chapter  4
16 Pages

Southeast Asia’s points of convergence on international intervention

The extent to which actors in East Asia are prepared to translate into policy action whatever norms of human security they embrace is a matter of debate. This chapter focuses specifi cally on humanitarian intervention issues, and explores possibilities of policy collaboration between states and non-state actors in Southeast Asia. Let me make it clear from the outset that the concept remains highly contested, both in theory and in practice. If one were to plot certain points in post-Cold war history when the issue of humanitarian intervention has been re-examined, the period soon after the 1999 NATO-led attacks in Kosovo comes to mind. This was when the legality and legitimacy of military intervention were hotly debated in many parts of the world. The discourses that emerged were signifi cant in that these led to the shifts in the terms of the debate regarding defi ning the boundaries between humanitarian intervention (coercive military interference in the internal affairs of states) and differentiating it from the act of war (military confl ict between states). The NATO action typifi ed this conundrum. While NATO’s attacks on Kosovo had been considered to be ‘intervention’ into internal affairs to prevent massive human rights violations by Serbs against the Albanian minority, the direct attack on another state from outside looked very much like war. 1 Similar controversy was replayed a few years later with the American-led ‘war’ on Iraq in March 2003. Among the reasons cited for the military invasion was to protect the human rights of Iraqi citizens under the Saddam Hussein regime. Both acts raised the issue of whether the norm of sovereignty was being reformed, or whether a new norm of intervention was being established. 2

During this tumultuous period, then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan made several speeches on the evolving nature of humanitarian intervention that, in turn, added new elements to the debate. For example, at his 1999 speech at the UN General Assembly, Annan urged the international community to revisit the issue of humanitarian intervention in the light of the kinds of humanitarian crises that happened in Rwanda, Bosnia and Srebenica. A year later, in a signifi - cant speech delivered at a seminar organized by the International Peace Academy, he offered alternative ways to operationalize the contentious issue of humanitarian intervention by confi ning it to non-forcible actions. Notably, he declared that ‘The humanitarian among us are those whose work involves saving lives that are in imminent danger, and relieving suffering that is already acute’, but went on to

make the case for broadening the notion of intervention: ‘They are people who bring food to those threatened with starvation, or medical help to the injured, or shelter to those who have lost their homes, or comfort to those who have lost their loved ones.’ 3 The speech not only heightened the prevailing debate, but also brought in the salient aspect of broadening the concept of humanitarian intervention to include actions along a ‘wide continuum (of responses) from the most pacifi c to the most coercive’. 4 According to Michael Byers and Simon Chesterman, Annan’s attempts to broaden the defi nition of the concept of intervention were a way of shifting the debate away from a focus on NATO-type interventions carried out without the endorsement of the UN Security Council to highlight instead the true problems at the heart of the brewing controversy at that time – the lack of political will to act.