A fascinating review of a new French book about French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner. The thesis, simply put, is that the humanitarian interventions pushed by the French elite are essentially the same as American neo-conservatives. Democracy promotion is the tag; military power is the supposed answer:
Kouchner has spent the last three decades trying to translate his humanitarian reputation into political, military and diplomatic influence of a more traditional kind. In 1988, Mitterrand created a post for him as secretary of state for humanitarian affairs. Kouchner’s great achievement at the time was to theorise (with the help of the international lawyer Mario Bettati) the droit d’ingérence – the right to disregard national sovereignty and intervene in countries experiencing humanitarian crises – and to get it codified, in UN Resolution 43/131. There was something sneaky about the way the measure was implemented: it calls for intervention in case of ‘natural disasters and similar emergency situations’. Political turmoil turned out to be similar enough to storms or earthquakes, and in 1990 and 1991 the UN Security Council invoked 43/131 to open a ‘humanitarian corridor’ for Kurds fleeing Iraq.
This changed everything. It rendered national sovereignty conditional, and led to the increasing militarisation of humanitarianism, starting in Somalia. On the eve of the invasion of Somalia in December 1992, Kouchner wrote in Le Monde: ‘We believe in an armed and saving intervention by the international community.’ Péan notes the outrage that greeted these pronouncements: the defence minister Pierre Joxe objected that Kouchner gave ‘the impression of disposing of the lives of French soldiers without even consulting the minister of defence’, and Rony Brauman later wrote, dismayed, that ‘for the first time, in Somalia, we killed under the banner of humanity.’ Yet these views, which would have seemed the merest common sense five years earlier, were in the minority. Public opinion, or at least public sentiment, was squarely behind Kouchner. Péan sees the droit d’ingérence as the start of a path that leads from Iraq to Somalia to Kosovo and then back to Iraq. He is right.