Last Wednesday, Feb. 19, assistant professor of political science Carrie Booth Walling delivered a lecture on a matter of international interest: humanitarian intervention.
Bobbitt Auditorium was packed with students and faculty eager to hear about Walling’s recently published book, All Necessary Measures: The United Nations and Humanitarian Intervention.
“I have a passion for human rights,” Walling said in her lecture.
This passion, she said, started when she was the same age as many of her students here at Albion College. While Walling was in college, the wars in Yugoslavia and the Rwandan Genocide were both ongoing.
“I was really struck by a horrific sense of injustice and an immense amount of frustration that these crimes were being permitted to continue,” Walling said.
It was within this context that Walling discovered international human rights, which provided dignity, justice and equality on a global scale.
Most deplorably, crimes similar to those in Yugoslavia and Rwanda continue today.
Walling’s work focuses largely on international responses to these mass crimes.
“When we get to the point of debating whether or not humanitarian intervention is appropriate or necessary, it’s a sign that our policy or our international policy has already been a failure,” Walling said.
Wondering what drives the United Nations Security Council to interfere in some crises and not others, Walling researched patterns in council member reactions and the consequent solutions. She investigated situations where the council stepped in – Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sierra Leone – and noted the council’s absence in the cases of Rwanda, Kosovo and Sudan.
Walling set out to determine what prompts the use of military force in defending human rights.
“[P]ower in the Security Council at the start of the 21st century is no longer simply about whose military can win but also about whose story can win,” Walling says in her book.
The key, she decided, is in the council members’ stories about the conflict’s cause and nature, as well as the target state’s authority.Walling explained that Security Council members must conclusively agree on the conflict, its clear perpetrators and victims to reach a solution. In addition, state sovereignty must often allow for intervention.
“Generally, the Security Council needs a ‘bad guy’ to stop and a ‘good guy’ to work with or defend,” Walling said.
In the end, it’s largely an argument of definition – is a conflict intentional, inadvertent or complex?
“An intentional story identifies a perpetrator [which] is deliberately and systematically harming a particular set of victims,” Walling said.
For example, following a massacre in Sarajevo, the Serbian government identified Bosnian-Serbs as the perpetrators. The victims were the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A casual chain is evident through use of the word “ethnic cleansing” in this case.
A story like this, with clear perpetrators and victims, opens up the possibility that you can get humanitarian intervention, Walling said.
However, when states are labeled perpetrators of a crime, mediation doesn’t happen because this would bring state sovereignty and military intervention into conflict.
“The protection of state sovereignty prompts policies of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states, whereas the protection of fundamental human rights prompts the possibility of humanitarian intervention,” Walling said.
Albion College junior Patrick Lopez of Boise, ID, attended Walling’s lecture.
“Her presentation was very effective in demonstrating the UNSC’s decision-making logic when it came to the use of force,” Lopez said.
Lopez, who especially appreciates learning how supranationals make decisions, said she did a great job boiling it down to the basics.
First-year Madeline Beattie of Mount Prospect, IL, works with Walling through the Student Research Partners Program.
“I really liked the lecture,” Beattie said. “Most of the research I help Dr. Walling with is centered on Syria, so it was interesting to hear about how our ideas applied to other events,” she added.
Walling’s exploration of the Council’s values, national interests and their impact on decision-making is especially valuable as they suggest prospective UN intervention.
Photo courtesy of Albion College