Magazine article The Spectator

The Devil's in the Detail

Magazine article The Spectator

The Devil's in the Detail

Article excerpt

Can Intervention Work?

by Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus

W.W. Norton, £14.99, pp. 236,

ISBN 9780393081206

This is a book for our times, a pair of linked essays, the first, by Rory Stewart, on the troubled decade of Western intervention in Afghanistan, followed by the success story of the ten years of Western intervention in Bosnia by Gerald Knaus. The authors write not for glory, or to secure a professorial chair, but out of desperation.

Year on year over the last decade, the leaders of the West have immersed us ever deeper in 'sorting out' Afghanistan. They do this from the best possible motives - a sense of obligation and moral decency - but also out of fear, hubris and historical ignorance.

As a result, our soldiers and our treasuries bleed, and so, to a much greater extent, do the poor, war-devastated people of Afghanistan. But every year there is talk of a new strategy, which requires bigger budgets and another 20,000 troops.

One of the problems is the successful UN operation in Bosnia (from 1995) which established the current belief in a scientific liberal interventionism. With one million refugees safely returned to their homes, 64 war criminals brought to justice and three rival militia armies disbanded with not a single US soldier sent home in a body-bag, it was indeed an extraordinarily successful mission.

But the devil, whether in Afghanistan or in Bosnia, is in the detail. Knaus reveals what unique conditions existed in Bosnia.

There was no oil, no strategic importance, no super-power rivalry. The US government was a reluctant rather than an insistent peacemaker, Serbia was exhausted, Croatia triumphantly cautious and the Bosniaks had won the sympathy of the world by enduring the shelling of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica. In addition, there was the juicy carrot of membership of the EU to make ending the civil war an attractive option.

Both Stewart and Knaus know that intervention can work well when there is a narrow enough time-scale and a specific technical task. Preventing a massacre, rescuing a population from famine, flying in high-level health care, even fixing a Central Bank can be done by foreigners with superlative efficiency. The events in Libya are too recent to be covered by this book, but dovetail neatly with the authors' concept of advance planning, local allies, an urgent need, speed and the lightest possible footprint. …

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