Retired Gen. Wesley Clark says all nations have a responsibility to intervene to thwart crimes against humanity, and that intervention must include military action when necessary.
Speaking at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations annual conference, Clark also cautioned that the United States must handle The Responsibility to Protect carefully. That declaration, known as R2P, was signed in 2005 by about 250 heads of state to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and other atrocities.
“R2P if it’s closely associated with the U.S., looks like a pretext for intervention,” Clark told conference attendees. “That’s not the intent. R2P is a way to bridge the gap between different countries – their definitions of sovereignty -- bringing them around to a shared commitment to the UN Declaration of Human Rights.”
In addition, R2P represents an effort “to establish better living conditions for people around the world and some kind of ability first to help governments, second when governments can’t do it themselves and third maybe even against governments,” the former presidential candidate says.
“But you have to be very, very careful with this, because if it gets out that this is the administration’s formula for the next round of intervention, then kiss it goodbye -- it’s dead. So you’ve got to really keep your distance from it.”
Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister and author of R2P, lauded the declaration and its core concepts highly. Civilized nations around the world are coming to realize that "the sin is not intervention, the sin is indifference," he said. "The landscape has been changing away from sovereignty as a license to kill."
Evans, now president of the International Crisis Group said that a turning point came last year, when various nations quickly agreed to intervene diplomatically in Kenya to stop post-election violence, including ethnic cleansing.
"It was exactly what I was trying to generate...," Evans said. "When an ugly case comes along, we have to do something about it. We can't sit back and let it happen."
He contrasts the response in Kenya to the world’s reaction to Rwanda 14 years ago, when the Clinton administration and others declined to intervene in ethnic conflicts in Rwanda that left hundreds of thousands dead.
Evans points out that countries which commit atrocities against their own people are frequently guilty of other sins as well. Those include harboring terrorists, allowing the exchange of weapons of mass destruction, creating an outgoing refugee problem and fostering traffic in drugs and humans.
Asked what the international community has done wrong in Darfur, a region in Sudan beset by civil war, Evans blasted the global response.
He acknowledges that the size and complexity of the conflict make it difficult to solve. But he says outside nations have been reluctant to assert the strong pressure needed to resolve the conflict.
Clark meanwhile expressed strong support for the Obama administration’s foreign policy team and the policy itself.
“It shouldn’t be a great surprise that you have a very sure footed administration right now in foreign policy,” Clark said. “You have some people with a lot of experience.”
Clark is particularly impressed with Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones. “When you cap that off with someone like James Jones who’s non-partisan… He was basically working with John McCain. He just came out of the military. He’s got broad experience. He was there at a high level in the Pentagon during the late 1990s with Bill Cohen,” Clark said.
He also approves of the State Department under Obama. “There are just some really quality people” there, he says. “And for the Secretary of State herself [Hillary Clinton], she had been all over. She had lived through all that – all the travails in the White House.”
Add it up, Clark said, and “you’ve got an absolutely first class team in foreign policy in this administration right now. I’m not surprised that they’ve made all the right moves so far.”
He cited Obama’s Iran policy and policy toward pirates as examples. “You’re not going to be able to get Iran out of the nuclear business unless you first make the move under the non-proliferation treaty,” he says. “They’re making that move.”
As for fighting pirates, “you shouldn’t personalize the actions against piracy, and Barack Obama didn’t personalize his actions,” Clark says. “He did it the right way. This is a really smart, disciplined team in foreign policy.”
Clark particularly likes the administration’s low key approach. “That’s the way this team will play it,” he says. “They’ll stay hands off. They’re going to work it behind the scenes.”
Clark sees U.S. relations with China as a top priority. “Secretary of State Clinton has said that’s our most important bilateral relationship,” he points out.
“That’s where she went the first time. Somehow we have to bring the Chinese on board with us, without either exciting a lot of U.S. domestic outcry against it or at the same time giving up our own interests in the process.”
Also at the UCLA conference, Kantathi Suphamongkhon, Thailand’s former foreign minister, complimented the Bush administration’s response to the Myanmar cyclone last year.
“The U.S. was prudent to resist temptation to force its way into Myanmar,” says Suphamongkhon, who now teaches at UCLA. “Instead the U.S., even at that time, used smart diplomacy, and a smart diplomacy application led Myanmar to accept U.S. military aid -- flights from Thailand.”
Suphamongkhon isn’t so impressed with France. He accuses it of acting in the same cowboy manner that French officials attributed to George Bush’s foreign policy.
“When the French foreign minister invoked R2P for Myanmar, in the aftermath of the cyclone, what seemed to be in mind was an international humanitarian intervention under the UN Security Council without the consent of the host country,” Suphamongkhon says
“Indeed, the French foreign minister declared that R2P should be invoked without waiting for the consent of the government.”
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