Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Security Dilemma of the Human Rights Group

Two new faces enter The Debate Link blogroll today. Each will get their own introductory post.

The first is Security Dilemmas, a international law/relations blog written by University of Puget Sound International Relations & Political Philosophy professor Seth Weinberger. I don't know much about UPS (although when Professor Weinberger emailed me, I did wonder briefly as to why a delivery company was inquiring about my blog), but for some reason (possibly totally random) I have an image of the school as a hotbed of radical leftism. I actually don't have a problem with radical leftism generally, but my tolerance for it generally decreases in the IR sphere compared to domestic politics.

However, regardless of whether my general stereotype is right or wrong, Professor Weinberger himself is quite lucid and engaging. Of particular interest to me was this post on the metrics and methodologies used by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to accuse nations of "war crimes." Weinberger notes that "Amnesty's report is basically a long list chronicling the damage Israel did to Lebanon, but provides no guide for how to judge or assess that damage." It doesn't, for example, sufficiently examine the potential military usefulness of particular mixed-used targets (airports or bridges), does little in the way of grappling with the use of "human shields" as a mitigating factor (they do sometimes note their use, but don't seem to take that into account when compiling the damage to overall infrastructure), and, perhaps most importantly, doesn't analyze precedents of what they would consider just wars conducted under analogous circumstances. All this leads Weinberger to conclude that "Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are really pacifists trying to disguise their true motives by cloaking them in moral arguments."

Weinberger expanded on this point in a previous post, and I find that it rings true. I have very close friends who are affiliated with groups like Amnesty, and I feel quite confident in saying that they have reservations regarding the use of military force in nearly any situation--including a defensive war such as the one Israel launched. This isn't to say they are blanket pacifists--I've noted with favor HRW's stance supporting military intervention in the case of genocide, and this stance is consonant with that of my friends in groups like Amnesty (who also tend to support military intervention in Darfur). Nor am I saying that their concern for human rights is not genuine--it is. However, I do think that they use their status as a human rights watchdog as a cover to "smuggle" in hostility toward the use of armed force in general. There might be good reasons to oppose the latter more than we do, but honesty demands a separation between assessing issues of jus ad bellum and jus in bellum.

Put another way, you are never going to find a war fought within the confines advocated by HRW and Amnesty. There are several reasons why this is true: lingering mistrust of the powerful (the winners will always seem to have inflicted more damage than necessary to win), institutional incentives (human rights groups need to be constantly finding and condemning newsworthy human rights violations to stay in the public eye, so they have an incentive to define violations as broadly as possibly), and ideological (groups that believe war is intrinsically immoral will be more likely to find that a particular war is procedurally immoral as well). All these considerations have the effect of making human rights groups virtually unable (and at some level, unwilling) to find a just war, so they shift the goalposts out so far so that there is no risk of anyone ever meeting the artificially high standards they propagate as the baseline requirements.

No comments: