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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Why Nations Play God

A paradoxical situation has arisen in the international sphere. The idea of military intervention, even for noble goals such as peacekeeping, the protection of human rights or famine relief, is undergoing a crisis. But a number of countries such as Japan, Germany, Turkey and Russia are defending their right to participate in operations that are almost guaranteed to fail.


In order to understand this paradox, we should think about the surprising transformation that the concept of military intervention has undergone in the past few years. Up until just recently it was used only to repulse an aggressor, usually in the interests of the state conducting the intervention.


But now the very concept of foreign military operations has undergone a radical shift. These operations are no longer used as an answer to changes in the strategic situation. They are more often used when there are profound changes in the world view of a nation and its leaders.


The dilemma that must be solved now by the leaders of a number of countries is much like the one that faced the heroes of one of Russia's most popular science fiction stories. They were sent to a planet where the inhabitants were living in a feudal society, with all of the monstrous cruelty and crime of such an age. The humanitarians from space were unable to watch the childhood of another civilization.


Some wanted to rush into battle, to use their superior weapons to punish the guilty. Others advocated putting the entire planet to sleep, and using hypnosis to drag the planet up to a higher level of civilization.


Now, at the end of the 20th century, in the aftermath of the Cold War, the leading world powers have reached a common understanding of human values: the right to life, liberty, safety. At the same time, large portions of our planet are flouting these values. Countries like Rwanda and Haiti have simply not reached the necessary level of development. In others, such as Bosnia or Abkhazia, the veneer of civilization turned out to be thin and fragile, opening the way for genocide and massive repression.


Now there is a difficult problem facing those who wish to establish humanitarian values in the world: What is to be done? Every day television shows crimes that make one's hair stand on end. Public opinion demands immediate action. The first instinct is understandable: to use the superior military power of the civilized world to put an end to the cruelty, especially since the armed forces of the leading nations seem to have nothing to do since the disappearance of the main adversary.


But no operations of this nature have been successful -- not in Somalia, not in Bosnia, not in Rwanda. There are two reasons for this. The first is purely technical: Modern armies, created for the battlefield, turned out to be ineffective when the opponent used the civilian population as a shield. But after the first setbacks, both the United States and Russia are creating special units trained in peacekeeping.


The other reason is more serious. It is impossible to civilize a nation or force it into peace by the sword. Humanitarian colonialism is a phenomenon of our time, and unfortunately it was doomed from the start. No matter how attractive the ideas that foreign soldiers are attempting to instill in the local population, they will never be accepted, for the obvious reason that they are being advocated by an occupying force. An army, even a peacekeeping one, is not usually associated with missionary work. It is used to fulfill the task that it is fit for, namely, force.


I understand American politicians who express doubts about military intervention in Haiti, and the Russian deputies who change their minds 10 times before giving the go ahead to peacekeeping operations. These operations are incapable of getting rid of the reasons for the conflict.


It may seem overly cynical, but all attempts to bring happiness by force prove only one thing: Countries get the governments they deserve.


The will to participate in such operations depends, in the final analysis, on the national interests of certain states. It is obvious why the head of the Turkish general staff expressed his readiness to send as many troops as necessary to Azerbaijan. Turkey's military sees Russia's peacekeeping efforts as an attempt to get back in to the Caucasus. So Turkey sees peacekeeping as an effective instrument in the struggle for a sphere of influence.


Germany and Japan are also defending their own interests. Disregarding the statutes in their constitutions that prohibit their sending troops abroad, they are now announcing that since their societies have nothing in common with fascism and militarism, the limitations imposed in the past are no longer justified. Bonn and Tokyo have thus removed the last, purely psychological, barriers to becoming regional leaders.


It is national interest that gave rise to Russia's desire to conduct such operations. Given the fact that Russia cannot now establish firm borders and separate its territory from the zone of conflict, it has no choice but to try to settle these conflicts, at least for now.


No matter what the politicians say, no matter what exotic ideas they put forth about the UN rapid deployment force, the participation of countries in military operations is determined and will continue to be determined by an understanding of their own interests. It is doubtful that anyone would risk the lives of their soldiers in the name of humanitarianism.


"It is Difficult to Play God" -- that is the title of the novel I mentioned at the beginning. Maybe it is not worth even trying?





Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.