Is It Time to Intervene in Syria?

Source: Getty
Liberating itself from an authoritarian regime and overcoming internal differences is a formidable task for any nation, but outside intervention hardly makes it easier.
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"A villainous leader brutally killing his adversaries should be stopped." At first sight the moral clarity of this statement cannot be called into doubt.

But on closer inspection, this sounds like an over-simplification. If "humanitarian intervention" implies use of force, then the intervening party assumes the role of god, as it were - as it decides that some people have to die. While sacrificing your own citizens' lives - in case of a war or other emergency - is a leader's legal prerogative, there is no such prerogative outside one's national jurisdiction.

All the lives lost as a result of the villain's deadly operation remain his responsibility, but once foreign forces intervene, they have to share that responsibility, whether they like it or not. The more casualties there are, the more blurred the original good cause.

If the fight is so atrocious that it calls for an outside intervention, it is hardly one between angels and devils. As it undertakes to protect one side against the other, the intervening forces cannot avoid double standards: by emphasising the atrocities committed by the villain's men and playing down those of their adversaries.

If violence is stopped, the intervention may appear justified, but this is usually not the end of the story. The "winners" will likely seek to secure their victory, and the "losers" - to take revenge. Neither is conducive to peaceful development.

This creates a dilemma for the "force for good": to declare its mission accomplished and leave, thus opening the way for renewed atrocities - or to stay at the risk of getting bogged down deeper in a foreign country. The moral urge to intervene is countervailed by the moral responsibility for the consequences. Liberating itself from the villain and overcoming internal differences is a formidable task for a nation, but outside intervention hardly makes it easier.

This article was originally published by the BBC.

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Syria in Crisis

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In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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