Bill Easterly writes:
The UN Security Council decides on military intervention (“peacekeepers”) or a Great Power does it on their own. Two of the Council’s permanent members are authoritarian, most of the Great Powers follow their own geo-strategic interests most of the time, and none of them have any democratic rights for Bottom Billion citizens to make Security Council or Great Power foreign policy decisions. (Small caveat: There never has existed or will exist a benevolent and politically neutral international force that will rapidly deploy to surgically solve Bottom Billion problems.) Yet the Great Powers will decide according to Collier’s proposals whether an “area or people” are allowed to have elections, whether the elections are legitimate when allowed, and when to send in the military (which, despite the nice “peacekeepers” label, are in a purely technical sense made up of soldiers carrying guns that are aimed at people.) The dictionary definition of “colonialism” is “Control by one power over a dependent area or people.” I agree that permanent colonies are a thing of the past, but the above description sure sounded a lot like “control” of “a dependent area” by outside powers. Many may indeed think me way out of line to call Collier’s proposals by the inflammatory word “colonialism” just because of the technicality that they actually fit the definition of “colonialism.” But us dissenters will persist anyway because the Bottom Billion deserve better than control by a development expert with an army, they deserve democratic rights just as much as all the other Billions.
I believe in the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). I believe that sometimes —very rarely, and only when a very strict set of criteria are met– military intervention in warranted to stop imminent or ongoing atrocities on a large scale. I believe that peacekeepers and international administration can lessen the suffering of civilians after civil war. As much as I want local leaders everywhere to look out for the wellbeing and reflect the real interests of their people, I know that is not always the case and that local elites who claim to speak for this group or that group in divided societies often speak for and care about only themselves.
I also know many people who have lived through state failure and civil war, and they have told me very frankly that it’s all well and good to shout from the ivory tower about local ownership and the evils of “neo-imperialism” and the inherent democratic deficit in international administration –and there is truth to those charges, for sure– but refugees, IDPs, war orphans, disabled veterans and former child soldiers, survivors of wartime sexual violence, and preyed on minorities really don’t give a flying crap about any of that. They care about basic things, food, clean water, dignified housing, protection from predation, medical treatment, and an opportunity to pick up the pieces of their lives and rebuild. At an even more basic level, all development, all progress is contingent on people being alive. If local authorities cannot or will not protect the very lives of their citizens, it is not unethical for outside actors to step in — as a last resort, temporarily, and using means that maximize human security.
If believing that makes me a colonialist, so be it.