Magazine article The Spectator

The New Imperialists

Magazine article The Spectator

The New Imperialists

Article excerpt

FROM KOSOVO TO KABUL: HUMAN RIGHTS AND INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION by David Chandler Pluto, 15.99, pp. 268, ISBN 0745318835

David Chandler has emerged in recent years as one of Britain's foremost critics of the hypocrisy of human rights. A sovereignist who believes that the extension of international 'justice' implies the destruction of international law, Chandler charts the transmogrification of human rights activists from liberal opponents of state power into the principal advocates of its most brutal exercise. Those same people who, ten or 15 years ago, campaigned against cruise missiles and championed third world rights have now recycled themselves into a self-appointed elite which divides its time between preaching the values of Islington and bombing those too obstinate to embrace them. Things have got so bad that senior British government officials are now openly calling for 'a new type of imperialism' in books prefaced by the former CND member who currently occupies 10 Downing Street.

For Chandler, humanitarian intervention is a fairytale in which the West always writes itself into the role of Tinkerbell. As one prominent British human rights campaigner once said, `Human rights enables the civilised nations of the world to teach savages how to behave.' The Kosovo war was the most flagrant example of an abuse of the concept of human rights: the lies and exaggerations told by Nato in support of its attacks on Yugoslavia are now too wellestablished to need repeating here. But Chandler argues that the principle of humanitarian intervention has become so all-pervasive that it colours other, more classic wars too. Thus in the present war in Afghanistan food parcels were dropped along with cluster bombs - conveniently both coloured yellow.

If even such hard-core rightists as Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld adopt the language of soft Marxist groupies, there must be a reason. It is that the language of universal values is a political blank cheque: once human rights are invoked, the actual consequence of actions become immaterial. Chandler shows how the ideology of human rights lets slip the dogs of humanitarian war: he quotes one Observer columnist saying that the deaths of 100,000 children in Afghanistan is a price worth paying for victory against the Taliban, and he reminds us that there are now more refugees from Kosovo than there were before Nato bombed Yugoslavia. …

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