The Debate on Humanitarian Intervention
Watanabe Koji When a massive and systematic violation of basic human rights is committed by the authorities of one state, can other states intervene forcefully to halt the violation? Since the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO’s) military intervention in Kosovo in 1999, the issue of what is now commonly called humanitarian intervention has become one of the most contentious subjects in managing contemporary international relations. Conspicuous in the argument on Kosovo has been the fact that most Asian countries were opposed to, or reluctant to endorse, the use of force by NATO against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Force, Intervention, and Sovereignty Project grew out of the recognition that there was a distinct need to clarify the positions of Asian countries to the extent possible, so that any future dispute between them and members of the Atlantic alliance on the matter of international intervention—albeit defined as humanitarian—would not develop into a situation affecting the peaceful global environment. The project was designed to promote a comparative analysis of the views held on intervention by China, India, Japan, South Korea, and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the following pages, the project members have identified areas of consensus and divergence and set forth practical policy recommendations. ASIAN VIEWS In Asia, the subject of both international and humanitarian intervention has elicited attitudes ranging from negative to ambivalent, reflecting interrelated factors shared to varying degrees, including historical experience, developing-country status, small- and/or weak-state status, problems with the West, and the concept of the “Asian way.” Prior to World War II, most Asian countries were colonized or subjected to foreign domination, which historical experience has left them sensitive to foreign intervention and jealous guardians of their sovereignty. Inasmuch as the West is considered the advocate of democracy, human rights, and the
Copyright 2003, Japan Center for International Exchange
rule of law—so-called Western values—some Asian countries reject intervention by Western countries as an imposition of Western values on Asians, or more Western dominance. While debate continues on the question of whether a cohesive set of Asian values does, in fact, exist, there is certainly a vague pattern of behavior that is recognized by many as the Asian way. Often cited as a typical instance is the ASEAN policy of nonintervention. Considering that ASEAN is composed of a diverse set of nations in terms of size, political system, stage of economic development, and religious faith, one is inclined to appreciate and value the pragmatism of the policy. Moreover, the fact that these developing countries have a common history of having been dominated by the West, are relatively weak states, and have diverse identities while at the same time being distinct from the West makes them skeptical of the notion of humanitarian intervention in general. China On the matter of international intervention, Jia Qingguo explains in chapter 2 that China’s posture is a reflection of “the nature of the existing international system; China’s experience with the outside world in modern times; its international status; and its domestic politics.” Beijing has found itself best able to defend its interests in international relations by adhering to the code of national sovereignty, in the recognition that states will inevitably assert these rights in their own separate ways. While this view has drawn ridicule from detractors at home and abroad, Jia appeals for our understanding of it and the historical constraints on which it is based. Beijing has opposed international intervention in its internal affairs since 1949, the birth of the People’s Republic of China, in the belief that the sovereignty of nation-states and the right of developing...
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