Ever since the United States’ foreign policy NSC-68 was approved by President Truman in 1950, a policy which led to the continued spending of billions of dollars on weaponry throughout the Cold War in order to effect a new world order and vanquish the political ideologies which the US deemed a threat to their liberal-capitalist freedom; namely that of Soviet Communism, the balance of international power has remained securely in the palms of the world’s two great democracies: the United States of America and its ubiquitous and indissoluble ally Great Britain.
During the last half century, however, the disparity between the aforementioned governments’ values and their actions, in regards to foreign military intervention and matters of national security, has become increasingly pellucid – not to mention hypocritical and at times even shameful.
Though such a policy was necessary to redress the political instability of a vacillating post-war period, its long-term repercussions have primarily served to keep the political ascendency with the West. The problem herein has not only been the demonization of opposing political ideologies and religions (you only need watch a handful of Hollywood action films across the decades to see the changing faces of the villains – most recently it’s the turn of the North Koreans, in Olympus Has Fallen), but also the disconcerting regularity with which the West negates and contradicts its own didactic political ideals. The same ideals, incidentally, that have once again been temporarily displaced by the recent updraft of bellicose rhetoric concerning the military intervention in Syria, which has been emanating from both the leaders of the White House and the House of Commons.
Whilst both governments initially appeared to be marching to the drumbeat of war, each seemingly intent on launching punitive measures against President Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive regime for its reported chemical weapons use in Damascus, public support toward the proposed military intervention has been noticeably muted. Although there has been an air of apprehension circulating around the British public in particular, there are few people who would disagree that immediate action is required to end the suffering of those extremely unfortunate civilians who have become embroiled in the middle of the Syrian Civil War. However, an age-old question remains: does any country, regardless of it’s economic or political status, have the right to imbue their political ideologies and governance on the rest of the world? Especially countries whose antithetical values simultaneously condemn the use of chemical weapons on the one hand, yet on the other readily validate lethal drone strikes.
According to David Cameron (and more recently John Kerry), military action against al-Assad’s regime would have been justifiable because of the scale of deaths that have been ‘inflicted by weapons that have been outlawed for over a century.’ However, this is not strictly true, as neither Syria nor the US joined the Hague Conventions’ article of 1899 that banned chemical warfare. At any rate, it is merely a diversionary tactic, another example of Western governments’ attempts to coerce the people and manipulate objective truth. For instance, how does the nerve agent used in Damascus differ to the one used by the US (both of which were reportedly Sarin gas) during Operation Strangle in the Korean War which decimated vast areas of North Korea and killed innumerable people? How about the incendiary bombs (Napalm) that were employed by the US to abrogate the Viet Cong resistance in Vietnam? Using chemical weapons on human beings of any description, at any time, is erroneous whatever the occasion.
Many people believe that military intervention is the only appropriate response when innocent lives and personal freedoms are at stake. And it would be hard to disagree if the matter at hand – including the transition of power – had been considered diligently, so as to avoid any recurrences of the injudicious mistakes that were made repeatedly during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in spite of themselves Great Britain and the US have once again inadvertently shown that not only is very little learnt from history, but also that both countries still harbour an inherent belief they remain the world’s leading political authorities. Making reductive, kneejerk decisions, though, without even having first sought approval from the UN, shows both alarming naivety and incredible arrogance – especially so soon after the WMD debacle in Iraq. How can conflicts be resolved, or international relations between disputing countries be ameliorated when such grave improprieties merely set an adverse precedent for the rest of the world?
In 1973 the United Nations reacted to increasing numbers of crimes against humanity by creating the doctrine Responsibility to Protect. Yet the level of protection given to some countries – in terms of military assistance at least – is wildly incommensurable, varying not according to human losses but to the vested interests of its diplomatic allies. Thus you may well ask what it is that separates the atrocities in Syria to the genocide and massacres being committed elsewhere? Or why, perhaps, the West should choose to implicate themselves in this particular conflict and not all of conflicts across the wider world? For example, what measures have Western governments taken to stop the systematic genocide that has claimed around half a million lives in Sudan over the last decade? Or how about the iniquitous despotism espoused by Stalin that resulted in the deaths of millions of Soviets – what was done to prevent that? George Orwell argued that Britain (and the West in general) had consciously overlooked the atrocities committed by the Soviet regime because of their admiration for the USSR’s war effort, and it seems that this dereliction of duty, although it now derives from material excess and economic growth, is also prevalent in modern politics, too.
When it comes to the international community, then, can we honestly say that Western powers truly abide by or adhere to those same rigorous constitutions that govern their own countries? Do they have a clear and universal notion of freedom and truth, even? Apparently not if you look at the cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Had each of those men been Islamic and turned informants for the West, then they undoubtedly would’ve been extolled for their selfless and courageous actions.
Exposing atrocities and terrible injustices, regardless of whether the tyrannical act has been committed at home or abroad, by a democratic government or an autocrat, is not an unpatriotic act of treason but a progressive step forward for the whole of humankind.