There’s a nice editorial in today’s Guardian that illustrates the centre-left’s support and hopes for the United Nations, as well as an understanding of the challenges it faces:
In Washington, the flame of Roosevelt and Truman burns low. Barack Obama and his UN Ambassador Susan Rice are too aware of the Republican opposition at home to make a powerful case at the UN. But Mr Obama seeks retrenchment, and an effective UN would help him achieve it. The emerging powers are jealous of their sovereignty and ambivalent about human rights. The challenge is to bind these powers into a progressive security council. Take Libya. Britain, America and France should never again elide the responsibility to protect populations with regime change. Brazil and India, among others, must also recognise that when a ruler declares war on his own people he forfeits sovereignty.
This would suggest that the centre-left / progressive position on the question of military intervention lies somewhere between regime change and non-intervention. It can countenance, in other words, a politically neutral humanitarian intervention. Sounds OK, but it leaves unanswered the question of what if to do the powers on the Security Council do not share this progressive position and favour non-intervention. Is unilateralism (or a coalition of the willing) in favour of intervention the next ‘obvious’ position to take, which of course is what Blair insisted in 2002? And even if there is a consensus at the Security Council can we ever hope to achieve a politically neutral humanitarian intervention. One of the lessons of the Bosnian and Rwandan tragedies was that massacres can take place under the noses of peacekeepers who cannot take sides because they are politically neutral. The response was a more discriminatory and muscular humanitarianism that did lead in some instances to regime change being seen an obvious centre-left policy. Yes, let’s take Libya. Had NATO limited itself to protecting the “safe haven” of Benghazi and had Gaddafi’s forces been beseiging it just as the Bosnian Serbs were in mid-90s Gorazde, Zepa and Srebrenica, would the centre-left press have been calling for a tougher policy? It’s difficult to judge.