Ray Rider wrote:
Looks like the antiwar crowd is dominating the discussion here and I happen to agree for the most part. The National Post had a good article about it recently here
However I do have a couple questions for the non-interventionists here:
1. At what point is intervention in sovereign nation's civil war justifiable, or is it ever justifiable, in your opinion? In the case of Syria, it's of low strategic value to the West, neither warring faction shares the West's values, and the risk of the war spilling over to other nations is low if left to continue its course; however do you believe there is a point, say after 500,000 causalities or something, that intervention is morally just and necessary from a humanitarian standpoint?
Or perhaps only if it is ethnic cleansing which is occurring i.e. Rwanda?
No, but this is a incomplete view of the situation. It's not just simply: after x-amount of people die by (a) Assad's government--and also (b) various rebels, then war is morally justified. (Who's killing who, and why?) Given one's moral position, would intervention achieve
the goal of stopping the casualties or would it increase it? And how would intervention be conducted?Means, Ends, Outcomes
We must first understand if the means, (a) intervention or non-intervention, attain the goals of our moral position, and more importantly, this requires comparing the various means with alternatives--e.g. letting Syrian
refugees into the US. *(Watch how some moralists would bulk at that proposition. They'd want to 'help' but at the distance of a missile strike, which to me says something about their moral 'reasoning'). Wouldn't extended visas to Syrian
refugees minimize more casualties?, and upon arrival, wouldn't the work/trade benefit them and us even more? The relative benefits and costs of intervention must be compared with the relative benefits and costs of non-intervention.
(b) Then, we have to consider the intended and unintended consequences for the means, and this requires looking at the past pattern of US intervention in (1) resolving conflict, thus (2) preventing more deaths, and (3) providing better/worse long-term outcomes (all of which the US + Allies have had a very unimpressive record).
Also, if we answer (a) intervention, you'd have to (c) examine the political process in order to clarify one's expectations of the outcomes from US policymakers and politicians. For example, of the many plans for intervention, and regardless of the pro-war clamoring of the electorate, would the USG actually
pick the one which minimizes casualties in the long-run? (which would presumably be the goal of the initial moral claim). Or would they pick something else? (e.g. supporting a dictatorship, 'accidentally' prolonging the war, etc.). If they would pick something else, then why support intervention?
(Notice how moral rhetoric/'reasoning' can have zero accountability because that approach often overlooks consequences of its clamoring, and it fails to explain the process through which the moral means would be implemented).Reevaluate the moral position
Are casualties all that matters? Suppose the US were to impose a dictatorship in Syria which actually keep casualties at a lower rate. Would it be acceptable for a moral position to inadvertently support dictatorships? Are there not other criteria for moral approbation (e.g. freedom, health, well-being, etc.)? If so, would the various means of intervention be better at attaining such lofty goals, or would the various means of non-intervention be more effective? For example, compare building a democracy (Iraq, AFG) to simply inviting people to an already established democracy (e.g. opening borders of US, CAN, wherever to innocent Syrians).
So, we can't just rely on the casualties nor on the means of those casualties as a reason for intervention.Moral Positioning: subsidies, accountability, and opportunity cost
Who's going to subsidize/pay the costs for one's moral position? And would such a process accurately reflect your consideration of the costs and benefits over time? Again, how would the moralist hold himself accountable if his means for attaining his moral goal not only fail but create even worse outcomes?
Let's apply what we know about the importance of opportunity costs. Since we live in a world of scarcity, we have finite means for attaining many desired goals. Suppose an intervention in Syria would cost $1bn per month
. If one's moral goal is to reduce deaths, then would spending $1bn per month on other means better attain that goal?--e.g. foreign aid, R&D in medicine, whatever. In other words, for any plan of action, you should compare it to the opportunity cost--i.e. what could you have spent the money on instead.
And if spending $1bn per month on Whatever could've saved more lives, then how can one justify an intervention in Syria? Do not other people's lives matter as well?
Then, what happens in the political process of subsidizing one's moral goals? If you don't pay for something--or to be precise, if you only pay a relatively minimal amount than you otherwise would have had to pay (since everyone else is being force to pay), nor control the decision rights over that money, then you'll have a limited ability to attain your goal.
Suppose you could freely spend your money on intervention (military/non-military) in Syria. If your place of donation was failing to attain its goals, you could stop giving it money. The problem with the political process is that (1) you can't choose to stop giving it money--no matter how much it fails, and (2) political enterprises don't go bankrupt, so when they fail, they neither learn as effectively as businesses in the market system learn, nor we will they be forced to actually stop or rapidly decrease doing harm--in most cases.
Also, if you subsidize something, you generally get more of it. If you subsidize the means for intervention, then the price for moral clamoring toward intervention would decrease (it's encapsulated in the thought: "hey, we got the military, so why not use it as 'a global force for good'" Why not 'do something'?). The problem is that a subsidy in the political process doesn't hold itself accountable to waste/lower productivity--compared to 'subsidies'/investments in the market system. (Recall the paragraph above on why that is).
And, is it more right for others' to die--like Allied/rebels/Syrian
govt. soldiers/innocents? Is it more right to deprive others' of more of their money (taxation)? Your moral concerns might
be assuaged, but are you choosing and attaining the best moral means and goals?
('might' because the goal through intervention is not certain, nor highly likely given past performance).
Given all this, would the moralist hold himself accountable to all the above problems? Or do they generally shout for X, get X, and then move onto Y while ignoring X? (If so, then they should stop doing that since no accountability doesn't help others in the long-run). If one supports intervention, and it fails or causes more harm, then is the moralist punished for supporting such means? No, hardly. Would they learn from their mistakes? Maybe. If so, then moral clamoring for intervention shouldn't be subsidized.
Those who insist on intervention should be required to face the consequences of their actions--whether it be joining the war and getting shot, or supporting military/non-military intervention through donations while watching that money become poorly used. That's how people are best held accountable: when the costs of their actions are internalized. (The political process does not encourage this since its means are almost entirely provided through involuntary exchange--i.e. each citizen hardly has as much autonomy over the political means, compared to one's autonomy on making decisions in markets).
Ray Rider wrote:2. At what point is intervention in a sovereign nation justifiable to prevent chemical weapons from getting into the wrong hands or from being used indiscriminately on a population? Does the fact that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in Syria affect your view at all--is it a factor in deciding whether war is justifiable or not? Or do you view it as "just another 300 dead out of 100,00; who cares about the exact cause of their death"? What about if these chemical weapons had long-term lasting effects on the environment?
Those are some of the questions I'm mulling over right now. I'm opposed to the war right now, but I'm figuring out at what point my view on that would change; what would it take for me to join the pro-war side?
Same as above. You need to compare various means to alternatives and to examine the processes through which each might be attained. For example, would spending $1bn per month to stop environmental damage from chemical weapons actually increase environment damage or decrease it? (US military causes a lot of pollution) (/process). Would spending that money elsewhere better attain that goal? (/alternative, or opportunity cost).
To answer some questions,
If those with chemical weapons (a) actually have the weapons and (b) actually are capable of threatening the US/your home, then sure, intervention is justifiable. It would be similar to someone threatening you with their gun.
For example, if someone starts spraying his neighborhood with bullets, then I'd be more inclined to intervene--but it depends on my means and my tacit knowledge. I understand Americans more than I understand Syrians, and I can understand (1) the context of an American neighborhood shooting more than (2) the other context of civil war in a foreign country. This should update one's "moral calculus" with a sense of clearer perspective. Also, if intervention in (1) is deemed morally justifiable, it doesn't follow that intervention is morally justifiable in (2) since the means and tacit knowledge, thus awareness of consequences, completely differ from (1).
The use of chemical weapons in Syria has affected my view, but it doesn't compel me to jump on the bandwagon of warmongering--especially since it is very likely that both government and rebel groups have and are using chemical weapons. If one's goal is to stop the use of chemical weapons, and their means of subsidizing the rebels who have used/are willing to use chemical weapons--or who are even are willing to coordinate with those who use chemical weapons (e.g. the FSA), then that defeats the purpose.
If one really wishes to help the Syrians, then they should invite a family to their home. If the USG prevents that, then the hindrance to one's moral means becomes obvious (immigration policy issue). This is one path of non-intervention; moral goals can be attained through peaceful means and through the market system. Imagine if Syria was deprived of 80% of its population which moved elsewhere. You'd mostly be left with militants and government fighting over a land whose most important resource was allowed to escape (thanks to more open borders). If you diminish the profit/benefits of war, then you can expect higher marginal costs of war, thus a lower demand for war (i.e. conflict resolution)--e.g. what's the point of fighting over a land whose tax-base has left?
Thanks, Ray, for the questions. It's been enjoyable answering them.