The Post-Cold War NATO: Decoupling Regime Change and Human Rights Promotion
NATO's biggest mistake in the past 25 years is that in its search for a post-Cold War raison d'être, it has taken on roles as both an instrument of regime change and of humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian work and the protection of human rights is a noble pursuit that NATO should continue to undertake; regime change and the imposition of democracy from above is not.
NATO's biggest mistake in the past 25 years is that in its search for a post-Cold War raison d'être, it has taken on roles as both an instrument of regime change and of humanity intervention. Humanitarian work and the protection of human rights is a noble pursuit that NATO should continue to undertake; regime change and the imposition of democracy from above is not. A humanitarian mission ought to be undertaken with a humanitarian ethic in mind; that is with an aim to limit human suffering and an adherence to the principles of neutrality and impartiality. Regime change imposed from outside does not result in improved conditions for the citizens of that state.
The 2011 intervention over Libya was sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 that "Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory," and established a No Fly zone over Libya. By overwhelmingly pursuing regime targets resulting in the death of Colonel Qaddafi and regime change, many have suggested that regime change was always the primary goal of NATO.
Change imposed from outside has rarely worked. American influence in ousting traditional rulers in favor of elections in El Salvador, Guatemala, Morocco, Zaire, Panama, Iran and Nicaragua resulted in the establishment of elected dictators, in many ways less friendly to NATO member states and more repressive of their own populations.
Where regime change has worked, such as in Germany and Japan after WWII, the state apparatus was not dismantled. Members of the old government bureaucracy were incorporated in to the new state apparatus. The new method of regime change that has dismantled the governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya results in a political quagmire; a lack of unified leadership and sectarianism have led to an upsurge in violent political extremism in these states. The prospect of having President Assad removed from power by outside forces in Syria reduced the willingness of the anti-Assad forces to negotiate and find a peaceful solution to what has become an incredibly complex and factionalized civil conflict that has given rise to violent extremist elements.
When NATO intervened in Kosovo in 1999, its stated purpose was to mitigate the impending "humanitarian catastrophe" that would result from inaction. The member states of NATO spoke the language of human rights and pursued a ceasefire with that goal in mind. Kosovo was not declared independent at the end of the conflict; it was made clear that regime change would not come through force, particularly outside force. When NATO intervened in Libya in 2011, regime change seemed to be a primary goal. Rather than "illegal, yet legitimate," as the Kosovo intervention was hailed, observers of the Libyan mission asked if this mission, although legal, was illegitimate for exceeding its mandate.
If NATO is to truly stand for human rights and liberal democratic values, regime change from the outside is not an effective or efficient way to go about it. Democracy is government by discussion. The establishment of democracy by force undermines the central component that makes democracy democracy. Going forward, NATO should strive to keep the peace rather than make it. NATO should facilitate discussion and advocate for the protection of minority rights and should not require that a nations citizens advocate for democracy to have a claim to human security. NATO has and should continue to act as a humanitarian force promoting human rights in the post-Cold War Era. Regime change should be left to the people in the political community that will live under that regime.
Chenoa is a Master of Arts student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Her work focuses on humanitarian interventions, and the tension between human rights and territorial sovereignty.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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