Thursday, June 23, 2011


"The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's conflicts. Non-interference has long been considered an important principle of international order. And it is not one we would want to jettison too readily. One state should not feel it has the right to change the political system of another or foment subversion or seize pieces of territory to which it feels it should have some claim. But the principle of non-interference must be qualified in important respects. Acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter. When oppression produces massive flows of refugees which unsettle neighbouring countries then they can properly be described as 'threats to international peace and security'. When regimes are based on minority rule they lose legitimacy – look at South Africa....

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, "Doctrine of the International Community", Economic Club, Chicago, 24 April 1999.

"The Sultan's one fear appears to be lest he should do anything which would sacrifice the apparent independence of his country. But the independence of Turkey, though it is written in the Public Law of Europe, though it is guaranteed by the Treaties of Berlin and Paris, is yet a very special kind of independence. It is an independence that exists by reason of the agreement of the other Powers that they will not interfere with it and that they will maintain it; and the danger of course, which the Powers have felt from the first time that the policy was initiated has been lest in maintaining the Turkish Empire, in protecting it from the ambitions of other Powers, in giving it a stability which it would not naturally possess, they would be working for a mechanism which does not work for human happiness and progress, but rather shows tendencies towards weak government and towards free license to the antagonism of creed and race, which have for many centuries been the curse of Provinces of the Turkish Empire....How long the present state of things will go on I confess appears to me more doubtful than it did twenty years ago. The noble Lord (Lord Rosebury) himself said that the permanence of the Sultan's rule was involved in the conduct he pursued. If, generation after generation, cries of misery come up from various parts of the Turkish Empire, I am sure that the Sultan cannot blind himself to the possibility that Europe will at some time or other become weary of the appeals that are made to it, and the factitious strength that is given to his
Empire will fail it."

Lord Salisbury, Speech in the House of Lords, 15 August 1895, Hansard, Volume XXXVI, p. 50.

The article in the Financial Times by its chief diplomatic correspondent, Gideon Rachman, points up to certain essential facts of international relations which from time to time, are conveniently forgotten and then, tout `a coup, suddenly 're-discovered' 1. Au fond what Rachman seems to be saying is that it is only due to certain very contemporary aspects of the international scene, which will most likely allow the regime of Assad Fils in Syria to survive without interference by the international community. This seems to me to be a fundamental mis-reading of the realities of international relations, both now and in the recent past, as well even prior to that. First, concepts such as the recently enunciated 'responsibility to protect', only work against regimes which, to put it in ultra-demotic terms: 'cannot fight back'. Regimes such as North Korea, Persia, and of course Syria, among others, which are in military terms, second-rate military powers, have tended to be left alone by the international community. For the simple reason that intervening against such powers, is a very costly business indeed, and cannot be undertaken either easily, or in fact, at all. At least not voluntarily. It is only with third-rate military powers, or failed states, such as Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Iraq, and now Libya, does one see any enthusiasm by the international community to intervene with military force. For the simple reasons that these states' military apparatuses do not allow scope for any sustained and real military response to outside intervention. Certainly nothing which will result in very heavy military losses by the intervening powers. In the final analysis, 'humanitarian intervention', is in the terms of international politics, simply a luxury which can be only afforded on occasion, and if and only if that it does not cost too much. A lesson which the great Lord Salisbury learned in the late 19th century at the time of the Armenian massacres by the Ottoman Turks, and which statesman in the intervening period have learned and relearned ever since 2.

1. Gideon Rachman, "Why Syria will get away with it," The Financial Times. 13 June 2011, in

2. For the best discussion of Salisbury's policy of endeavoring to interest the other powers in a joint military intervention to stop the Turkish massacres of the Armenians in 1895-1896, and the military difficulties involved in unilateral military action which in effect vetoed the idea, see especially: William Langer, The Diplomacy of Imperialism. (1935), pp. 195-210 and passim.


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