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Seeking standards for humanitarian intervention

Reflections on intricacies of involvement in Syria

Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 22:02

The standard for humanitarian intervention should be as follows: If compelling evidence supports that there is government-sponsored mass homicide, a coalition of countries sanctioned by credible international institutions should intervene to stop it as long as there is a viable plan with minimal risk of casualties and negative long-term repercussions.  

Essentially, this means as little military involvement as possible when there is no other alternative. 

The case of Libya is a good example. When part of Libya broke away and Colonel Gaddafi retaliated against heavily populated areas with armed force, the U.S. took the lead to define a narrow focus of preventing humanitarian disaster with little military commitment. NATO's intervention had no goals of regime change and did not infringe on Libyans' right to self-determination.

Syria is a difficult case with different circumstances. Because there are many state actors and rival groups with a stake in Syria's political situation, military intervention would aggravate political tensions. 

Ed Husain writes in the magazine, The Atlantic that "Much like Iraq under Saddam, the ruling Ba'ath party in Syria controls almost every aspect of public life: business, military, media, police, education and even religious institutions...Regime change in Syria would be bloody and protracted."  

Unfortunately for Syria, there are no military options with a reasonable chance of improving the situation, and their failure will likely make things worse.           

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