And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence
Since the onset of the Second Congolese War in 1998, an estimated 5.4 million people have died as the result of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The US Government did essentially nothing to address the situation. This raises the question:
-As a state, are we morally required to act in the face of massive deprivation of human livelihood within foreign countries?
It is generally agreed upon that international military intervention is permissible and even required when humanitarian crises are so extreme as “to shock the conscience of mankind,” including genocide, massacre, ethnic cleansing, etc. When states are unable or unwilling to protect their citizens from large-scale loss of basic rights, such as the right to life, then the international community must collectively intervene on the basis of numerous treaties, common humanity, and a commitment to human rights. However, this does not solve the problem. It seems obvious that someone should do something, but who and in what way?
Nobody would expect the Salvadoran Government to protect Congolese citizens from rebel forces, but why not? El Salvador is utterly incapable of leading such an intervention. The actors that are most capable (given their military and economic strength as well as their strategic advantage) assume the moral imperative to act once the general need to act is recognized among the international community. Consider the following situation:
A man begins to choke in a restaurant and falls to the ground. The entire restaurant turns to look and see that he is having difficulty breathing, it appears he will die if nothing is done. If there were an emergency physician in the restaurant, would he not have the most responsibility to help the suffering man, given his capability as a trained doctor? If the doctor sees too many risks (lawsuit, personal health, etc.) involved and refuses to help, isn’t the duty to act then passed on to the next most capable individual, perhaps a nurse? Everyone in the restaurant should help the best they can, maybe by calling 911 or helping with crowd control, but it is the most capable individual(s), the physician, who ought to orchestrate the effort.
I would argue that the general principle here of “capability-based obligation” in crisis situations applies in international society as well.
The most powerful nations and organizations of the world have a duty to act because of their capabilities. There is no better or more appropriate body than the United Nations Security Council to authorize military intervention for humanitarian purposes. However, if the Council is unwilling to act in a timely and effective manner to stop genocide or ethnic cleansing, the burden of protection is transferred to the next most capable power, which is arguably the United States. Of course, other members of the international community are also required to act in whatever way feasible; it would be unfair to expect the hegemon to be the sole provider of relief in every humanitarian crisis. However, the hegemon (similar to the doctor) has the duty to lead the collective effort. We, the United States, had (have) the capability and thus the duty to orchestrate a multilateral intervention in the DRC to prevent mass crimes against humanity.
The United States has continually shirked responsibility to protect from large-scale loss of basic human rights abroad. To be blunt, we have a racist foreign policy; no country in Western Europe would undergo that sort of damage without a strong response from our government. Until the American people internalize responsibility for their global brothers and sisters and demand that our government affirm the humanity of all people, we will continue to have an overly narrow and unfortunate articulation of our national interest.
Joe Biden mentioned the DRC during his VP debate; I hope he was for real. What do you think? Do we have a duty to act in these situations? If so, will an Obama administration be less likely to shirk?