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74th Annual Summer Conference, August 4–7, 2005

When to Use Force and When to Avoid It

Summary by Emma Dolan

Ernie Regehr

1. The responsibility to protect

  • This is a key element of just war theory – the use of force is a last resort.
  • There is the implicit assumption that when all else fails, the resort to force remains.
  • Intractable problems do exist (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan) that suggest that force cannot be wholly relied upon when all else fails.
  • Long-term problems are not amenable to short-term solutions.
  • National governments hold the responsibility to protect their own citizens; in the event of an egregious failure, the international community must intervene.
  • The international community must override national sovereignty when a government is not acting in the interests of its own people (in the event of such an egregious failure).

2. Embedded in the responsibility to protect is the responsibility to prevent

  • The most effective means of preventing humanitarian disasters is to directly alleviate suffering; peacebuilding must be used to meet needs previously unmet, prevent the abuse of rights, and stop violence.
  • These are not military challenges per se.

3. When we call on the international community, there cannot be a blanket rejection of the use of force

  • The welfare of the people must be our primary concern.
  • The failure to prevent conflict leads to our resort to force; all particular wars are preventable, but war is still a fact of life.
  • The aim must be to limit the burden of the people stuck in peril who need access to protectors.

4. Limits to force

  • One cannot look to the exercise of legal force to bring in a new order.
  • Long-term peace and stability cannot be delivered by force.
  • There is no quick fix that will work in the long term.
  • The use of force for humanitarian purposes mitigates imminent threats in order to seek long-term solutions.

5. Force must be used only within a broader spectrum

  • It must be accompanied by a broad range of instruments designed to bring peace and stability.

6. The nature of force to be deployed for humanitarian purposes

  • There is a challenge in finding tactics to fill out the gap between an outdated mode of peacekeeping and full-out military force.
  • There are limitations, and they must be accepted.
  • Intervention may be more akin to policing – protection as opposed to winning.
  • The goal is public safety while others pursue solutions; specialized communications and equipment are needed, and rules of engagement are important.
  • There is a reluctant recognition of the failure to prevent perilous crises.
  • No calm, detached analysis can be used at the point of action or decision; therefore, criteria and guidelines must be set out beforehand.

Peter Bradley

How people can be conditioned to kill

1. Do people have a natural predisposition to kill?

  • Yes. There is a natural aggression in all of us.
  • Certain stimuli can make the average person aggressive (e.g., alcohol weakens inhibition, and is used often in guerrilla warfare).
  • Almost everyone can be conditioned to kill.

2. What conditions must be present for normal people to kill?

  • The closer the killer is to the victim, the more resistant the killer will be. If the killer identifies the victim as a person, it is more difficult to kill.
  • It is easier for members of an artillery unit to kill than it is for those engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Social and cultural distances are important. As well, as they can be highlighted and used to de-humanize the other side.
  • If an authority is giving the order to kill, he or she must be legitimate; the closer and more respected the authority is, the easier for the subordinate.
  • The demands placed on the subordinate must be legitimate, lawful and intense.
  • Soldiers seek moral justification, and need to be able to believe that what they are doing is not murder.
  • The pressure of a group can make people more likely to kill.
  • People in groups are more likely to kill than are individuals.
  • Groups enable killing because individuals are reluctant to let their group members down.
  • People conform to pressure and responsibility is diffused.
  • Desensitization reduces a person’s aversion to killing, and can be conditioned.
  • Conditioning is used in the training of soldiers (e.g., shaping targets as humans), and training “kicks in” when soldiers are in armed combat.

3. What stages do people go through in their psychological reaction to killing?

  • The first concerns the prospect of killing, and leads to introspection on the part of the person who will be doing the killing.
  • The second is comprised of the actual killing. Many soldiers will kill, most do with some reluctance, and some are unable to kill, so attend to other tasks.
  • The third is the sense of exhilaration and satisfaction, or intense excitement, that comes after the kill.
  • The fourth is remorse, and reflection on the humanity of the victim; sometimes, this stage is repressed.
  • The fifth and final is rationalization and acceptance, which can often take years.
  • Desensitization in the media: repeated exposure to violence trivializes pain and suffering and can aggravate aggressive tendencies.
  • Most people are averse to killing, and this is reduced by desensitization.

Craig Jenness

There were three main interventions in Yugoslavia:

  • The Bosnian War, 1992
    – A referendum for independence garnered a 2/3 majority.
    – The Serbs were completely opposed, and war broke out between the Serbs on one side and the Muslims and Croats on the other, and then degenerated into all-out warfare among the three groups.
    – More than 200,000 were killed, millions were displaced, and ethnic cleansing was born.
    – The deployment of troops to the area was under-equipped and under-mandated; there were too few troops deployed.
    – In 1995, the Serbs attacked a safe area guarded by the Dutch, who were forced to hand over a group of men who were then slaughtered.
    – The threat was made that if any other safe areas were attacked, force would be used.
    – NATO began a bombing campaign, and in December 1995, the conflict was over, but there is not peace.
  • Kosovo
    – An autonomous region within Yugoslavia.
    – A peacekeeping mission was desired; the KLA emerged and skirmished with the Serbs.
    – There were worries about spillover.
    – In October 1998, a ceasefire was brokered, but it broke down quickly.
    – The peacekeepers were unarmed, and air strikes were threatened.
    – On March 22, the OSCE monitors withdrew, and on March 24, a NATO bombing campaign began that lasted 58 days.
    – Milosevic was bombed into submission, and Kosovo is now under U.N. administration.
    – Its political status has not been resolved.
  • Macedonia
    – This is not a well-remembered crisis, as it happened in early 2001, and was overshadowed by other events.
    – The early response was an unarmed OSCE contingent.
    – Concerted political pressure was applied, and monitors and NATO troops were sent in.
    – Today, the situation is stable, and the former rebels now constitute a political party.
  • The U.N. had very little involvement in these crises.
  • There is a responsibility to protect but, in this situation, was intervention the right thing to do?
  • Intervention is better sooner than later; violence begets violence, and the cycle only grows.
  • Peacekeepers must be sufficiently resourced to reach stability by force.
  • These troops could not protect civilians, nor could they survive attacks.
  • To protect, overwhelming force was needed.
  • The object of force should be the protection of citizens and civilians, and it will always have political ramifications.
  • Political agreements should end wars, because the threat of the use of force does not lead to long-term stability.
  • We are morally justified to intervene, and our natural and human interests in these situations are important.
  • We must remember that differences between us do not make us different.