This is part 2 of a multi-part post on international responsibility. Part 1 can be found here.
The answer to this question is an unfortunately simple one: Because no one stopped it.
The international community is understandably hesitant to become involved in foreign conflicts and complications. Becoming tangled in another country’s conflict can be costly and often pointless, as the United States has seen in recent years in Afghanistan and, to a certain extent, Iraq. Sorting out other countries’ issues is difficult work.
But other nations must sometimes become involved in a country’s private affairs, even if it’s not very advantageous for the intervening country. I would consider these “private affairs” to be any act of atrocity that is committed, condoned, or simply overlooked by the ruling government. US Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the actions of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya: “When a State engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty.”
Sovereignty is a very important concept in international relations. Simply put, it’s the quality of having supreme authority over an area of land and its inhabitants. But a state must earn this authority by being a responsible caretaker and lawmaker for its people. And when a state does not perform this duty, other nations may have to step in to force the issue.
Let me rephrase that: The international community may have to step in (yes, I know I’ve said the words “international community” far too many times!). Just as it is crucial for a country to be personally responsible to have a part on the international stage, it’s important that all countries are collectively responsible for keeping the world a safe place. I ought to say though, that I’m not endorsing a kind of world police, at least not one run by any one country (least not the United States). But perhaps we do need a world interventionary force, to prevent atrocities from being committed.
This force would be multilateral and international, so as not to skew power in any country’s direction too far. It would need to be much quicker to act than organizations like NATO or the UN though, and would probably work best when independent of these organizations. Unfortunately, the United Nations simply represents too many conflicting interests, and takes far too long to come to decisions; it took nearly a million deaths before the UN did anything in Rwanda, and by then it was too late. So perhaps willing and able parties of the international community should form a more fast-acting organization, to quickly strike against state-committed or -sponsored violence.
In fact, NATO did a fairly good job of this recently, in its response to the violence of Qaddafi against his own people in Libya. Even then though, it took far too long for the UN and NATO to step in, and there’s still more that should be done, such as the placement of peacekeeping troops or delivery of additional medical supplies.
If there were to be an independent, international coalition specifically set up to counteract state atrocities, mass violence could be stopped much sooner and more effectively. Assuming that specific guidelines were set in place, and all participating nations agreed on which actions constitute atrocity, this peacekeeping force might have the power to stop many humanitarian crises. The key to this would be fast, decisive action against state atrocities; dictators tend to commit these violences on their own people after the international community does nothing to stop earlier offenses.
Looks like this post is going on to a third part! Check back soon for part 3!