When Ratko Mladic was arrested it was as a weak, pathetic and exhausted creature. At sixty-eight years old, if the accused war criminal is (rightfully) convicted of the atrocities committed at Srebrenica, it will be not as the figure of pure evil who oversaw the murders of some thousand Bosnian Muslims, but rather as a tired old man with far too few years left to begin paying for his crimes. For this reason, it is easy to forget about the horrors of Srebrenica, or Zepa. About the tens of thousands of women raped, about the concentration camps and mass graves that were set up even as NATO air-strikes bombarded Serbian positions. By the time of the supposed “peace treaty” it was already too late: the casualties were catastrophic, with mass graves of men and women in the hundreds left outside of village after village. While the west wrung it’s hands, and “negotiated”, the war criminals took the time granted to them to continue a campaign of ethnic cleansing from which Bosnia has yet to recover.
If this were an isolated incident then perhaps a certain degree of wariness would be understandable, however if we look at the last two decades worth of war crimes a clear trend begins to emerge. Who can forget the eight hundred thousand in Rwanda, perhaps the best example of the old platitude “too little, too late”? Or the West’s past and continued feebleness in Sudan, and Zimbabwe? If there is one thing history has shown, it is that the gangsters and murderers and war criminals who carry out these campaigns will take any time given to them, and will trust in the meekness of the west and a multitude of stalling tactics to ensure that they can continue to murder, torture and rape until the international community is finally forced into action.
It is for this reason that we can match each of the massacres listed above with a corollary list of half measures, and partial solutions – their failures demonstrated conclusively by the overwhelming list of casualties in each and every one of the given situations. For those who favour humanitarian interventions in such situations, the label of “Hawk” or “War monger” is often one which is thrown readily by the supposed doves on the left. While I find the first term a little warm from use and the second to be a fairly ugly and unlettered attempt at an ad hominem, I admit readily that I embrace them both when used in this context. I am in favour of ground troops in Libya, as much as I am in favor of the dissolution of any genocidal despotism anywhere in the world. We’ve already seen what a “sustained air campaign” did for the people of Bosnia, and what the continued search for diplomatic solutions has done for countless men and women in unmarked graves worldwide. If ground intervention in Libya means preventing the brutal and demented head of the Gaddafi crime family from carrying out another Bosnia then so be it. I am willing to embrace the consequences of voicing and supporting such a position whatever they may be. Likewise, I expect the supposed doves to be held equally accountable for their inaction; to do nothing is to do something. It is to give Gaddafi and his ilk time, and to dangerously undermine any chance of displacement. If the Hawk is to be held accountable for what they do, then it is time the pacifist be held accountable for what they do not. Had they been listened to in Bosnia the death toll would have been much higher then it already is. The principle of non-violence is in and of itself a respectable one, but for those willing to hold such a position I sincerely hope they are also willing to accept its inherent costs. We have seen what non-intervention does in countless killing fields the world over, and if I had such a track record I would not be so certain I held the moral high ground.
But what if it gets worse some might say? Well then, I would welcome the chance to be informed. If anyone would like to suggest that intervention in Bosnia, or in Sudan or in Rwanda would have wielded worse results then the ethnic cleansing which took place there they are more than welcome to try to prove their case. I, for my part, am quite content making the assertion that the little intervention that was offered is all that kept these populations from being annihilated entirely. However, if for the sake of argument we want to avoid violence and the horrible cost of war wherever possible, and if we’ve learned the lesson of Iraq that revolution must come from within, then the half-measures we’re currently engaged in are not just ineffective but wasteful. With this meandering, lukewarm campaign we receive the worst of both worlds: violence, destruction and the murder of civilians with no possible hope of stopping the massacre occurring on the ground. It is a waste of money and resources, directed towards unclear goals which are almost certain to be missed. While there may be several downsides to a ground intervention, there is literally no benefit to be gleaned from the current NATO campaign short of reducing a good deal of Libya to rubble. Hawks and Doves alike should be unequivocally against such half measures as they accomplish none of the the goals of the former, while producing all of the waste and violence feared by the latter.
It is time we make up our mind on how we are going to handle Libya. If we fear the toll may be too great then let us admit to it and withdraw. It is a legitimate concern for those who place a priority on such things. However, if we’ve decided that we won’t give quarter to authoritarians and war criminals, then let us stop with this half-baked attempt at a solution and any talk of compromise. There is nothing desirable in compromise with these people, and it is not something that should be pursued for it’s own sake or any other. As members of the international community, and signatories of the 1948 Genocide convention, it is time that our nation began swinging it’s proper weight on the international stage, and living up to our commitment to prevent these crimes wherever possible. It is not only that we have signed these treaties, but that if we are truly to be a leader for positive change in the international community, then it begins by not cowing to those who would rather make the easy decision of doing nothing at all. Our nation has a long history of being a voice for the voiceless, and of offering defense to the defenseless, and it is time that we do so once again. We cannot allow vicious autocratic despots to execute and torture their own citizens with impunity, and I will do my part to ensure that these despots are fought both in print and in person wherever they may be found. I can only hope our country will remember it’s history well enough to do the same.