Is there no more hope for US intervention in Burma?

Is there no more hope for US intervention in Burma?

New York Times


Madeleine K. Albright was the United States secretary of state from 1997 to 2001.

THE Burmese government’s criminally neglectful response to last month’s cyclone, and the world’s response to that response, illustrate three grim realities today: totalitarian governments are alive and well; their neighbors are reluctant to pressure them to change; and the notion of national sovereignty as sacred is gaining ground, helped in no small part by the disastrous results of the American invasion of Iraq. Indeed, many of the world’s necessary interventions in the decade before the invasion — in places like Haiti and the Balkans — would seem impossible in today’s climate.

The first and most obvious reality is the survival of totalitarian government in an age of global communications and democratic progress. Myanmar’s military junta employs the same set of tools used by the likes of Stalin to crush dissent and monitor the lives of citizens. The needs of the victims of Cyclone Nargis mean nothing to a regime focused solely on preserving its own authority.

Second is the unwillingness of Myanmar’s neighbors to use their collective leverage on behalf of change. A decade ago, when Myanmar was allowed to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I was assured by leaders in the region that they would push the junta to open its economy and move in the direction of democracy. With a few honorable exceptions, this hasn’t happened.

A third reality is that the concept of national sovereignty as an inviolable and overriding principle of global law is once again gaining ground. Many diplomats and foreign policy experts had hoped that the fall of the Berlin Wall would lead to the creation of an integrated world system free from spheres of influence, in which the wounds created by colonial and cold war empires would heal.

In such a world, the international community would recognize a responsibility to override sovereignty in emergency situations — to prevent ethnic cleansing or genocide, arrest war criminals, restore democracy or provide disaster relief when national governments were either unable or unwilling to do so.

During the 1990s, certain precedents were created. The administration of George H. W. Bush intervened to prevent famine in Somalia and to aid Kurds in northern Iraq; the Clinton administration returned an elected leader to power in Haiti; NATO ended the war in Bosnia and stopped Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of terror in Kosovo; the British halted a civil war in Sierra Leone; and the United Nations authorized life-saving missions in East Timor and elsewhere.

These actions were not steps toward a world government. They did reflect the view that the international system exists to advance certain core values, including development, justice and respect for human rights. In this view, sovereignty is still a central consideration, but cases may arise in which there is a responsibility to intervene — through sanctions or, in extreme cases, by force — to save lives.

The Bush administration’s decision to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11 did nothing to weaken this view because it was clearly motivated by self-defense. The invasion of Iraq, with the administration’s grandiose rhetoric about pre-emption, was another matter, however. It generated a negative reaction that has weakened support for cross-border interventions even for worthy purposes. Governments, especially in the developing world, are now determined to preserve the principle of sovereignty, even when the human costs of doing so are high.

Thus, Myanmar’s leaders have been shielded from the repercussions of their outrageous actions. Sudan has been able to dictate the terms of multinational operations inside Darfur. The government of Zimbabwe may yet succeed in stealing a presidential election.

Political leaders in Pakistan have told the Bush administration to back off, despite the growth of Al Qaeda and Taliban cells in the country’s wild northwest. African leaders (understandably perhaps) have said no to the creation of a regional American military command. And despite recent efforts to enshrine the doctrine of a “responsibility to protect” in international law, the concept of humanitarian intervention has lost momentum.

The global conscience is not asleep, but after the turbulence of recent years, it is profoundly confused. Some governments will oppose any exceptions to the principle of sovereignty because they fear criticism of their own policies. Others will defend the sanctity of sovereignty unless and until they again have confidence in the judgment of those proposing exceptions.

At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. Is it just a collection of legal nuts and bolts cobbled together by governments to protect governments? Or is it a living framework of rules intended to make the world a more humane place?

We know how the government of Myanmar would answer that question, but what we need to listen to is the voice — and cry — of the Burmese people.

All Comments – Oldest First

1. June 11th, 2008
I believe that the non intervention we see today is temporary, a direct result of the Iraq debacle. A new administration in the U.S. will have a new look on this issue, and will move to interfere in cases similar to Burma or Zimbabwe. What we see today is a fatigue of an administration, that overextended its reach.

— D.Jakubowicz, herzlia, israel

2. June 11th, 2008
Your heart is in the right place, Ms. Albright, but I remain unconvinced. You are vague about who is supposed to be taking the initiative concerning Myanmar? Isn’t this what the U.N. was created to deal with? Isn’t the U.N. what you refer to as ‘the international system’? I believe its Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, entered Myanmar and supposedly got its thuggish dictators to allow more foreign aid to flow in. It didn’t seem to do much good. So what do you propose next? I think the American people are understandably shy about using our stretched military might to effect a change in Myanmar. The Monroe Doctrine of no foreign entanglements looks quite attractive at times like these. Your frustration is understandable, but your lack of specifics is telling.

— Rob L, N Myrtle Beach, SC

3. June 11th, 2008
Madeline Albright’s perceptive article is right-on. Nevertheless I am of the view that based on geo-poltical reasons and regardless of whether the 2003 Iraq war had happened or not,regardless of which Party controls the US Presidency and who is the President one is willing to bet, tens of thousand of dollars against one, that the United States will NOT repeat NOT intervene in Burma at least not in the mode it had intervened in Iraq (2003), Afghanistan (2001), Grenada (1983), Nicaragua (against the Sandanistas, 1980s), Cuba (Bay of Pigs, 1961), Vietnam (1959-1973), Iran (overthrow of Mossadeq, 1953) and even in the form some have accused the CIA to have intervened or played a role in the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by Australia’s Governor-General in 1975. And in all of these cases the various forms of the interventions by the United States or subversions of legitimate governments like that of Mossadeq in Iran and arguable subversion of the Whitlam government in Australia have done more damage to the peoples than ‘salvage’ their situation. I would add here that I do NOT even think of morally equating the legitimate governments of Mossadeq in Iran and Whitlam in Australia which are almost ‘angelic’ in comparison with the abominable Burmese regime but rest assured that the United States will NOT subvert – despite Burmese regime’s paranoid accusations and at least to the degree that it had done,in Iran, in 1953- the Burmese government, far less any form of military intervention.

Just as the 2003 Iraq war intensfied rather than ‘curbed’ terrorism in Iraq and other places it is true as Dr. Albright argues that the very small cracks that were just beginning to appear in the absolute ‘armour’ of ‘sovereignty’ has disappeared and the absolutists reign supreme again in the international scene- (no) thanks to George W. Bush’s Iraq misadventure.

— independent thinker, Malaysia

4.June 11th, 2008
Excellent article, well reasoned and written by a true diplomate that understands the reasons for quashing reckless adventurism and misplaced ideologies. It’s a shame she no longer does our countries business. She is missed.

— p. buckman, monterey,ca

5. June 11th, 2008 8:05 amLink
I’m curious why Secretary Albright made no mention of her diplomatic efforts during the crisis in Rwanda. The genocide there was a prime example of a time when concerned governments in the world needed to intervene, and yet not only did the US Not work to intervene, some of the US diplomatic communities efforts (for example, debates in the UN surrounding the use of US military equipment) held up the efforts of those that did want to work to prevent more awful suffering in Rwanda.

— Becky, Washington DC

June 11th, 2008 8:05 amLink
A few thoughts:

First, I was surprised that Secretary Albright did not explicitly mention the Sudan nor Zimbabwe in her piece, even as she acknowledged African nations’ reluctance to permit an American military presence.

Second, the question “who watches the watchers?” was also brought to mind. Under Mr Bush, our own country’s participation in illegal and immoral acts has reached dizzying heights, and yet who in the world community (as an individual nation or collectivity) has been willing or able to intervene? Apart from editorials in foreign and some domestic newspapers condemning torture, secret prisons and prison ships, shady arms deals, war profiteering (the list seems almost endless), there have been no sanctions levied, no real penalties imposed on our country nor its lawbreaking leaders (at least not yet). It is the height of hypocrisy and presumption to take on the task of policing the world when we are in such desperate need of policing ourselves. (And yet, and yet….)

Finally, as I read Secretary Albright’s piece in juxtaposition with the news of the day, specifically that of the disastrous flooding in the Midwest, I note a curious lack of federal intervention. Mr. Bush has stayed in Europe for his “farewell tour,” midwestern National Guard units remain deployed in Iraq rather than being on hand to help their affected states, and some commentators have already raised the specter of “another New Orleans.”

Secretary Albright observes that the Myanmar junta’s indifference and inaction stems from its desire to preserve itself at all costs. By contrast, the Bush administration’s indifference and inaction seems to stem from its adoption of Grover Nordquist’s philosophy of “drowning government in a bathtub.” Unfortunately, the end results are the same where the Burmese and American peoples (and even the world at large) are concerned: needless death and destruction.

— mofembot, France

June 11th, 2008 8:06 amLink
Mrs. Albright makes a compelling case for an integrated, international system that gives human rights the unparalleled attention it deserves, but her words are too little, too late. In citing the “precedents” of the 1990’s–from our aborted efforts in Somalia to our reluctant bombing of Serb forces–Albright neglects to mention the disgrace of Rwanda, where Hutu Power extremists led a campaign of slaughter against ethnic Tutsis that killed 800,000 in 100 days. During that time, Clinton administration officials from Warren Christopher to Christine Shelley claimed repeatedly that while “acts of genocide” were being committed, they could not offer judgment as to whether or not the mass murder (by machete) of Tutsis was actually genocide. Not only did the Clinton administration refuse to commit troops to stop the handful of Hutu Power extremists leading the killing, it lobbied the UN to withdraw its 2,500 peacekeepers so that the U.S. would not lose face on the international stage for being a bystander to genocide. Our policy toward humanitarian efforts by the UN–the international order that Albright claims to champion here–was, in effect, one of active sabotage.
Unfortunately, our reluctance in Rwanda was only one example of a persistent trend that scholars like Samantha Power have mapped out in dismaying detail. The U.S., arguably the one nation best equipped to lead and move members of the UN, NATO, ICC, and other international bodies, has tended to ignore humanitarian crises in favor of domestic or strategic interests. In Bosnia, for example, Clinton allowed some 200,000 Bosnian Muslims to be exterminated from 1992-1995 before finally acceding to 1) domestic pressure led by a contingent of NGO’s, media outlets, and concerned, if not apolitical officials like Bob Dole 2) fears that the entire NATO alliance would collapse. In some instances, the U.S. has done more than idle on the sidelines; in Indonesia, the U.S. maintained close economic ties with Suharto even as he slaughtered upwards of 200,000 in his 1975 invasion of East Timor. Again, domestic economic
The bloody history of US apathy toward and sabotage of humanitarian efforts should not dissuade us from creating the sort of integrated world order that Albright favors here. But it should alert us to the kind of motivations that persuade nations to value sovereignty above humanitarian concerns, as well as the rationale that allows democratic, Western nations to stand by and do nothing. Burma is just one more disquieting example–because oil-hungy China shields the junta with its veto in the UN Security Council, and the U.S. is at the mercy of its economic ties to the Asian giant, there’s little, if anything Western nations can do until they are prepared to put a higher premium on human life than they are on strategic interests and material profit.

— Raymond Lu, San Jose, CA

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
This article was a terrific read.

It greatly depends on the situation. I believe the international system lends itself to being both: legal nuts and bolts as well as a living framework. The sovereign nations of the world aren’t all the same and certainly don’t all get along together. Obviously, there are several positive, peaceful and humanitarian acts the international system has achieved and, unfortunately, there are several others it has failed to do. The international system truly has a ways to go before all the kinks get worked out so it can be a living framework all the time.

One thing is certain in my mind about how the world generally works: status quo. Another way of saying it is “don’t rock the boat.” There are countless times in recent history where the U.S. intervened, or didn’t intervene, and was blamed for doing either and/or both despite our intentions being noble. Sometimes the nay sayers were wrong (Myanmar) and sometimes they were right (Iraq). The general feeling of the nay sayers was for us to simply “back off” every time. They wanted the U.S. to let [insert sovereign nation here] figure it out and take care of itself. Again, sometimes they were right, sometimes there wrong.

So, does this mean the U.S. should simply stay in it’s little corner of the world and not get involved with the affairs of the world?

No, not by a long shot. If the world is to ever attain peace, all nations need to work together. I know this notion is laughable because it has been messed up many times already and seems impossible. Regardless, I say world peace through a working international system is much more desirable than letting injustice and crimes against humanity go unchecked, unchallenged. The nay sayers need to abandon their armchair politics by moving beyond their intellectual comfort zone and thinking in a more humanitarian fashion on a more global scale.

— Irischermann, Philadelphia

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
Governments are creatures of human conception. They derive their powers from the actions of the people whom they are created to govern. Not all peoples will make the same choices in governments. The universal basic rule for appropriate functioning of government, the fundamental principal which is worthy and capable of a universal guarantee, is the right of the governed to freely choose the government which will rule them. It is at this point that influences outside any individual government can most legitimately interfere.

— PMM, Michigan

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
Painful as the truth expressed is, it is a pleasure to read the erudite prose of the writer, which goes straight to the heart. However, the point I wish to make is that the global conscience, while being very much alive, is not as confused as it is selective in being aroused. The author herself hasn’t spent a word in the op-ed on the plight of the Tibetans or the tragedy of Tiananmen Square. Totalitarian regimes come in different avatars and their actions are viewed by their neighbours and others from a nationalistic rather than a humanistic perspective. This is the sad truth and it is a moot point whether this can or will change.

— sanghamitra, India

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
OK… then lets assume that the world community had decided to intervene following Katrina…..

— the_munz, sydney

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
We let these totalitarian regimes continue because it is in the financial self interest of the international corporations. Its easier and more profitable for them to deal with a despotic regime than an open democracy…and for the last 7 years those multinationals have been behind the Republican agenda to reduce the power of the citizens and give it to the corporations.

— Moto Photo Mark, Nyack, NY

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
Ms. Albright makes a good point in saying that the invasion of Iraq has caused a backlash against intervention. However the examples she uses of humane intervention, where the “British ended the war in Sierra Leone”, for example is too simplistic. The intervention by the British and Ecowas may have actually prolonged the war and enabled government soldiers (backed by the international community) to execute many more people. I think the question is how to intervene effectively, taking into account the complexities of these situations.

— alsector, Guinea

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
The US needs to seize this rare opportunity to effectively withdraw from world affairs and slam the door SHUT on globalization. Instead of focusing upon issues in countries where we are not wanted, we should be shifting the focus to rebuilding OUR economy and fixing OUR own problems. Is the mess from Katrina cleaned up yet in New Orleans? Do we not have flooding of our own right now? Do we not have a substantial amount of our own population in need? The best place for “intervention” is right here in our own backyard, not elsewhere!

— Bob Brinkman, RI

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
This article is rich coming from a former Secretary of State who as history shows did not exibit the most dynamic approach on the issue of intervention when she was in charge of US foreign policy.

— Thomas Adam, Budapest, Hungary

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
This is a reasonable and refreshing assesment of the international community as it stands. The competition between state sovereignty and international standards is nothing new. In many ways, the battles fought in the international community are analogous to the issues we’ve faced in the US in terms of Federalism and the issues surrounding state vs federal law.

Personally, I think it’s time for the international community to realize that in a world interconnected by markets, communication, transportation, etc. we are going to require some real means of enforcing “international consensus”. That said, the way we define international consensus and standards needs to take into account the different interests involved. The relative importance of development and human rights are not the same everywhere. Nor should they be.

While it is very “compassionate” to demand things like advanced workers rights, etc., somethimes, this may acutally be to the detriment of the people who are in need.

One of the issues is that there is a lot of moralism and moralizing involved in a process where individual states’ morality is always rather ambiguous. Add to that the fact that certain cases draw attention while others are let pass. This inevitably leads to questions of why? Why me/them? Why not me/them? Which leads to resentment and weak consensus and weak enforcement.

Personally, I think the complications can be mitigated, in part, by extending the level of participation. This may lead to different objectives, but such broadening of responsibilty to other states (which would truly reflect the present changes) would not only give people a stake in the succesful outcome, it would help the international community move with purpose.

— Charles, London

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
Thanks Madeleine Allbright, not only for helping pinpoint why I’m feeling so helpless these days in the face of ongoing traumas like these in Myanmar and other disaster zones (Darfur, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, even Tibet) but also for all your huge contribution over the years. Your insight and plain speaking have been sadly missed. Regards – ILMA.

— ilma, Sydney

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
Thank you, Ms. Albright for commenting on the balance between sovereignty and international intervention. We certainly need a set of international agreements as to what are basic human rights and sovereign nations. All current governments must be represented in these agreements. It cannot be the agreements of only the popular and powerful countries.

That being said, it is my opinion that true national sovereignty only exists when a core of universal human rights exists for all a nation’s citizens. Anything less than this constitutes not sovereignty but coercion by individual personalities over the lives of a population. Governments that are not elected or supported by the people are not true governments and thus do not represent sovereign nations. They are, therefore, valid targets for international intervention.

The need for international agreement on the definition of human rights and agreement on every nation’s responsibility to act to protect these rights, are at the core of the question of sovereignty. If there is not a clear, valid and universal policy in place, then politics intervene (remember our delay in helping Rwanda by avoidance of the word “genocide”?) and innocent humans suffer from lack of or inappropriate intervention.

— nikkidr, michigan

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
Perhaps Dr. Albright could have acknowledged the “inhumanitarian nonintervention” in Rwanda in 1994, at exactly the same time the US used its leverage to intervene in Haiti. True, Western states seemed more willing to intervene in the 1990s, before the Iraq crisis, but it cuts both ways: it may be that Western states are also unwilling, as with Rwanda, to intervene. Certainly it is not just Chinese protection of Sudan that precludes a more robust response to the Darfur.

— amf, Calgary

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
The global conscience is dead. Not a single word about those women and children who are dying in Gaza because of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade!

— Zaher, Riyad

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
While we are rightfully dismayed at the response of the Burmese government to the tragedy suffered by their own people, lets not forget our own government’s response to the tragedy of Katrina was woefully insufficient.

Factor in the different levels of logistic and economic resources between our two countries, and the outrage at the lack of human decency by the Burmese officials starts looking almost like a double-standard.

— Julio A. Cartaya, Barcelona, Spain

June 11th, 2008 8:14 amLink
You have mentioned four emergency situations where international community can override national sovereignty: ethnic cleansing or genocide, arresting war criminals, restoring democracy and providing disaster relief.

I believe the other three situations are linked to the fourth situation of “restoring democracy”. Thus a dictatorial government is usually responsible for genocide, ignoring disaster relief and sheltering war criminals. NOW, as the events in Iraq have clearly shown, restoring democracy is not an easy task and can take a very long time. But providing disaster relief and stopping genocide can’t wait.

So, let us for the time being forget about restoring democracy. Let’s make prevention of genocide and disaster management a mandate of the United Nations. All the members of the Security Council should agree to develop a comprehensive system to provide disaster management and stop genocide. We will need money and personnel to provide disaster management and military intervention by United Nations Security Council to stop genocide. Restoration of democracy may continue but active UN intervention in providing disaster management and stopping genocide will make this world a better place to live in.

— Chaitanya Vardhan, India

June 11th, 2008 8:18 amLink
I can’t say if the end of intervention has come. That’s the future. And predicting that is always iffy. But some things ended in the past seven years and those need to be remembered.

What ended was the understanding that intervention requires a strong consensus, a clear moral commitment and painstaking leadership. These were the ingredients brought by our presidents (and therefore by we Americans,) after Saddam invaded Kuwait and when action was taken in Bosnia. But all three were abandoned by the current administration.

International accord was never there so what could be cobbled together was relabeled, “The Coalition of the Willing.” And don’t forget, we had to pay many of the “Willing” to fight with us. While Saddam was certainly a tyrant, our intent was never clear other than to overthrow his regime. And the leadership in the buildup and execution of this misadventure has been partisan, divisive, and reactive.

America became the elephant to the mice. We decided Iraq had to be undone. We did it with recklessness that could arguably be called criminal.

So is it now surprising other nations watch as the dollar slides and the cost of oil gushes upward? Are you shocked no one rushes in to help stabilize our economy? Is it any wonder nations look to protect themselves against a government which believes war prevents war and brings death by the thousands after the war is declared won?

Americans chose dreadful leaders in the White House and in Congress. By doing so, we squandered our world leadership morally and fiscally. It will take time and careful stewardship of the presidency to show we deserve it once again.

— kcbob, Kansas City, MO

June 11th, 2008 8:18 amLink
There is an authoritarian or “autocratic” (as Robert Kagan puts it) reaction in progress worldwide. It has an extraordinarily vicious side. Not only the Burmese and North Korean but the Chinese and many other governments are in effect implying that a sovereign government possesses a right to let citizens die in huge numbers. A right to murder them in huge numbers is implied as well: a right to commit politicide or genocide. Readers may wish to reject the latter suggestion as an exaggeration or even as absurd, but consider.
Our European allies are never going to argue for any such right; but apparently they are willing to countenance that right precisely, if the alternative to mass dying or killing is to agree to an American intervention. I happened to be in England for a wedding in 1999 when Bill Clinton and Ms. Albright were bombing Yugoslavia. I encountered intense hostility to what she and the President were doing. I would say to people, “For Heaven’s sake, we’re there to block a genocide” and it would be dismissed as idiocy. A man I met in a pub said to me: “There must be oil in the Balkans. That’s why you’re there.”
Even back then, in other words, among the Britons I was talking to at least (most highly educated), there was a sense, unspoken but very definitely implied, that sovereign governments have a right to kill their people, if the alternative is American intervention.
My acquaintances at the wedding understood perfectly well what was going on in the Balkans; but their anti-Americanism took priority over any sentiment of solidarity they might have had with Milosevich’s victims. The Britons I spoke to were in effect—excuse me if I repeat: in effect—arguing that the Milosevich government had a right to do a wrong.
It is not surprising therefore that the Chinese, and all the more so the Burmese and North Korean governments, should imply exactly the same thing. And by the way the hostility I encountered at the wedding had nothing to do with George W. Bush. This was 1999; please recall that Bush was elected in 2000.

— David Todd, Miami, FL

June 11th, 2008 8:18 amLink

This is the “Pax Americana” that so many – even here in Europe – advocated before the Iraq invasion, I suppose ?

— Zolko, Paris

June 11th, 2008 8:18 amLink
Thanks for drawing our attention to this. People can become too cynical or apathetic when intervention is justified. Another concern is that the political, human, and financial costs of intervention are so potentially high that few will risk it in the future. The flip side is interference masquerading as intervention. We have to look closely so as not to confuse the two, as future actors will surely make the attempt.

— Jason Kindree, Seoul, South Korea

June 11th, 2008 8:20 amLink
Mrs. Albright is being a bit hypocritical on her comment in this editorial about the Iraq invasion. Just a few years ago on an evening news broadcast she stated “We all believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction”. She was talking about the entire Clinton administration and most of the prominent Democrats in the Senate and House.

— reddam, Houston, Tx

June 11th, 2008 8:20 amLink
Professor Albright is indeed very vehement in promoting U.N and U.S. intervention into the affairs of another sovereign state for the flimsiest of reasons.IN the case of Burma, however, she needs to be bowed in awed reverence
to suggest almosts surgical action to rid the Myanmaresse of the tyranny of totalitarian rule which has imprisonsed Aung San Su Kyi for almost seven years now.This is comparable to the former British colonial rule of India from which the BUrmese generals must have taken a leaf.

— subbanarasu divakaran, bangalore India.

June 11th, 2008 8:58 amLink
I’m so confused. I clearly remember every intervention or would-be intervention discussed in Albright’s article, and at the time the feeling in the US was that such intervention was well-intented but recklessly idealistic. And now we’re supposed to feel guilty for out lack of action? As for current events, isn’t intervention against a repressive and genocidal regime exactly what we did when we invaded Iraq? And everyone I know who was opposed to the invasion of Iraq as arrogant and recklessly idealistic is screaming for us to do something about Darfur. So if Obama’s first war as president is the invasion of Sudan, will we see the usual suspects marching in outrage against “Obama’s war”? In fact, has anything changed since the 1930s, when the sane and moral thing to do was to avoid another war with Germany? I say bring back isolationism: it’s consistent, it’s cheap, and it’s honest. Of course if that happened, the world will accuse us of being selfish and heartless and of failing in our duty of being a world leader. We just can’t win…

— Ellen, New York

June 11th, 2008 10:07 amLink
It must be horrible to live in a country where the government does not care about the victims of natural disasters.

— Antonio Campos Monteiro Neto, Brasilia, Brazil

June 11th, 2008 10:07 amLink
Someday someone is going to list the consequences, the direct and unintended, that has occured from the invasion of Iraq.

It was a military venture that has, as one of its consequences, empowered strong men and dictators around the world to do their worse after seeing the limitations of our military power and hearing the condemnation of the invasion from the rest of the world.

And we now can only look on.

— Hendrik E. Sadi, Yonkers, NY

June 11th, 2008 10:08 amLink
#29, Ellen:

“And everyone I know who was opposed to the invasion of Iraq as arrogant and recklessly idealistic is…”

How many people, exactly, do you know who opposed the war for those reasons, and not because they smelled money ready to change hands?


June 11th, 2008 10:08 amLink
I have a stupid question.
How can anything be done anywhere about these types of tragedies when the governments involved refuse?
What enforcements are to be used?
OK, that was two questions.

— Lino, Missouri

June 11th, 2008 10:09 amLink
Madeline Albright and others posting on this board are naive to think that we can have our cake and eat it too. Its obvious that Iraq invasion and occupation has exposed interventionism for the fraud it is since it props up (rather than topples) autocratic regimes, leads to nation-building and encourages terrorism.

For many years, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. had foreign policies almost exactly identical competing for which side would dominate the world.

Its time for policy makers to finally realize that interventionism is really central planning and, if the U.S.S.R. and British Empire’s collapse is any indication, any country that has attempted to dominate the world will collapse of its own weight.

Efforts by private groups are another matter since they assume the risk of the missions they conduct.

As far as government foreign policy is concerned, it is time to dust off the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson who said in his first inaugural address: “Peace, commerce and honest friendship among all nations. Entangling alliances with none.”

— Mike Renzulli, Phoenix, Arizona

June 11th, 2008 10:32 amLink
The reason why Myanmars neighbors cannot countenance any invasion by the US is because they have seen what a US invasion does to the country,as evidenced in Iraq,vietnam etc.Many more people are killed by US bombs than would have died if left to themselves.Somehow the US never counts the number of civilians killed in any country we invade.We count the number of our soldiers killed,eg;4000 in Iraq,58,000 in vietnam,but not the millions of civilians in vietnam,the tens to hundreds of thousands in Iraq.

We use Sanctions which brings untold misery to civilians but no discomfort to the leaders, and pat ourselves on the back when we see their misery and say how wonderful we are ,WE dont have that kind of suffering in our midst.Look at the countries with repressive regimes that we do not punish because they are our allies, they thrive , and in the end when the despot dies the country slowly becomes freer and more democratic.Change by evolution is infinitely more desirable than change by revolution.It should come from within ,not without.The neighbors understand this better than superpowers and former imperialists and colonialists because they’ve been there.

— hl, ,MD,USA

June 11th, 2008 10:35 amLink
International action overriding sovereignty is OK as long as it works on every nation. The USA wants to “fix” other nations but when the UN or World Court imposes any ruling on the USA, it ignores it arguing it violates US laws and hence its sovereignty. It is pure hypocrisy.

In today’s world there is only one law. Might is right.

— SP, Missouri

June 11th, 2008 10:35 amLink
I agree there is a need for international mechanisms to address problems caused by bad (or criminal) governments. Not an easy question, but it will eventually have to happen. That implies a more effective international federal government.

“National sovereignty” is arguably today’s “state’s rights” on an international scale…

— D., Washington, DC

June 11th, 2008 10:35 amLink
Strange, in the entirety of Ms. Albright’s comments, the words “United Nations” did not appear even once. Hopefully, this nation’s shameful undermining of the manifestation of Democracy in World Affairs will cease on January 20, 2009. Perhaps, then, the world community will be able to get on with the business of policing and aiding itself when necessary — without the heavy hand of American self interest getting in the way.

— R.Sam Smith, Asheville

June 11th, 2008 10:39 amLink
Think about our own ability to intervene for children in our neighborhoods. Does a school nurse have the power to provide a safe emergency home under school jurisdiction? No. Even a homeless single parent is free to traumatize our future citizen and reduce their developing abilities to participate in a healthy democracy. Minimal funding for child advocacy or social workers (and maybe a cultural disregard for the children of others) leaves them in hurtful or abusive situations.

We become masters of whatever we practice. Until we have practiced enough to prove an ability to backup parents as they grant each child the human dignity a birth deserves, we are not ready to intervene beyond our own states. When we can agree and establish a compassionate rule of education and law with a reasonable range of shared wealth that includes every citizen, we will be ready to intervene abroad.

Paradox rules as we move forward on all, even opposing, fronts! Bill Clinton went back to Rwanda as the leader of a foundation and established a health care program—not unlike one we need in the USA today. He did, finally, intervene. As always, TTT, Things Take Time.

— RAP, Tampa, FL

June 11th, 2008 10:39 amLink
What about little countries like Colombia when they have to ignore sovereignity of their neighbours to fight criminals ?knowing U.N.lack of instruments to solve certain kind of problems , we all need – not only USA – a new efficient and credible way to justify intervention after urgent actions are produced . The need to get permission renders useless these actions .

— j.m. buitrago, pereira , colombia

June 11th, 2008 10:40 amLink
This is great. It’s nice to see an expression of intelligent statesmanship from the U.S. political arena. Let’s hope someone in Washington has the courage to do some right things for the people for a change, and not just for their own selfish interests.

— Larry Smith, Salem, NH

June 11th, 2008 10:41 amLink
Post #29 which states, “isn’t intervention against a repressive and genocidal regime exactly what we did when we invaded Iraq?” is a perfect example of how Americans use the cover of humanitarian intervention to further an agenda which is anything but humanitarian.

In the case of Iraq, as we all should know by now, deposing a cruel despot and protecting the world from weapons of mass destruction was simply a pretext. The only agenda was to establish military bases which would remain permanent (58 of the them) in order to secure cheap oil for the American economy. Working quite well so far.

This and other “interventionist” actions by the Americans have led to a profound distrust of their motives by almost everyone in the world. Precisely when we should all be working globally to solve the planet’s many problems, we are all retreating into our respecive fox holes. In part, we have the American foreign policy to thank for that.

Hopefully Obama will be able to take his mandate for change and exert some of it over the industrial military complex that has highjacked the country and is running roughshod over the world. Until that happens don’t hold your breath that intervention of any kind, no matter how morally motivated, will be welcomed by anyone anytime soon.

— Memi, Canada

June 11th, 2008 10:42 amLink
Maybe the arbitrariness of intervention has more to do with it. It is remarkable that Mrs. Albright fails to even mention her administration’s failure to intervene in Rwanda. If conscience ever existed in the international system, it was in Rwanda that it should have inspired intervention. But it did not.

Maybe the arbitrariness of intervention, even before the Iraq war, has given people more reason to be cynical about what the international system is. Iraq was just another expression of that arbitrariness.

— AK, MD

June 11th, 2008 10:42 amLink
This is similar to the necessity defense in the law. Necessary force can be used to prevent greater harm to a person. The United Nations should intervene.

— Paul J. Herrmann, Saranac Lake, New York

June 11th, 2008 10:45 amLink
The contrast between the detailed reasoning and understanding with the Bush administration’s method of deciding what reality is then selling it with lies is startling in its contrast.

— Bruce Maier, Shoreham, NY

June 11th, 2008 10:45 amLink
States are human inventions whose only moral justification is to serve human needs. Human rights are sacred; states and their sovereignty are not (read the Declaration of Independence). Burma needs “regime change”, and if it can come only through an American air strike, why not? Its present tyrants deserve to die.

P.S. The results of the American intervention into Iraq were not disastrous. Saddam Hussein is no longer murdering Iraqis, and he’s not going to resume developing nuclear weapons, as he was planning to do again as the sanctions faded away, as they were doing by 2001. He met the end he richly deserved. Finally, after several years of blundering, we relearned how do to counter-insurgency, and a revitalized coalition Irai government is doing well suppressing several insurgencies. Not so bad, after all.

— Jonathan Katz, St. Louis

June 11th, 2008 12:01 pmLink
I wonder what would have happened if UN flagged cargo planes parachuted emergency supplies over Burma.

— Johnny E, Texas

June 11th, 2008 12:01 pmLink
I still don’t understand why we couldn’t just drop food and supplies from helicopters. If there were no real threats to our personnel and security then it seems this is one of the most shameful incidents in our history.

— R Waddell, Santa Ana, CA

June 11th, 2008 12:01 pmLink
Back in 2003, many good liberals supported the invasion because it would get rid of Hussein. I remember saying over and over again that Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and Co. were hardly the posterchildren for human rights interventionism. And that an invasion of Iraq, far from promoting it, would set the cause back by a generation. They thought they knew better, however.

Thus, people like Michael Ignatieff, David Remnick, Paul Berman and, most lustily of all, Thomas Friedman, threw their support behind Bush’s invasion. By supporting the invasion in the name of human rights, they may have believed they could co-opt the invasion. Instead, it is they and their cause who were coopted. Their support blurred Bush’s original motivations, which were largely strategic and realist. They — not Bush or Cheney — are the ones who made this war about the cause of humanitarian intervention.

It is thus they who are most responsible for setting this cause back by a generation if not more.

Sadly, with a very few exceptions, those liberal supporters have yet to come terms with their support for the invasion of Iraq and its tragic consequences for the cause of human rights around the world.

— François, Montreal

June 11th, 2008 12:01 pmLink

I tend to agree with P. Buckman, Iris and other readers who credit the lucidity of Madeleine Albright’s overview as it probes causes of a change. The article as a whole, however, implicitly points to another, deeper compound reality, namely that 1) several centuries of developing nations and nationalisms have intensified the available standard of sovereignty and the world’s inclination to lean on it in self-interest, and 2)development has simultaneously brought the world to a point where it needs to know how, why and when to pursue humanitarian interventions, including “preemptive strikes.” We have not yet developed or agreed upon the ethics, politics and economics of global intervention, and the practical decisions of any individual “strong” nation to pursue an intervention regarding another nation are inevitably particular, local and immediate. It is this limiting set of conditions on intervention that hampers it as much as the tendency to revert to the known norm of sovereignty. In short, the world — not this or that nation, not a limited NATO, a limited UN — has to work its way toward a larger sense of community, common good, shared values and commit to them. Such a work may be one of the primary tasks of the twenty-first century.

— M.J. Doherty, Boston, MA

June 11th, 2008 12:24 pmLink
NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY is just what it means; National Sovereignty! I may not choose to live in a totalitarian, communistic or socialistic country, but I do respect the countries enough to leave them alone and let them be who they chose to be. Good or bad! Many times I have been in political debates with my fellow citizens, telling me that the rest of the world hates the United States, despises us and thinks of us as pushy and egocentric. Then in the other breath these same people want us to send aid to Africa, Indonesia, and much, much more. They want us to fight aids, fight hunger, fight drugs…All globally. It doesn’t make sense! How does the Junta of Myanmar not accepting aid from the global community equate to “disastrous results of the American invasion of Iraq?”

I am amazed at the ability of party despots to find a way to poke and prod existing opposition party policies. When beginning the read from Mrs. Albright’s op-ed, I was truly interested. Until, the “inevitable” line “…helped in no small part by the disastrous results of the American invasion of Iraq.” was thrown in for political backstabbing. Ouch! I remember Mogadishu! Ring a bell? All those lives lost because of one of the Clinton administrations “disastrous results”. Mudslinging goes both ways. ALL administrations make mistakes. Unfortunately, that is the reality of life. Unfortunately we have forgotten that life is imperfect in this VERY imperfect world. Perhaps, if we would leave these totalitarian governments to themselves, their own people will eventually say “enough is enough” and they will make their own changes. Isn’t that really how the United States found it’s own voice?

I do not want to see any person on this earth suffer. Reality is, they do. Famine, war and bad governments are a reality of this world. I can make a small difference, but reality tells me there will still be one more war, one more famine, one more bad government. We are the United States because we are unique and different. I don’t want the rest of the world to be able to tell me what to do. Why should we expect Myanmar or anywhere else for that matter to take what they DO NOT WANT? I pray for the people of Myanmar. I hope they are able to find a more effective voice for their survival. Ms. Albright, you even said yourself that you were assured a decade ago, by Asian Nations, that they would push the Junta to open its economy and move toward democracy. How emboldened is that?? Realistic? I don’t think so. Let’s set a good example and practice what we preach. Stop blaming our country for the junta of Myanmar not accepting Global aid!

— shug, outside philly, PA

June 11th, 2008 12:24 pmLink
I say the USA lately is spending over $4,000 per US resident to fight the war in Iraq, supposedly to free the Iraqui people but the reality is to free the oil to be used by the rest of the world from the 100 years of reserves existing in that country. And we are forced to intervene, because the special oil interests would like us to continue to be addicted to oil, and so alternative energies are being knocked down. Do we need the oil in Iraq? Not really. So, Americans do not have a real choice here but to keep emptying their pockets to feed the special interests, while they keep us hooked on oil. Then of course therre is New Orleans. So, do we have a right to stand on a soap box now about freedom and keep peddling this hypocrisy? Our government wants us intervening everywhere so that a few can extract the profits from those governmetns, plain and simple. And we, the poor and getting poorere american citizens, keep footing the bill for the “leaders” that are basically puppets to these special interests.

Before we talk about totalitarian governments everywhere else, lets try to liberate ourselves from our own totalitarian leaders.

— LL, Long Island

June 11th, 2008 12:26 pmLink
It is too easy to complain about nonintervention without really counting the costs of forcing behavior. It is a rather large assumption that one can force behavioral change without having to use serious military force or regime change. It cannot be taken for granted that humanitarian activity can be undertaken without direct military action.

In Bosnia, for example, we were supposed to be there for a very short time, and then found ourselves unable to leave. In Somalia, military forces were supposed to open the avenues for aid, but found themselves unable to do so without being embroiled in conflict.

This idea of humanitarian intervention only works cleanly if the local government allows it to do so. Once you are morally committed to fixing the mess, it may very well cost a great deal of money, time, or lives to see the project through.

As soon as a local government sees fit to play the spoiler, the intervening force faces a lose-lose situation. If you stay, you may only do so by using decisive force, which is not in keeping with the humanitarian image. If you shy from using force, your efforts are stymied and you will be labeled incapable or uncaring. It is a tough spot to be in, and frankly, we need to be more aware of the pitfall. If you want to effect change, you may well have to commit to a tough fight.


— Phil, Alabama

June 11th, 2008 12:29 pmLink
I am curious if Ms. Albright has forgotten that the world has changed a bit since the first Iraq War when Bush (the father) was president. The Soviet Union collapsed and China had yet to reach her present economic might so of course it was easier to intervene in Iraq, Somalia and Bosnia. Today China, a human rights abuser herself, prevents any effective action against Sudan and Burma while a resurgent Russia meddles in Georgia and in other Soviet counties. Perhaps Ms. Albright wants us to forget certain details in order to sell her criticisms of the present Bush administration?

That “politics are politics” is part of the problem. The UN is far from being effective since its internal politics have turned it into a hypocritical, corrupt body where one third world tin dictatorship covers for another, while the Europeans care only for protecting their own trade interests. US internal politics make foreign intervention unpalatable and even in easier times (as in the Carter administration) very much a non starter.

But Ms. Albright has “scored” her points here and probably hopes that Obama will remember her in next November.

— S Toren, Israel

June 11th, 2008 12:40 pmLink
I am not sure that this push away from intervention is not a good thing. National sovereignty is an important principle of the international system to keep in mind. While it is certainly unfortunate in instances of regimes that lack respect for human rights, intervention is a very extreme method that should be a last resort. Iraq demonstrates what happens when people galavant head first into a nation without due respect for national sovereignty and without weighing other options, such as sanctions. Isn’t this a lesson well-learned?

— S, New York, NY

June 11th, 2008 12:41 pmLink
Ms./Dr. Albright like all one worlders refuse to acknowledge facts and while articulate and offering cozy sops to the U S Public, offer no progress or solutions.

The US and the world can be united for the betterment of all… as long as the US middle class (it’s strength and will for 3oo years)makes all the sacrifice in the future as the Europeans do now… except the currently rich and connected, if all will bow to the will of whom?

You and your world order crowd… “to override sovereignty in emergency situations” That will “get’er done”. WHO???? Decides

Who is this person or group? The current leaders of ancient Burma… No… The thugs and murders fronting regimes at the UN… No… Vladimir Putin perhaps…

China (we won’t curb our growth to save the world), India (we have worse problems than China we plan not to solve) No… wait… its… its your group! The people who want to reduce the United States to the level of the lowest common denominator. No cars, bad public transportation, lower levels of health care and education, no growth economy, no immigration policy etc., everyone works for a better state (see Totalitarianism in the dictionary) while basking in the good of the state.

Override sovereignty my eh… foot…

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need… it appears that the desire for this never loses its appeal for those who don’t have the brains or guts to see it for what it is. Far right or far left you make the far out sound mainstream to the pseudo intellects with no sense of history or even hard times.

I don’t loathe myself for making a decent life through hard work in the most advance country on earth and I take offense at those who do.

Please ask those who like yourself have lived in the rare air of excess to offer to change theirs before damaging mine.

When you and the group who live on passive income and have thousands of times more goods and funds and influence than your next ten generations of progeny will use are prepared to sacrifice call me… Until then please by all means bask in the adulation of the “I’m Not Worthy” crowd.

— Dr. Mysterious, Pinole, CA

June 11th, 2008 12:42 pmLink
The answer is “self evident” and stated in our Declaration of Independence. It has been staring all in the face for hundreds of years, and the only reason it hasn’t been implemented is powerful vested interests prevent it. Especially hypocritical politicians of many nations, including ours, that have democracy internally, but use their might as right externally, pretending to “care”, while actually pursuing “our national interest” (translated: the interests of politicians and their buddies). That Declaration states fundamental human rights are self evident, for all, anywhere, and no one, not any “sovereign nation”, can trample them. So the UN should have the right to enforce that everywhere. But how can it when it has a Security Council made up of the powerful who selectively enforce as it suits them? When the powerful (USA, Israel, China included) flout UN mandates? So all the others call it a mockery and flout it too. The world needs to lose this stupid idea of “sovereign states”. What are they anyway? Created artificially by whoever was powerful at the time, with artifical borders that have changed eternally depending on who was/is mighty at the time. We are all humans, all with the same rights. To quote Lennon: “Imagine no countries” and you will have no wars, at least fewer. When there is no discrimination and all, everywhere, have the same rights, it won’t matter what one calls any place. Why should it matter where one is born? We are all citizens of the world, free to do as we please as long as we don’t harm another.

— Jimy Uranwala, California

June 11th, 2008 12:42 pmLink
If the US is such a believer of international law and responsiblity, why does it still refuse to join the International Criminal Court and The UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, or sign up to the Kyoto Treaty?

— Luciano, Belize

June 11th, 2008 12:43 pmLink
If Madeline Albright does not understand why intervention is no longer in vogue she should read Robert Kagan’s excellent analysis in his short book “The Return of History and the End of Dreams”. Iraq may be a factor but the underlying reason is the new balance of power between authoritarian and democratic countries, which makes it impossible for the international community to take action on the democratic agenda most of the time. Thus the continued effort to apply intervention in an international environment where it is impractical is akin to banging one’s head against the wall and then blaming the wall because it hurts. The Bush administration and the US establishment generally needs to undertake a fundamental reconsideration of the realistic policy options under these conditions. In addition, of course, intervention often has costs and unintended side effects that make it less than perfect as a mechanism for dealing with troublesome countries in many cases. This was explained very well by David Reiff in his recent New York Times Magazine article “Humanitarian Vanities” and in his book “At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams adn Armed Intervention”.

— Don Jameson, Bethesda, MD

June 11th, 2008 12:44 pmLink
With all due respect to the other nations mentioned in this article, I have one in particular which is constantly ignored, even though it is just as strategically important as, say Cuba.

I speak of Haiti; where thousands try to cross the dangerous waters in hopes of help or refuge in America.

When Cubans arrive on land, there is not an eyebrow raised…they are brought on land, and soon enough ‘integrated’ or assimilated(even though many refuse to learn the language.

On the other hand, Haitians, come to this land, attempt to assimilate in to the culture, and yet are time and again, rejected and sent back to a country that can’t even spell sovereignty, let alone maintain it.

A clear and racist double standard policy in effect here; yet, there is nothing that could stop us from ‘invading’ Haiti and straightening that place out once and for all.

Its simple. If they weren’t black, they’d be accepted, pure and simple.

Its much more than sovereignty or strategic interest. In the case of Haiti, its pure racism. And when people talk about their ‘spiritualism’, I simply point out Cuban spiritualism (santeria) is alive and well and nobody stops them because of it.

The Haitian people, want to assimilate, and participate as Americans when they come here. They seek the chance to better themselves AND help their country.

But it seems, they have one problem: Being Black.

— Longwind, Fl

June 11th, 2008 12:48 pmLink
Limited Nation-State Sovereignty is a term in contradiction, an oxymoron. Mrs. Albright’s desired Global environment with limited Nation-State rights and loss of Sovereignty is not a reality, it is a desire of hers and probably a commercial (economic neo-liberal) conception. China, Russia, India, Brazil are some of the countries who have a totally different idea about National sovereignty and hence a different idea of how they perceive globalism.

Professor Albright, trying to argue for a “noble” interventionist policy- in an international environment not much dissimilar to the past, where the greatest crimes against humanity were committed under the pretext of a “noble” cause- is promoting in essence a flawed foreign policy principle. Flawed from a U.S national interests’ perspective and the Iraq War is proof of that.

I may sound cynical but it is very hard to accept a thesis that the “noble” principle of intervention is dead as she claims. History is loaded with “noble” principles of intervention. Actually by reading professor’s Albright article, there is plenty in there to suspect that consciously or unconsciously she does not lament the death of the “noble” principle of intervention but instead the death of her conviction, that of an economic neo-liberal conception of the world.

— Nikolas, New York

June 11th, 2008 12:49 pmLink
Give me a break!

All those follow the same formulae:

1. Media create a hype to a clueless public, usually in countries dominated by white.

2. The politician starts to use those media hype to provide cover for their military occupation.

3. The media hype extrpolate even further to outright lies.

4. Military attack starts.

5. The interest of those supporters subsides even though the very military action can be bringing in even more bloodshed. But the original goal of military occupation has already been accomplished.

How many of western media and people re-examined the outrageous lies used to justify Kosovo intervention?

Wake up, this is the new implerilism of 21st century. The rest of world has seen thru this charade now. That is why there is so little support except in those countries benefiting from those.

— Yalin, Haywayg, CA

June 11th, 2008 12:50 pmLink
Albright elaborates on selected countries and ignores others for when and where the international community should intervene. One conveniently left out is Israel and its decades long crimes against the Palestinians and the resulting Nakba (catastrophe). Americans need to read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe, and Israeli author and academiciam. Albright has selective vision, which of course shows that this issue at large is very political and has little to do with humane values. There are many other examples here.

— David Shannahoff-Khalsa, Del Mar, CA, USA

June 11th, 2008 12:50 pmLink
Interesting thesis…that the invasion of Iraq is the cause of this state of affairs. Not one shred of evidence is offered to support it, unfortunately.

— Ron from NY, New York

June 11th, 2008 2:15 pmLink
the topic is burma , yes send the army to help those poor people , also send to help the silent gypsis does any one care the chec rep is good example. jose vasquez, belgium

— jose vasquez santos, belguim

June 11th, 2008 2:19 pmLink
National sovereignty is just that – sovereignty. The rest of the world hates us because we act the bully and the world policeman, whether we’re wanted or not. Ms. Albright may have the best intentions in her call to save lives in Myanmar, but once you start devaluing sovereignty you can’t always choose where to stop. That genie doesn’t go back in the bottle.

Some will brush aside sovereignty in the name of humanitarian aid. Others will do so in the name of politics, or power, or religion, or money, and no one knows where one reason ends and another begins.

Our founding fathers warned us against interfering in international affairs. I just hope we heed the lesson before the next Hurricane Katrina leads to an international military presence in the US in the name of “humanitarianism.”

— Economiser, NY

June 11th, 2008 2:20 pmLink
… speaking of “confusion” and “inaction”, what was the excuse in Rwanda???

A million people were slaughtered as we stood by.

— dannyb, nyc

June 11th, 2008 2:22 pmLink
I find Dr. Albright’s comments completely hypocritical mainly because as Americans it is unfathomable that we would ever allow the international community to intervene in our affairs. Yet we find it unacceptable for other nations to cling too tightly to the idea of national sovereignty. This contradiction is cloaked in her article with the normal cliched paradigm: every U.S. intervention, regardless of its flawed execution, is and has been undertaken for humanitarian reasons. She then cherry picks certain international events, making sure to include a couple undertaken by Republican presidents so as not to seem biased, and reminisces about the good ol’ days of successful intervention while ignoring the Iraqi sanctions over which she presided that did not weaken the Hussein regime but instead starved and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, the genocide in Rwanda that the Clinton administration did nothing about, the seemingly permanent and brutal oppression of Gazan Palestinians by Israel and our unbreakable economic ties to human rights violators like China and Saudi Arabia. This is all not to mention our interventions for selfish gain at the cost of civilian populations in coutries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Iran, Chile, Viet Nam etc. Aren’t we past pretending that Iraq is the first place where we have used extreme military and economic influence for geo-political gain at the huge expense of a civilian population?!

The poster who asked who will watch the watchers pretty much summed it up in my view. The era of powerful countries dominating spheres of influence will not be end as long as we view the entire world as our economic sphere of influence. The U.N. supposedly plays the role Albright is describing yet they have no clout unless we go along and are routinely neutralized when we oppose their will. The international community has been for years attempting to come to a consensus on how to avert the impending disaster of climate change yet we resist influence even while other nations throw off their rights of national sovereignty and take measures like joining the Kyoto Protocol. When Hurricane Katrina hit, would we have allowed for international organizers to take over? Would we have allowed an independent and international organization to recount the votes in the 2000 presidential election to insure fairness? The answers are obvious as are the problems with American leaders moralizing over the ills of the international community.

— Richard Hollman, New York, NY

June 11th, 2008 2:25 pmLink
Amazing that Madeline doesn’t recognize that the sovereignty of the US was violated 9-11 and that those who might choose to do it again in a horrible, nuclear way should be dissuaded. Her answer apparently is no action may be taken until their is a violation! Fine for gunpowder times. Not acceptable in nuclear weapons era. Guess she bases that on idea that no one should fight back but just board the cattle cars on the way to their extinction, as 6 million did in WW II. The loss of life to correct that/stop that was/is unimaginable! Has she learned nothing, but pushes for the perfect world where we all just mind our own business, because we are afraid to get involved — sort of like those standing by while an elderly man is struck by hit and run!

— Captain John L., Whirwell, TN

June 11th, 2008 2:26 pmLink
A nation is just a concept, albeit one often strongly held. On the other hand, a person is a reality.

It’s time for an international compact to preserve individual rights. We could start with rights enumerated in the US and many oother constitutions.

However, this will not happen until national rulers (including those in the US) regard their duty to their constitutions as higher than their duty to preservation of power.

— Darster, Birmingham

June 11th, 2008 2:27 pmLink
Back in the 1960’s my mainline Protestant Church

distributed a flyer to participating churches

in the U.S.

It summarized the movement toward the U.N. as

the New Order of the world as follows:

We must give up some national sovereignty.

We need (must have): only one powerful sovereign

force in this world, with the power and legal

authority over all nations to:

– enact laws

– interpret those laws

– enforce those laws over every nation

– tax @ perhaps 20% +/- the income of the

advanced nations.

I no longer attend that church.

— donh, Ohio

June 11th, 2008 2:30 pmLink
The “international system” as presently constituted appears to be aimed neither at protecting governments nor making the world “a more humane place.” Rather, its function seems to be protecting the interests of the western ruling class, e.g. by making the world safe for corporate investment – or, as the neocons call, it, “democracy.”

— hmmm, upstate NY

June 11th, 2008 2:31 pmLink
I am certain there is a receptive audience for this type of thinking. The elite class in the United States will continue to blur the devilish details of their corporate and government policies with words like “totalitarian”. The U.S. is governed by an aristocracy of wealth and privilege whose goals include the submission of the lower classes through economic hardship, political disenfranchisement, and, whenever necessary, police and military action. The US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was hardly superior to the response of the Burmese government to the needs of their own storm victims. But, the gentle folk who enjoy all the amenities of the country club life we provide for the government and corporate elite must relish Ms. Albright’s superficial observations. Give us a break.

— Jim Carlin, San Antonio

June 11th, 2008 2:32 pmLink
I think that some of the reader responses demonstrate why it is so dangerous to advocate “limited sovereignty.”

For example, there was the reference to the way we handled Katrina. There was the reference to the way we treated civilians in foreign conflicts. There was reference to systemic racism in the US. There was reference to our “totalitarian” gov’t.

Whether or not you think there is any merit to these arguments, it is plain that many do. Therein lies the rub.

Plainly, the United States is not going to be subject to foreign military intervention because we happen to have the mightiest armed forces on the planet at the moment. But do we want to set a precedent for such intervention in a world where, say, the People’s Republic of China has a military on par or nearly so to that of ours?

It would be extremely unlikely for such a scenario to play out with China interfering in the United States proper any time soon, but how about a country like, say, Turkmenistan? Turkmenistan is rightly accused of many humanitarian crimes and is ruled by a totalitarian government to boot. It also has very significant natural gas deposits. It is suspected that there are Turkmen ties to Xianjian resistance groups. It would be unable to resist such an attack by China alone.

Though under a premise of limited sovereignty China might have an arguable case for overthrowing the regime in Turkmenistan, the only thing that will stop them is the reaction of suspicious neighbors and other interested parties. Sort of like what is happening in Myanmar and Sudan, only in reverse.

Providing moral cover for such actions, when it is not the nearly unanimous will of the community of nations, would be dangerous because it would be likely to invite what we would regard as adventurism by parties we likely wouldn’t like to countenance adventurism.

It would be very heartening to be able to resolve the problems of the world as we see them, including women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, the despotic nature of many of the world’s regimes, and genocides when we see them, but much of the world does not share our value system, distrusts our motives, and, though sometimes certain aggrieved parties ask for our help, our presence–as a governing force–is unwanted.

— quelle dommage, la

June 11th, 2008 3:06 pmLink

Yonkers, New York

11 June 2008

On the vanguard of liberalism, Ms. Madelein K. Albright doesn’t see much of a problem with a country interfering in what legally and actually are a nation’s internal affairs, provided such interference is driven by humane motives.

Such interference, of course, collides with the principle of sovereignty which an independent state possesses. Sovereignty cannot be trampled with, no matter what the justification. An independent state has the right under international law to protect itself from outside interference, and such right may include the right to repel the intruder using military force.

It is possible, of course, for an independent state to formally request another state to help it restore order, in cases of civil strive, or to help its inhabitants who may be the victims of a force majeure which is beyond the capacity of the requesting state to handle all by itself.

But these are the exceptions. And it should be made crystal clear that a formal request for assistance is the legal basis for an outside state to enter the territory of another state specifically to do what is requested of it, and that once the assisting state completes its specific mission, it should leave the territory of the requesting state.

Mariano Patalinjug

— Mariano Patalinjug, Yonkers, New York

June 11th, 2008 3:09 pmLink
Nations are like human beings. They plan on acting based on the their relative streangth/power in the real world to preserve/extend their self-interest and then try to rationalize the act using logic, history, precedence, threat, bribe, morality etc.

— SP, Missouri

June 11th, 2008 3:09 pmLink
It is important to remember that our intervention can only be successful insofar as the government of Myanmar itself accepts it. Recall all the food that went to waste and the assistance that the government turned away to the chagrin and dismay of the global community. How do you convince an establishment to care about its people when it so easily disregards their existence in favor of self-preservation? Should America rush in on the heels of every single disaster while her own citizens are struggling? Skyrocketing energy and food prices are generating political action here and domestic affairs will doubtlessly trump international ones.

Additionally, it is easy for every one of us to discuss and/or vilify world leadership, but who among us is actually doing something about it?

— Leah, Washington, D.C.

June 11th, 2008 3:19 pmLink
“The global conscience is dead”? Was it not ever thus? When exactly did it exist? Conscience in individuals being a sometime thing after all.

Fact is that nation states all over the world reserve unto themselves the right to kill in quantity their own citizens. In its first forty years of rule, the PRC managed to countenance the deaths of millions (some have estimated 80 million) of its own people by ineptitude and sheer stupidity. And ideological gamesmanship.

Now there’s a parallel to recent events in Burma worth exploring.

— B, NYC

June 11th, 2008 3:40 pmLink
Yes, Bush messed up a lot. Will the media please cover the 35 articles of impeachment against George W. Bush that were presented to the House of Representatives yesterday and are being discussed now???

— ab, boston, ma

June 11th, 2008 3:47 pmLink
As many have already noted, the conspicuous absense of Rwanda from Albright’s analysis is quite appaling. Though I highly respect her opinion, the Rwanda situation was a truly shameful black mark on the Clinton administration’s foreign policy. She would have gained a great deal of credibility in this Op-Ed had she made the slightest mention of that tragedy.

— channa, Seattle, WA

June 11th, 2008 4:23 pmLink
America has to learn that it doesn’t own the world and that other countries only resent it when it tries to change regimes.

Travelers who find “anti-Americanism” overseas sometimes take it personally, but in fact, the negative reaction comes from resentment of our government’s foreign policies and those Americans who ignorantly support them.

— pdxtran, Minneapolis

June 11th, 2008 5:30 pmLink
What rot. Who did not know, there are yet despotisms in the world? The only surprise about Myanmar is that regime’s total lack PR savvy. That is its principal divergence from other tyrannies, like Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia. They have learned to smile, to play the press, to say all the right things, while persisting in perpetrating all the old things. The Burmese generals haven’t yet.

Secretary Albright’s surprise that ASEAN’s contributes nothing but hot air is further evidence of her opacity. Apart from NATO, and even it has become windy, which alliance has proved itself in a tough task? The UN is unwilling to discipline a member state averring its intent to eradicate another member state. In Darfur millions have been ethnically cleansed and hundreds of thousands killed; has it occurred to Albright to ask why the Arab League hasn’t chastised the Sudan?

As to national sovereignty as a recrudescent villain, that is more blather.

She is a shivering pudding with raisins for eyes. Hence sightless though transparent. She wants to say that the Bush administration has mucked up the international scene and is responsible for everything from Mugabe’s crimes to the Burmese atrocity.

In truth, the Administration’s brave move into Iraq was the first positive and long overdue effort to begin restoring America’s slipping position in the world. Let Albright ask herself, what would our power position be today if President Bush had retreated in February 2003 and not invaded Iraq.

— nacl, NYC

June 11th, 2008 5:38 pmLink
The idea of intervention in order to save endangered populations is worth defending. So is the “responsibily to protect”. The problem is the West advacated those grand ideals but refused to let other parts of the world have a say in the decision making process. The failure in reforming the United Nations Security, the sole universaly recognized body able to give legitimacy to any intervention has been viewd witgh much suspicion by Africans, Asians and South Americans and Caribbean States and peoples. Some calls for intervention are seen as biased. Intervention too often occurs when it suits Western diplomatic, economic, miltary or politocal interests. Mrs Albright whpo was the US Ambassador to the UN and under whose watch the Rwandan genocide occured is not the right messenger to defend the cause of “humanitarian interventionism”. In 1994 Madeleine Albright and the Clinton administration refused to recognize the Rwandan widescale and targeted massacres as a genocide because it would have called for US and interventional intervention to stop it. A few years later Bill Clinton bombed Serbia, a Russian ally and part of ex-Soviet sphere of influence to the stone age. So it seems to many around the world taht the concepts of intervention and responsibilty to protect are too oftyen applied very selectively. All of us disapprove of what’s going on in Myanmar-Burma. But all geo-strategists also know the Burma issue pits the West, its interests, against China and its one geopolitical calculus in asserting domination in South East Asia. The poor Burmese are paying the price…

— Emmanuel, New York, NY, USA

June 11th, 2008 5:57 pmLink
The flaw in Ms. Allbright’s high minded rhetoric lies with the premise that the “global conscience” is an evident concept best interpreted by the powers that be.

The fact is most of the world’s population takes exception with those powers’ point of view and has very good reason to doubt the worthiness of their intentions.

Domination and manipulation are still very much present in every initiative of foreign intervention (in any diplomatic or commercial exchange between rich and poor states, for that matter).

Furthermore (and much more seriously), any foreign nation’s best interests take a back seat to political posturing at home by the leaders of these powers.

The international system is, as she puts it, a collection of nuts and bolts, but not for the purpose of protecting governments. The purpose is that of allowing different nations to coexist without some imposing their will on others.

If the US (or any other power) were able to keep this in mind, they wouldn’t be facing the woes of terrorism and other manifestations by the impotent, resentful recipients of their intention to “make the world a more humane place”.

— Ricardo Urdaneta, Bogota, Colombia

June 11th, 2008 6:42 pmLink

Ms Albright’s article is thought-provoking but offers a false choice, even discounting the impact on world opinion of Mr Bush’s deceitful and inept Iraq misadventure. There must always be a balance between intervention in “internal” affairs and respect for national sovereignty. The most we can hope for is that international groups – ideally led by the UN, to the extent that it is capable of taking any decisive action that will not be vetoed – will have the means and the courage to intervene to halt the most egregious violations by national governments.

The recent examples listed by Ms Albright are not encouraging. The government response in Burma would be regarded as genocide if there were any identifiable group of victims – normally, the West would accuse China of complicity, but that accusation is complicated on this occasion by the relatively humane and competent response of China to its own recent disaster. More worrying actually is the neglect by South Africa of the truly outrageous behaviour of the Mugabe regime. We had all hoped that South Africa would improve the lot of southern Africa; but the silent complicity of Mr Mbeki – and even the retired Mr Mandela – raises serious concerns about that erstwhile bright spot on the Dark Continent.

Notwithstanding these and other examples, the only way forward with any realistic prospect of success is to strengthen both the moral standing and the moral compass of the UN. Even if Iraq had never happened, it would always be at best inadvisable for a nation state such as the US – or even for an alliance like NATO – to purport to act for the benefit of the populace of another nation state. And any “coalition” needs to be broader based and more inclusive than the “coalition of the willing”, lest it be deemed a bunch of stooges led by a superpower with its own not-totally-altruistic agenda.

Wow, I am soooo glad I don’t have to make these life-and-many-deaths decisions …

— Brendan Lawlor, Dublin, Ireland

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