Ethical leadership in the age of global information technology – perspectives on peace and crisis management
The development of global information technology is perhaps the most significant feature in the ongoing process of globalization. Its impact on international politics has been in many ways beneficial. Global information technology has facilitated international co-operation and contributed to making governments and the international community better equipped to deal with crisis situations, from prevention to the actual crisis management operations.
A part of the new information environment is the widespread presence of media in conflict areas and a comprehensive media coverage of many of the contemporary crises – if not all of them. While international response to crises can not be determined by media coverage only, there is no denying that the media has a huge impact on focusing the public attention to acute human rights problems and situations where atrocities are unfolding.
At the same time – and not without an interconnection – one can say that many of the problems of international politics as they present themselves today to governments and diplomatic actors, are formulated in ethical terms. This is especially so when it comes to humanitarian crises that seem to require intervention by the international community, whether militarily or by means of civilian crisis management. Difficult ethical questions have also been raised in the context of the so-called war against terrorism.
Promotion of peace and human rights, democracy and the rule of law lie at the core of an ethical approach to international politics. These values are now widely shared all over the world. Genuine ethical dilemmas, therefore, arise when these fundamental principles get in conflict with each other, as for instance when the choice is between intervening in situations of massive abuse of human rights, and preserving international peace and security. This is the problem with unauthorized humanitarian interventions, to which I will revert in a while.
Another aspect of this basic dilemma is, should we define the aim of humanitarian intervention as minimizing human suffering or maximizing human happiness. To this my answer is firmly in favour of the former. However attractive the elusive goal of human happiness is, it is also almost impossible to operationalize, and may be used as a pretext for accepting sufferings of the few as a condition for the happiness of the many, or even acceptance of sufferings now as the price of a better future.
Different kinds of problems arise when governments use ethical rhetoric to advance other interests, or as a pretext to a policy that cannot otherwise be justified. Likewise, debates of right and wrong in international politics can be misleading and dangerous if complex situations are reduced to simple questions of good and evil. Instead of a clear distinction between black and white, concrete problems – and especially their solutions – most often appear in different shades of gray. Demonizing the adversary is rarely helpful, either, even when dealing with ruthless dictators, warlords or terrorists.
While abuse of moral grounds can not be prevented, and examples of such abuse are plenty, there is no reason to underestimate the deep change in the international agenda since the end of the Cold War. Questions are increasingly formulated in terms of the responsibility of the international community – or in terms of obligations owed by states to the international community. Genocide, slavery, torture and other serious crimes are recognized to be of concern to the international community as a whole.
The need for States to take into account community interests is particularly important at a time when the international community is facing new threats and challenges: failed states, corruption, internal conflicts, threat of international terrorist networks, degradation of environment and increasing economic inequality.
Just how much values are part of the international agenda today is shown, for example, by the intensive normative and institutional development that has taken place over the past ten years in the area of human rights and humanitarian law, including the work of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the early establishment of the International Criminal Court. The extension by the UN Security Council of the concept of threat to international peace and security to large-scale violations of human rights and international humanitarian law has also been of great practical significance. The International Court of Justice has confirmed that the fundamental principles of humanitarian law are ”intransgressible”, and thereby belong to the common values of mankind.
The protection of human rights has not only been increasingly reflected in international law, humanitarian issues have also featured significantly in the conduct of international politics. In my view, this is is a permanent change, not a passing mode. At least three factors have contributed to it: recognition of the universality and indivisibility of human rights, which has created a legal justification for measures to promote and protect human rights in other countries, the increased role of domestic audiences in foreign policy making, which has created pressure on states and international organizations to ”do something” to prevent humanitarian catastrophes, and the changed nature of violent conflicts.
Both the present ethical discourse and the institutional development reflect the new reality of violent conflicts since the end of the Cold War. Most armed conflicts have emerged from instability and violence within States rather than from inter-state friction. Widespread and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been prevalent. As a matter of fact, new conflicts have posed even greater humanitarian problems than had been the case in the previous decades. The remarkable advances in international criminal law referred to above therefore have to be seen as responses to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in many parts of the world.
Armed intervention for human protection purposes
The issue of humanitarian intervention has been prominently on the international agenda since the early 1990´s. The end of the bipolar international state system brought about a new type of internal and complex crisis that the international community had to cope with. The concept of failed states tries to capture the reality of chaotic situations where public control of the use of force, or of the resources of state is severely lacking, or there has been a complete breakdown of law and order, and a collapse of the structures of the state. In such situations there is a clear need for an outside authority capable to create order and to restore the state structures, or at least to respond to the humanitarian emergencies.
Another type of situation where external action has seemed to be required is when the state itself is involved in the perpetration of the crimes against its own citizens thus abusing the sovereignty. The problem, in the early 1990´s was most often posed as the existence of a duty to intervene. As a matter of fact, even the setting up of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in 1993, was initially conceived of as a substitute for an armed intervention. Later on, a number of practical as well as legal and ethical problems have complicated the picture.
The ethical questions related to humanitarian intervention most often referred to include the conflict between the the humanitarian purpose and the eventual collateral damage the operation may entail. The very concept of armed humanitarian intervention has been seen as contradictory.
Likewise, there is a conflict between state sovereignty and the rights of the people – and , in case of unauthorized humanitarian interventions, a conflict between peace and security, on the one hand, and human rights, on the other hand. Some would like to see this as a conflict between law and morality. The legal problems relate to the role of the UNSC which is the sole authority, according to the Charter, to decide on such interventions. – The practical problems are a myriad and I will not deal with them here.
This debate reached its culmination with the war in Kosovo in 1999 which, in the words of the Independent Commission on Kosovo, was ”illegal but legitimate”. Ramesh Thakur has in that context formulated the ethical problem of humanitarian interventions quite poignantly in saying, on the one hand, that ” to respect sovereignty all the time is to risk being complicit in humanitarian tragedies sometimes.” On the other hand, ”to use force without UN authorization is to violate international law and undermine world order based on the centrality of the UN as the custodian of world conscience and the Security Council as guardian of world peace”.
While the views of the legitimacy of the Kosovo war differed, and still remain wide apart, it gave rise to some serious consideration of the ethical and legal criteria for intervention, in particular in the context of the Canadian-launched International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The Commission´s report has shifted the terms of the debate. It has changed the focus from a right to intervene to a responsibility to protect. The core principle of the report is that state sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself. But where the state fails, there is a residual responsibility for the international community to protect populations at risk.
The great challenge posed by the report is in that it seeks to redefine state sovereignty as a function of the state´s ability to protect its citizens: if the state fails to do so, the international community has the right to intervene. The Commission also indicates a number of principles that should be used as guidance in any resort to military intervention for humanitarian purposes. According to the report, any military intervention should fulfil six threshold criteria: just cause, right intention, last resort, proportional means, reasonable prospects and right authority.
Of these criteria, all except the last one have their counterparts in the theory of just war. These criteria do not, however, justify the use of force in the absence of appropriate authorisation – and it may be added that any such substantive (ethical) criteria would easily be subject to abuse without a procedural constraint. It is emphasised in the report that no intervention should be taken without a decision of the Security Council.
However, there are fundamental problems as both states, repeatedly, have been incapable or unwilling to fulfil their obligations to protect the civilian population and the UN Security Council has been incapable to assume responsibility for taking the necessary measures to that end. The report even asks whether interventions without the approval of the Security Council, in some cases, would not amount to a lesser damage to its prestige than inaction in the case of a humanitarian disaster.
While the Commission comes to the conclusion that it would be impossible to find consensus for the legality of any intervention not authorised by the Security Council, the report recognizes a further possibility, collective intervention pursued by a regional or sub-regional organisation acting within its defining boundaries. The UN Charter requires action by regional organisations always to be subject to prior authorisation from the Security Council, but there have been cases, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, where approval has been sought ex post facto after the event.
The Commission also gives proposals for enhancing the capacity of the Security Council to act in extreme situations of human insecurity. The Security Council should deal promptly with any request for authority to intervene where there are allegations of large-scale loss of human life or ethnic cleansing, and it should in this context seek adequate verification of facts or conditions on the ground that might support a military intervention.
The report supports the view that the permanent members of the Security Council should agree on a ”code of conduct” for the use of veto with respect to actions that are needed to stop or avert a significant humanitarian crisis. A permanent member, in matters where its vital national interests were not claimed to be involved, should not use its veto to obstruct the passage of what would otherwise be a majority resolution.
Prevention and rebuilding
The aftermath of the Kosovo war, together with the experiences of the past 10 to 15 years in the area of post-conflict peace-building, has also revealed the complexity of the tasks before the international community. It is one of the merits of the ICISS report that it redirects attention to the importance of prevention and to the challenges of reconciliation and rebuilding after any external intervention. There is a recognition that armed intervention may sometimes be required to halt an attack against the civilian population or stop. But even in such cases intervention is not enough.
External intervention may be able to stop massacres, but much more is needed to address the underlying causes of the political disorder in failed states or internal conflicts. An immediate emergency response can only address the symptoms of a crisis. A long term strategy is needed to address the more intractable and complex problems that have contributed to the crisis.
The challenges in such a situation range from establishing mechanisms to reconstitute law and order, accountability and social peace to to training a police force to prevent acts of terrorism – or preventing criminal or terrorist organizations from establishing themselves in the country. The situation is often precarious. Democratization does not happen overnight.
Early warning mechanisms and capabilities should be developed to analyse these threats and the propensity to conflict and react to them as early as possible in order to avoid catastrophes and prevent imminent human disaster and loss of life.
Before resorting to the military option the international community has at its disposal several other means that could serve as pre-emptive measures to prevent the situation from escalating to the extent that military intervention must be considered.
There may, however, be a contradiction in practice – and in the public opinion – between the need to address the acute problems and the work for the alleviation of the underlying problems. Too much attention has often been focussed on the last resort – the military intervention.
What has been said above with regard to conflicts and failed states is largely applicable to the wider perspective on combating terrorism.
Internal and regional conflicts underlie much of today’s terrorism. Afghanistan – as well as the Israeli – Palestine conflict are telling examples of this. Many present-day terrorist groups and networks have their background in extremist and fundamentalist ideologies of secular or religious nature. The common atmosphere of lawlessness prevalent in failed states can provide hiding or operating ground for terrorist groups. The lack of security in failed states may contribute to the growth of fundamentalism or even extreme fundamentalist mobilization.
To address such situations, a comprehensive approach is needed. Long-term measures are necessary to reduce the factors that create or sustain extremist attitudes and favour recourse to violent measures to promote certain political ideas. A deeper insight is needed into the factors which motivate fundamentalism and its radicalization, and into the processes which create and sustain ”terrorist constituencies”.
The fight against terrorism should not lead to a clash between civilizations. An important reminder of this is the European dimension of international terrorism. Fundamentalism does also appear in Europe and may facilitate recruitment for violent, sometimes terrorist action. Many Al Qaida fighters have in fact been recruited from the West.
Another risk for the governments addressing the threat of terrorism is to demonize the adversary. This may lead to a jesuitical approach to the means of combat, whereby the objective justifies the means. While terrorism is seen as utterly immoral, this does not affect the human rights of the persons who commit terrorist acts.
Nor can collective punishments or measures that target indiscriminately persons suspected of terrorist acts and their surroundings be justified morally or legally.
Terrorism as a method is publicity-driven. Terrorist acts are conceived specifically to attract attention. This creates demands for both governments and the media. There are situations where the need for real time news is turned against governments which are pressured to take quick decisions on the basis of all too summary information.
The role of the media
The development of information and communication technology has increased the possibilities for real-time and world-wide news broadcasting and reporting. As pointed out earlier, the media can be an indispensable watchdog in alerting governments to humanitarian dramas that are unfolding and to atrocities that could otherwise remain unnoticed. Too many conflicts still are ”neglected conflicts” when it comes to international attention and assistance. Even the conflict in Congo had devastated the country and caused the death of millions of people until it gained international attention.
Partly because of the need for ever-faster reporting, it has become more difficult to spread meaningful information. Shocking images of human suffering can become an end in itself. It is also worth asking what kind of an effect the open presentation of atrocities, and the accusations concerning the cruelties of the other party, can have on the aggravation of the war and on the commission of war crimes.
A fundamental question is whether the media should try to report on conflicts in an objective and restrained manner, or whether it is justified to require that media professionals clearly provide support to certain points of view which are considered correct and worth fostering. How can the basic values of pluralism and freedom of speech be ensured in conflict situations? There is a danger that free news broadcasting will in any case work at the terms of the stronger party.
If, on the other hand, it is required that the media be on ”our side” and support ”our values”, it is necessary to see to it that the news do not change into propaganda. The risk is real – heavily biased information can make the crisis worse and the warfare more cruel. It can further be asked whether propaganda used during the warfare contributes to the acts of revenge afterwards.
The role as a watchdog should therefore be coupled with a sustained effort at responsible reporting – transmitting information with a meaning, trying to offer a sober analysis, showing respect for the dignity of the victims. An enhanced dialogue between media professionals and humanitarian organizations could contribute to this goal.
The challenges for an ethical leadership and the rule of law in international relations
The concept of ethical leadership seems, first and foremost, to refer to private morality and personal qualities such as honesty and high integrity. This is not something to be overlooked in the conduct of international affairs, as has been proved by the fact that the attention in the aftermath of the Iraq war has to such an extent been focused on whether certain political leaders knew of certain circumstances and whether they told the truth to the public. However as my presentation has primarily dealt with the role of ethical questions in the international agenda, I will conclude with a brief remark in the same category.
A central problem in the debate on humanitarian intervention has been the conflict between moral requirements and the existing law, often presented as the ”moral case” against ”excessive legalism”, or as a question of ”substantive justice” against ”procedural justice”. I am not quite comfortable with such a juxtaposition.
There is a tendency on the part of those who defend the independent right to humanitarian intervention to overlook instititutional and procedural questions in favour of direct application of moral principles. However, the reality of international politics cannot be grasped in purely moral terms. To bring about and to sustain international cooperation, rules and institutions are indispensable.
Promotion of peace and human rights is in practice only possible through multilateral processes. A rule-based approach is important against arbitrariness, and so are agreed procedures. Even formal sovereignty does have important functions in the system of states and international law: to be effective, international law must apply equally to all States. Exceptions to commonly agreed norms may serve short-term interests of States in some situations but they risk to create uncertainty and undermine the legal standards on which multilateral cooperation relies.