Taking Liberalism on Intervention Seriously: a 12-Step Program

by on 2013-05-28- 5 Comments

500px-Coalition_action_against_Libya.svgEditor's Note: This is a guest post by Tim Dunne. He is Research Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the University of Queensland and the past editor of the European Journal of International Relations. tl;dr warning: ~2400 words.

In a recent lively and provocative post, Stephen Walt argues that liberal imperialists are like ‘neocons’ only more human rights-friendly. They are alike in the sense that both ‘are eager proponents for using American hard power’. And combined, these two sets of protagonists have been responsible for bad foreign policy decisions ‘to intervene in Iraq or nation-build in Afghanistan, and today’s drumbeat to do the same in Syria’.

To help cleanse the US policy community of liberal imperialist tendencies, Walt offers ’10 warning signs that you are a Liberal Imperialist’. If you fail the test, as I did, then you have the option of (1) coming out as an interventionist (2) engaging in a form of realist immersion therapy by reading texts about why interventions fail. ‘And if that doesn’t work, maybe we need some sort of 12-step program’.

The question I want to pose is whether failing the test commits you to being a liberal imperialist? Or does the particular identity construction creak and crack under scrutiny, such that it is possible to adopt a liberal position on intervention that does not ascribe to the folly and naiveté that is attributed to it?

To help address this question I’m going to offer an alternative 12-step program that critics of liberal thinking on intervention may want to enroll in. My principle reasoning is that Walt’s ‘warning signs’ lump together – and obfuscate – critical debates and distinctions within liberalism, which is why many liberals opposed the 2003 Iraq War just as they oppose a military escalation in Syria today. Some even plausibly argue that Libya came dangerously close to an illiberal intervention on the grounds that the mandate of protecting civilians morphed into the goal of regime change. Yet what no liberal countenances is ‘another Rwanda’ in which the great powers (individually and collectively) failed to take the decisive action that was being called for by the UN force commander on the ground in Kigali. Avoiding the twin problems of indifference and recklessness has been the driver of the intervention agenda that the UN has embarked upon since the turn of the new century. And this agenda has been drive forward by the search for an effective capacity to respond to mass atrocities that is anti-imperialist. I develop this point in stages 9-11 of the recovery plan.
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Lessons from Syria…thus far…

by on 2012-09-06- 2 Comments

The violence in Syria is spiking. 1,600 killed in the past week and 100,000 new refugees in the past month. After a year-and-a-half of violence,
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R2P and the “Double-Standard Problem”

by on 2012-07-24- Leave a reply

Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer (writing at the Fair Observer) argues that there's no double-standard problem because the Libyan intervention did not establish or reflect a generalized
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NATO intervention in Syria Wouldn’t be Easy

by on 2012-07-17- Leave a reply

That's the takeaway from a new working paper by Brian Haggerty, a doctoral student at MIT. His conclusion:The United States and its NATO allies no
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Retrenchment & Liberal Internationalism don’t really Fit Together (2): R2P

by on 2012-02-07- Leave a reply

:Here is part one, where I argued that international relations as a field has become increasingly uncomfortable with the America’s post-Cold War hegemony and the
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Retrenchment & Liberal Internationalism don’t really Fit Together (1)

by on 2012-02-04- Leave a reply

Taking Brian Rathbun’s advice, I was reading chapter 4 of Perception and Misperception, when it struck me that Jervis’ argument about values incongruity could be
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Hobgoblins of a Little Mind

by on 2011-10-25- Leave a reply

The US does not negotiate with terrorist groups.*^*This statement does not yet apply to the Haqqani Network in Pakistan; even though its founder and senior leadership
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Qaddafi, Intervention and R2P

by on 2011-10-20- Leave a reply

I've been in the throes of finishing a book and other matters so I haven't had a chance to blog much lately. A couple of
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by on 2011-09-19- Leave a reply

The banner image of the ICRtoP (International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect) website  features a photo of seven boys under the protective gaze of
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Dan Drezner Denies Being a Cylon, Professes Love for Mainstream IR

by on 2011-04-05- Leave a reply

We also talk about Libya, R2P, Wikileaks, gender, and why Dan should give critical theory a second chance despite how they left things. I do
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Morality, R2P, the nature of conflict and the emerging “Obama Doctrine”

by on 2011-03-29- Leave a reply

There’s been some really interesting posts here on R2P in the last few days. At the risk of kicking a dead horse – although I
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Will R2P Survive?

by on 2011-03-25- 2 Comments

So here's a question: How do we evaluate whether or not a humanitarian intervention is successful? The obvious difficulty is that the intervention alters history
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Libya and the Responsibility to Protect

by on 2011-03-23- Leave a reply

I see there’s some naysaying about the use of force to protect civilians in Libya. Among various refrains is the claim that “Responsibility to Protect”
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