Non-intervention Versus R2P

In Jean Bricmont’s Counterpunch article of December 4th:

Beware the Anti-Anti-War Left

he makes a clear and impassioned case for his conviction that armed interventions by Western powers and NATO, justified by the principle of “responsibility to protect” (R2P,, should be uniformly opposed by leftists (and preferably everybody).

Bricmont argues that all such military interventions ultimately advance the geo-political aims of the United States, because it is the leading power in both the United Nations and NATO. In this view, “humanitarian interventions” are always excuses for advancements of US-led Western imperialism, by military force.

To uniformly oppose such military interventions is to believe that preventing the advance of US (primarily) geo-political aims by military means is always preferable to preventing the course of events from playing out in states undergoing violent social and political turmoil. The only forms of intervention acceptable to this strict non-interference point of view would be diplomacy according to international law, and real humanitarian assistance by non-governmental agencies, as possible. Bricmont writes:

“We should demand of our governments the strict respect for international law, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and cooperation instead of confrontation. Non-interference means not only military non-intervention. It applies also to diplomatic and economic actions: no unilateral sanctions, no threats during negotiations, and equal treatment of all States.”

The other point of view on this question is the belief that in certain cases it is preferable to prevent the likely course of events from playing out, even if it means that the Western powers and NATO (led by the United States) may also gain some geo-political advantages as a result of the military intervention. This point of view would have to believe that the blood to be shed during the prosecution of a military intervention would likely be of lesser magnitude than would be the case without the intervention, and that those killed or injured by interventionists would predominantly be combatants or perpetrators of war crimes, rather than innocent civilians.

Everything depends on vague judgments in the interventionist view: “in certain cases,” which ones?; “geo-political advantages,” exactly what?; bloodshed of “likely lesser magnitude,” how to estimate?, and how to know what might have been if unhindered? There are no such uncertainties in the non-interventionist view.

A great deal of emotion is expended by the opponents in the intervention versus non-intervention debate, and historical examples are dissected, interpreted, re-interpreted and tossed back and forth, for example:

— German, Italian, Soviet and anti-fascist volunteer interventions in Spain 1936-1939,

— Western non-intervention in Hungary 1956,

— India’s intervention in the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971,

— Vietnam invades Cambodia in 1978 and removes the Khmer Rouge from power,

— Cuban interventions in Angola 1975-1991,

— non-intervention (“failed intervention”) in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994,

— British intervention in 2000 to save the UN intervention in the Sierra Leone Civil War,

— France’s intervention in the Côte d’Ivoire since 2002,

— the UN and NATO interventions in the Yugoslav Wars 1991-1999, and

— Libya 2011.

I find it interesting that Bricmont sees most leftists in Europe as being interventionist, I find just the opposite here in the United States. Certainly, among people who otherwise identify as leftists there exists a divide on the question of non-intervention a.k.a. responsibility to protect. I am not going to argue the question one way or the other here.

Obviously, it is a matter of judgment between accepting either a militarily gained geo-political advance for the interventionists (maybe) or the likely commission of a mass atrocity crime. As people are different, they will weigh the specifics and potentialities of any situation differently, so they will arrive at differing judgments.

The fact of this difference of opinion within the leftist political orientation led me to question what the definition of a leftist was, and from that I wondered how any political orientation could be accurately classified, since all the labels commonly used (e.g., “conservative,” “liberal,” “socialist,” “progressive”) often seem vague or inaccurate. As a result, I invented a system for classifying political orientations, and this helped me to understand political differences such as the (very uneven) interventionist versus non-interventionist split among leftists, along with other cloudy political formations. My article on that is:

Left Conservatives Under Right Progressives
3 December 2012

While I happen to agree with the application of the R2P principle in some cases (like Libya), my article aims to identify the general types of political orientations, not to advocate for any one in particular. In the language of my article, I see Bricmont as a democratic socialist conservative ideologue, while my own preference is democratic socialist progressive pragmatism.

Bricmont’s non-interventionist conviction is very deep, and it reflects his judgments and values. His very clear and extensive presentation of this conviction, in Counterpunch, helps those who share it to articulate their own agreement to it within their social circles, and it challenges those of different view to be clear about why they see the matter differently.

Like Bricmont, I am clear about my convictions, in my case in favor of R2P, and I did my best to present my view in articles on Libya that were rather difficult to get published in leftist Internet journals in 2011 (that story in

I find that arguments between people of opposing convictions are pointless, but that identifying the sources of those conflicting convictions can be quite enlightening.