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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cost of Western Intervention

British newspapers have over the past few days been full of the plight of Irma Hadzimuratovic, a five-year-old Bosnian Moslem girl who was airlifted out of Sarajevo to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital on Monday suffering from spinal and brain injuries which would have been fatal had she remained in Sarajevo (and may yet prove to be so).

You did not need to be a cynic to find the manipulative symbology of it repellent. The British government, under some fire from the liberal elite (that is, nothing serious) for doing even less than other European governments about the Bosnian war and its victims, had selected the most pitiable of casualties and ensured that the media circus would highlight their compassion for her. Let us hope she survives, and that the politicians and their media advisors who colluded in this live too - to feel remorse.

But it is not much less cheap to merely condemn the politicians. There is little evidence that, in this case, they (the British, the other Europeans, the Americans, certainly the others who do not even see the need to mouth pieties) are in the end doing little more than reflecting the popular will - which is ultimately their job. There is no popular will to intervene to "save" Bosnia - or Tajikistan, or Georgia, or Nagorno-Karabakh, or Russia, or anywhere else. The reason is simple enough. It is too expensive, and why should we?

The cost of attempting to save little Irma has been variously estimated at between $20, 000 and $150, 000 - the upper figure, obviously, being the more relevant if she lives. One hundred little Irmas - and there are certainly more than a hundred, more than a thousand, little Irmas in Bosnia - means millions. Anything which makes a difference is in the billions. and even the billions, as we know from Russian reform, is not enough.

Of course, the rich Western states can "afford" it. But afford what? In the case of Bosnia, what would have to be afforded in order to make a difference is an open-ended commitment of troops on the ground which would have to first separate the warring parties, and then ensure the security of the zones which had been imposed upon them (since agreement will remain impossible). That means, in turn, the acceptance of dead and wounded in the foreseeable future; the inevitable sucking into the vortex of post-Yugoslavian politics of the states contributing the military forces; and the expenditure of billions upon billions without limit.

The implications of "doing something", once spelled out, make obvious the reason why nothing, or little, is done. As in Bosnia, so in the former Soviet Union. The rhetoric that "we", the rich West, must spend now to avoid an explosion later is rational enough. But what must we spend?

Must we spend to stop the war in Georgia (and can it ever stop of its own accord)? To bring peace to Tajikistan? To stop the war around Nagorno-Karabakh? To stop the struggle between the Ingush and the North Ossetians? To defuse the looming crisis in Moldova?

How much should we spend to rehabilitate the Russian oil industry and allow the country to earn greater amounts of hard currency once more? To render safe the nuclear power stations? To clean up the gaping wounds in the ecology? To support the millions who will, sooner or later, lose all semblance of work and may threaten any kind of stability? Are we in the trillions yet?

Money is not the only - or even the most important - limit. The collapse of the bipolar world and the promise of a "new world order" (a phrase which is never now reproduced without quotation marks) has made clear that we have no structure for this order - but that we do need one. Superpower rivalry imposed an apparent stability: now it is gone, and the suppressed national and international pathologies run wild.

We need an order under which intervention can be legitimized and governed. We need an order under which expenditure can be popularly approved and more equably shared. We need an order to which governments can at least in theory agree, so that they can in practice be brought to support. We need an order which allows for relations within states to be opened to world scrutiny and action, rather than simply the relations within states.

A dangerous move - to breach the sacred doctrine of non-interference in sovereign nation's affairs? Yes: but what is now the alternative? More little Irmas paraded before uneasy consciences?

John Lloyd is the Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times