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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention
David Chandler

London: Pluto Press, 2002
268 pp inc index, ISBN: 7453-1883-5



On the eve of what some anticipate will be the fall of Saddam Hussein, David Chandler's excellent book From Kosovo to Kabul, provokes the reader to question the legitimacy of yet another military intervention. Chandler paints a harrowing picture of the demise of the United Nations as the final arbitrator of peace and security and the gradual reshaping of the international order since 1990. The increasing propensity of what Chandler depicts as a somewhat unified human rights movement creates the necessary shadows, allowing policy makers to substantiate military interventions outside of the norms of international law.

Although Chandler gives too much credit and implied cohesiveness to human rights discourse, he challenges popular and increasingly conventional wisdom that seeks to sidestep half a century of precedent, norms, institutional mechanisms and the principle of sovereign equality that frame global relations. Recent human rights discourse has shaped a 'new humanitarian rights-based interventionism'. It has subsequently been used to substantiate international military action against Yugoslavia in 1999 over the Kosovo crisis, among others. Chandler is right to problematize 'ethical' foreign policy making and he clearly articulates the risks and unintended consequences of this change in international relations. "The problem is that there is no mechanism to make the actions of the world's most powerful states accountable to the citizens of the states they choose to intervene in. The claim to act on behalf of other people can create a dangerous blank cheque to justify the actions of Western governments." (p.72)

That said, one question remains outstanding- just when is humanitarian intervention justified? If the population is better off after a regime change, should we allow ourselves to be obstructed by international coalition building, sanctioned by the UN Security Council while the Council openly recognizes that veto power is being mortgaged for oil revenue (Russian Federation)? Just what are we appealing to and how reliable has the international mechanism been in maintaining peace and security? At this stage in the regime change in Afghanistan, no one can argue that the population is not better off after the US led routing of the Taliban. This does not mean better access to imported Indian films but, just six months after the Afghan Interim Authority took power, an Emergency Loya Jirga was convened and two-thirds of the over 1600 participants were chosen by their respective communities covering all political parties and traversing the ethnic divide. Almost 1.6 million refugees returned home and over 1 million children were able to return to primary school, not to mention the institutional structures being created to administer justice, ensure an integrated army, pay the salaries of civil servants and collect tax revenue thereby allowing the state to function. The corollary of a functioning state is not only that it upholds its obligations to its citizens but also to the international community. In the immediate future, Afghanistan will no longer be a threat to peace and security. On the contrary, the domestic and regional benefits of working with Afghans to secure a lasting peace and self-rule will allow another member state to be a functioning member of the international community, restoring the principle of state sovereignty and sovereign equality.

It would be folly and na´ve to think that regime change via a coalition of coerced or sympathetic countries trailing US decision makers can shape and sustain policy. Chandler foreshadows the risks of protecting and promoting human rights at the expense of the international legal regime. Whether a Security Council resolution that allows member states the right to use force to right selective wrongs will restore confidence in humanitarian intervention is unlikely. The jury is still out as to whether the humanitarian intervention, from Kosovo to Baghdad is only a hiccup in an otherwise stable international order.


Jason Pronyk



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