Intervention – An Expression of Humanity?*

* Paper delivered at the Norwegian Military Chaplain Corps symposium on military ethics – Humanitarian Intervention, – Oslo 14 September 1999.

Let me begin by congratulating the Norwegian Military Chaplain Corps with its engagement in the important area of ethical issues related to the changing environment for military institutions and activities after the cold war. If this indi­cates a reinterpretation of the task of the military chaplaincy, it should be encour­aged. A more pronounced role by theologians in the ethical discourse related to defense and international law and order is long overdue. This new level of ambi­tion within the chaplaincy is also demonstrated by the launching of PACEM, which offers excellent reading for those, inside and outside the military establishment, who wish to discuss the burning ethical issues of defense and morality today.

The Castle of Akershus, in whose shadow this conference takes place, has a history, which roughly coincides with the development of the classical theories of «just war». In this period of human history, human ingenuity in creating instru­ments and strategies of war far exceeds the energy applied towards developing instruments and strategies of peace. Ethical norms were most often «discovered» as a consequence of, or as response to human sufferings and fears in wartime. Even the development of nuclear capability to destroy the human race x times over, and making the human habitat unfit for future generations, was not void of moral con­siderations and motivations. Therefore to speak the words of humanity and moral­ity is not enough to guarantee a congenial interpretation and application of lofty ethical principles. To gather, therefore, at this venue to discuss military ethics in today’s complex and globalized world community, is to be offered an historic per­spective of great significance. The challenge today is to let instruments of peace and reconciliation gain preeminence over instruments of war and destruction. The question we are left with is the following: What does it require of people of good will everywhere, and in all walks of life, military and civilian society, to become defenders of humanity – human dignity, peace, justice and freedom – at the end of the bloodiest century in human history?

As Bishop of Oslo, I have the privilege to be the ecclesiastical head of the Norwegian military chaplaincy. I come to this task with a deep respect for the proud history of the Norwegian defense institutions in time of war and peace, and if I may say so, with a sense of pride, which I share with a great majority of Norwegians. The professionality of the armed forces is well documented. And the dedication of Norwegian military rank and file to democratic traditions and moral values is undisputed. My international experience has taught me that this should not be taken for granted. In my encounters with the Chaplaincy and with the mili­tary leadership, I sense a deep interest in entering a national and international dia­logue on moral standards within a globally interlinked humanity. I also sense among leading military officers today a great readiness and openness to discuss key military issues in the public arena in an exchange of views which is the hall­mark of a democratic society. The ongoing discussion on the ethical aspects of a new NATO doctrine is an example of this openness. This openness can only serve to strengthen the genuine role of the military in a world of changing human and societal parameters and abiding values. A relevant ethical discourse on the position and role of the military, of defense and disarmament at the start of a new millen­ium, cannot take place as a dialogue between military professionals and politicians alone. The military professionals and the politicians are of course necessary for an informed and relevant discussion, but so are the political scientists, professional ethicists, theologians and philosophers. Important for an open and free discussion on this important aspect of human relationships is also the engagement of civil society at large, and particularly the young generation without which the system would collapse. The value orientation of the young generation in all western socie­ties is under great pressure of change, sometimes on the border of nihilism and narcissism. These features of the postmodern society are not without relevance to a military morale where humanity and humanitarian motivation is at the heart of the matter.

I have been invited to reflect on intervention – a moral imperative, or more pre­cisely on a subtheme – intervention – as an expression of humanity. Rather than using the classical theological approach of defining humanity on the basis of Christian faith, and from there to present my position, I will offer my contribution to the discussion by recounting and reflecting on some recent experiences and observations relevant to the issue of intervention as an expression of humanity.

During the last three weeks, I have had the privilege of being part of a global discourse on human dignity, freedom, justice and truth. In recounting some obser­vations of this journey, I shall try to bring out what came to be the dominant theme, i.e. what are adequate and relevant expressions of humanity, involving the use of military force, in our global society today.

On this journey, I began by observing the United Nations at work in East Timor. As I met with the leaders of this historic operation and discussed the awesome task of the observers from around the world, the question of the morality of the enterprise was never made a problem. Those who on our behalf were there to secure that the referendum for or against independence could take place in accordance with the agreement between the UN, Indonesia and Portugal, seemed to be very clear in their minds that there was no reason for them to be there in this poor and politically insignificant island except for reasons of human responsibility.

In the church compound of Liquisa, a small town outside the capital Dili, a massacre took place a few months ago, when pro-Indonesian militia fired at refu­gees who had gathered for shelter and safety. There I talked to two young men from Sierra Leone who had exchanged a turbulent situation in their home country with another in a totally different but equally bloody environment. Another young man, from Mexico drew parallels to the situation in Chiapas. These young men and their comrades were unarmed in a tense and hostile environment. Their physical presence – their humanity – was their only weapon in a terrorized town. Their very presence was a moral statement. Without any big words, they were ambassadors of a humanity that is concerned about the life and freedom of brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

With UNAMET Chief Ian Martin and his colleagues, I detected a deep concern about the inadequacy of their mandate, face to face with the volatile and dangerous situation on the ground. The militia was in evidence everywhere. Their statement on the future of East Timor was seen in burnt out houses and heard in countless stories of atrocities. Even before the day of the referendum, tens of thousands of internal refugees bore testimony to the danger inherent in the struggle for freedom and independence. This former colony of four hundred years, now held under Indonesian military occupation for more than two decades, had come to a turning point in its history. The day of the referendum was not seen as the most critical in the mind of those I met. Most of them seemed to believe that independence would prevail.

The day of fear and trembling in their mind, was rather the day when the result of the referendum would be announced. There was almost an apocalyptic dimen­sion to this event soon to dawn upon the people of East Timor. I did not meet any­one who felt that the UN presence under the existing mandate was adequate for the situation.

The UN presence, important as it was for the very organizing of the referen­dum, did not have the character of an intervention. The UN role was, in the negoti­ated agreement with Portugal and Indonesia of May 5 this year, defined as an un­armed assistance team for the referendum, hence the acronym UNAMET.

To secure law and order was to be the responsibility of the occupation force of Indonesia. Already at this point in history, this seemed to be a tragic miscalculation by the international community. The need for a new mandate, a peacekeeping force, was expressed over and over again, most urgently perhaps by the Nobel Laureate, bishop Belo.

It was clear that the consent of Indonesia could not be obtained, and that there­fore a UN presence under an adequate mandate could only be achieved by an act of intervention by the international community. If intervention is defined as unwanted or uninvited military incursion into a sovereign state’s territory, the question about Indonesia’s unlawful occupation of East Timor becomes a relevant issue. The UN has never accepted the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia in l974, although the world organization de facto has dealt with the issue as if Indonesia ruled the island on the basis of international law. It could therefore be argued that a military assis­tance by the UN to East Timor at this critical juncture, would not need to be defined as an intervention into lawful Indonesian territory.

I shall return to the situation of East Timor in discussing the moral issues of intervention as an expression of humanity later. But to develop the announced global perspective, let me draw a few other lines from a journey that brought me from East Timor to Jakarta, then to the headquarters of NATO and to SHAPE, before I had a five day exposure to the Norwegian defense realities through a visit to Sætermoen, Bardufoss, Skjold and Bodø – the core areas of defense of Norwegian national territory.

I have already indicated some of the themes of the visit to East Timor. The population of the so-called 27th province of Indonesia counts 85 % Christians belonging to the Roman Catholic Church and some small Protestant communities. This aspect sets the province decisively apart from the majority in this largest Muslim population in the world. In Jakarta my program included a discourse on the role of religion in conflicts and in reconciliation. I had been invited to address an official institute on Islamic studies on the theme: «Christian-Muslim relations towards the end of the 20th century – issues and challenges».

Such a discussion with Muslim intellectuals must by necessity touch upon Huntington’s ill-fated theme of the clash of civilizations, where Islam and Christi­anity are posed against each other as warring civilizations. The discussants were also very much aware of the scandalous statement of former NATO General Secretary Claes, defining Islam as the new threat to European security after the demise of communism! Both issues were seen as expressions of a «western Christianity» hostile to Islam. Not surprisingly also the question of humanitarian intervention came up in the discussion with reference to the new «out of area» concept of NATO! This time it is the UN that acts in East Timor; next time could it be NATO?

An Indonesian perspective on expressions of humanitarian responsibilities across national, cultural and religious boundaries was further elaborated in a session with the most prominent Muslim leader, A. Wahid, or Gus Dur, as he is commonly known. This Muslim cleric is the undisputed leader of a movement of 40 million Muslims, and one of the contenders for the presidency of this second largest democracy in Asia. He was eager to discuss fundamental human rights issues in the regional and global context. As one of the presidents of the World Organization of Religion and Peace, which with the support of the Norwegian Government, in cooperation with among others Norwegian Church Aid has con­ducted programs of reconciliation between religious groups inter alia in Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, Mr. Wahid was well positioned to discuss the issue of intervention in a global context. His point was clearly that if religions are to serve the humanitarian cause of building peace and reconciliation, all forms of funda­mentalism should be avoided. The role of religion in establishing a platform for humanitarian intervention obviously becomes an important issue.

A 3-day program at NATO headquarters in Brussels and Mons followed my Jakarta visit. Here the continued discussion on the rationale of humanitarian inter­vention was impacted by the recent intervention by NATO forces against Milosevic to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo.

The conversations on all levels at NATO and SHAPE brought in the same global perspectives as the discussions in East Timor and Jakarta. Nevertheless, there were other formulations of the dilemma, such as defense of territory or of values? Does not an emphasis on humanitarian intervention give predominance to values rather than territories? On the other hand, is not territory closely connected to defense of humanity? Area and values refer to the same humanity.

The following few days were spent in the North of Norway in intensive con­versations with military leaders and soldiers basically around the same themes. The added perspective to the discussion was that of more than 50 000 Norwegians in­volved in peacekeeping operations in Africa, Asia and Europe. A number of volunteers were being trained for participation in KFOR, a fact which raised a number of new issues about whose intervention we are talking. The most funda­mental of these being why should we commit ourselves to peacekeeping operations in areas which are not directly relevant to our own national security? In fact, this is the very question that brings out the difference between an intervention of humanitarian nature and an intervention with a more political and/or military rationale.

In retrospect, I feel that the common thread in all these encounters was a genuine search for an answer to the question whether there exists shared values and moral obligations that make it imperative to intervene on behalf of peoples whose human dignity and existence is threatened. It might have been expected that in the dialogue with self-conscious and proud Muslim leaders and students, a clash of values and worldviews would be inescapable. The international discussion on Asian values against Western values, in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, might have suggested an impediment to dialogue. This was not the case. On the contrary, in every dialogue at every station of this journey, the prevailing mood was one of moral conviction about shared responsibility for the future of the world and of the human race.

My approach has been descriptive rather than normative. My main point has been to indicate that the theme of humanitarian intervention springs out of a broad set of experiences and contexts, but also that there is a general recognition of one world and one humanity that undergirds the discussions. A specific Christian contribution is not exlusivist in the sense that it possesses a view of humanity that is fundamentally different from that of other religions and worldviews. The com­position of peacekeeping forces around the world does not indicate a Christian pre­eminence. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus seem equally prone to be moti­vated for participation in humanitarian endeavors for the sake of peace around the world. This may be a humbling observation from a more fundamentalist Christian point of view, but it surely testifies to a grander view of humanity rooted in the biblical teaching of humanity created in the image of God.

In my own Christian perspective, I draw inspiration from the story of Jesus, which is one of humanitarian intervention par excellence. If his life and death indi­cate a paradigm, it is one of willingness to suffer and even to die in order to rescue the humanity of others. In my faith, therefore, the Son of Man issues a moral imperative for his followers to intervene on behalf of the suffering brother and sis­ter, regardless of race, religion and location. In this perspective, not to be willing to intervene on behalf of the East Timorese Christians and the Kosovo-Albanian Muslims is an expression of inhumanity.

The theme of humanitarian intervention must be seen as a positive response to the suffering of millions throughout this century. As we approach a new millen­ium, we are called to develop a new approach to conflicts. A new world order for a new millennium must develop instruments that can contain the demonic forces of blood, race and soil. The world needs ways and means, and moral strength to res­cue those who also in the future will be threatened by genocide, ethnic cleansing and other mass violations of fundamental human rights. An international humani­tarian order based on a universal recognition of one humanity and one world may sound utopian. But we must ask ourselves if there is any other alternative in our rapidly shrinking world? In this perspective I suggest that the question mark in the title of this paper may be exchanged with an exclamation mark: Intervention may indeed be an expression of humanity!

It should not have come as a surprise that the themes of my talks with Norwegian military leaders in the North of Norway centered on the same themes but added new perspectives. Experience from peacekeeping operations and prepa­rations for deployment in Kosovo added realism to a discussion that sometimes may seem rather theoretical. My reason for recounting this itinerary and its agenda, is not to impress upon you my interesting life as a bishop, but to remind all of us, that what we are discussing here is part of a global discourse of values, burning ethical issues relevant not only to military strategy but to the understanding of human responsibility in a new reality of global interdependence. The issue is common humanity and common values.

This conference highlights issues and concerns which are fundamental to the mapping out of direction and priorities for the Norwegian defense establishment at the beginning of a new decade – not to overstretch it by speaking of a century or a millenium. The changes we have seen literally during the last decade, from the fall of the Communist empire until today, linked to accelerated developments in tech­nology and paired with a new sense of global cohesion, makes it prudent to operate both with long-term and short-term perspectives.