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To investigate into the matter of countries intervening in the internal affairs of other countries, we first need to assess what exactly sovereignty means and what actions constitute the violation of a country’s sovereignty.

Sovereignty means the right of a State to conduct its domestic matters freely without any external influence. But with this power comes the responsibility of the State to ensure that its citizens are treated justly and are guaranteed certain basic rights for a dignified life. Does the postulate of sovereignty still hold if the State keeps suppressing and depriving its people? This brings us to the more refined concept of contingent sovereignty. Contingent sovereignty puts forth the idea that sovereignty is a conditional concept and that it can be challenged in case the State fails to discharge its duties. This includes atrocities committed by the State as well as atrocities committed by the populace itself with the State unable to or unwilling to stop them. The concept of intervention then seems humanitarian at the very least.

The United Nations in their 2005 World Summit recognized the importance of the above stated principle and undertook the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). The Responsibility to Protect places the onus on the international community to ensure that no people have to go through the ordeal of severe internal strife in the form of genocide, ethnic cleansing etc. It has a three step process whereby the State itself tries to resolve the conflict, the international community then steps in to assist that particular State, use peaceful means like mediation to that end and then if finally all else fails, to use the collective force of the UN Security Council. Under the RtoP, any kind of military intervention requires the prior approval of the Security Council. So, in a way, the power to intervene is not really equal and is skewed in favour of the Big 5.

The debate remains whether this intrusion by other States is for altruistic purposes or just plain invasion under the fancy jargon of the RtoP. For example, there was the NATO invasion of Libya. Two of the permanent members of the Council had even abstained from voting for this action. It was done to protect the people from State atrocities. Taken this way, it seems fully justified. There have been differing versions of the purpose behind the actions though. A reporter from Al Jazeera claimed access to documents which proved a covert US – Muammar Gaddafi relation. It has also been argued that the mandate of the States behind this operation also included a regime change. If these allegations are true, it would also mean that powerful, influential countries are actually controlling their weaker neighbours through proxy and discard their chosen puppets as and when required.

Then there is also the matter of what shape these kind of interventions take and what happens once the intervention is over. Again, a perfect example would be the US invasion of Iraq. Iraq was guilty of committing many human rights violations. Appointing themselves as the protector of the people, the US toppled the existing Hussein government. It is widely stipulated that this act itself was motivated by the desire for control of the oil wells. After the invasion though there was a lot of chaos and ethnical clashes continued for a long time after. In fact, it would not be very far-fetched to say that that environment of chaos gave birth to new terror movement. A similar situation occurred when US aided Afghanistan to defeat the USSR forces. That situation led to the birth of the Taliban. This goes to show that sometimes countries hold a very paternalistic view of what the needs of other countries are. What they think as a developed nation to be the best course of action might not really be well suited in a developing country.

Countries are more willing to intervene if it helps them further their own propaganda. This is being very prominently displayed in the Middle East. Most of the strife there is between the pro-government forces and the rebels. It is completely an internal matter in most of these countries. Looking at that region now, it is a complete mess with all groups participating wherever and however it pleases them. Specially the Sunni strong Saudi Arabia and Shia strong Iran have time and again lent support to opposing groups in these nations. Had they not done so, most nations probably would not even have the resources to prolong the war for so long. And yet inspite of all them trying to take matters into their own hands and trying to get their favourites to win, no one is taking responsibility for the consequences for their actions. Most countries have turned their backs on the refugee problems. According to The Vox, in 2013, there were 2.5 million refugees and the US accepted just 36 of them.

The NATO strikes in former Yugoslavia in 1999 were conducted without UN sanction. Acts such as these undermine the authority of the UN as a whole. States cannot willfully take matters into their own hands. A country cannot exist if it has no sovereignty. While the concerns stated are legitimate, the no-intervention scenario should also be thought about. But then again, the question if a country would be better off without any foreign intervention is also very open-ended. It is very hard to find out the true motives behind any State actions. Is support reaching those who truly need it but can give nothing in turn? During the ethnical cleansing in Rwanda, the global community did not participate and three quarters of the Tutsi population was wiped out. Unlimited power on an international scale has always led to disasters and the international community needs to make sure that such cases do not keep happening.

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Written By Khushboo Velani

Aspiring to be a future changemaker.

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