaged.
JAY: This is supposed to be a fundamental principle, not to interfere.
JAY: Then why even get into the ins and outs of whether the U.S. instigated this or didn’t instigate that or whether this crime is committed or not committed? ‘Cause when I look at the debate about this, a lot of it winds up digging into did they really commit such crimes (meaning the Serbian government, or if you want, the Libyans or whoever) or didn’t they? Whereas if the issue’s an issue of principle, then is the issue that it doesn’t matter whether they did or they didn’t, external players should just stay the hell out? Can you ever imagine a situationâ€”I mean, let’s say there was an uprising in Saudi Arabia and the Saudis started slaughteringâ€”in other words, a pro-American government started slaughtering its peoples. Is there a situation there where you would have some kind of responsibility to protect? Or is it simply you say everyone stays out no matter what?
HERMAN: Well, I’m against it, that kind of intervention, altogether, because it’s so easily abused and because it falls so easily, as it has been. It and humanitarian intervention have both been used strictly for the interests of the United States and other Western powers and Israel. Strictly. So there’s no intervention in Saudi Arabia or Israel or Yemen or Bahrain. There was none in Egypt
JAY: Well, there was intervention in Bahrain on the side of the government [crosstalk]
HERMAN: Yes, yes, that’s right. Well, that was the Saudis, actually, the Saudis. The United States and the UN never came in. And there wasâ€”but Egypt isâ€”here you had a miserable dictator for decades, and then you had an uprising where a lot of people were being beaten and killed in the streets, and you never had Mrs. Clinton ever asking for any application of humanitarian intervention. Not once. Never. They’re getting away with the most unbelievable double standard imaginable. They’re using the principles, the UN principles, nonintervention in sovereign states. But we now have this phony humanitarian cover of responsibility to protect that covers over the desire to violate the UN Charter, which we have been doing on a fairly systematic basis. And this was also true in the Libyan case. They even got the International Criminal Court [incompr.] to rush in to declare: we need the responsibility to protect those Libyan civilians. And we’ve done it almost overnight, overnight, which shows the function of the UN and the ICC these days.
JAY: And we see Qatar and Saudi Arabia calling for the same thing now in Syria.
HERMAN: Yeah. Oh, yes. And they’re intervening pretty fairly heavily in Syria. But in this case, Russia and China, Russia’sâ€”has drawn line, and the Syrian government is more powerful and capable of resisting then the Libyan government.
JAY: And we never saw the Americans using responsibility to protect with the Chechens and Russia,â€”
JAY: â€”whichâ€”it’s all geopolitics: when it’s in your interest, you bring up that card, and when it’s not, you don’t.
HERMAN: No, absolutely. And the lack of principle involved, the lack ofâ€”as you say, there is a principle, a UN principle, that’s been overridden by this allegedly higher principle of the responsibility to protect civilians who are victimized by their government, so that we have to go in. And we did this in Libya. And a good chunk of the left fell for this, too, that we have the responsibilityâ€”. I raiseâ€”we raised the questionâ€”I have raised the question, in the case of Libya, well, do you want to leave this in the hands of the United States, whoâ€”it’s engaging in drone warfare all over the world, has declared the whole world a free-fire zone, engaged in the most monstrous aggression in Iraq, and it’s got away withâ€”you want this imperial power to do the job in Libya on this incredibly selective basis? Isn’t that a bad principle in itself, to let themâ€”to do it and then to let them do it, and to have faith that they’re going to do it, not engage in regime change, which they’ve been obviously pursuing? I mean, the naivete behind supporting that isâ€”again, it’s breathtaking.
JAY: We’ll go further in the next segment of our interview series. So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Edward S. Herman on The Real News Network.
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