Sovereignty and the Right of Intervention

Three months after September 11, 2001, the “right to intervention” was re-characterized and presented to the UN Secretary General as the “right to protection” via the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). The consequence was the expansion of power under the umbrella of jus ad bellum - the justice of resorting to war. Although the language of the report, titled “Responsibility to Protect,” did not justify material and geostrategic motives, the justified invasion of oil-rich nations such as Iraq was successfully smuggled in and well served by the intuitive geopolitical ambiguities following September 11.

Yet, intervention may not always be wrong, even when the international community opposes it. Classical “just war” theory requires, in addition to “just cause,” the fulfillment of several criteria rooted in moral conditions such as the right intention, war as a reasonable last resort in the context of plausible alternatives, legitimate authority, proportionality, and probability of success through military means.

Years before, in 1999, the United States and NATO had bypassed the United Nations, launching a series of strikes against the state of Yugoslavia to prevent further deliberate mass killings of Kosovars. Clinton's Secretary of State, at NATO's headquarters, described it as a “fight for justice over genocide.” The Kosovars, and many other global ethnic minorities trapped within the bounds of nationalism, would certainly have agreed.

Africa is no stranger to these all too common realities of minorities and even majorities trapped by autocratic rule. Indeed, there are many states characterized by autocratic rent-seeking regimes eager to exploit oil and other lucrative 'national' resources such as Angola, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria.

The 1999 strike represented a watershed moment via a war that intentionally bypassed the world's primary collective-security organization: the United Nations. In his landmark September 1999 speech, Kofi Annan tacitly acknowledged that "the traditional pursuit of national interest…a permanent feature of international relations," was in need of "new, more broadly defined, more widely conceived definition of national interest."

The acceptance of the “right to intervene” signifies a distinct shift away from the 350-year-old Westphalian tradition, allocating control to sovereign rulers as the primary legal decision-making instruments of representation. The framing of states has, more and more, been redefined as a duty-holder mandated with the 'responsibility to protect’; one that is no longer exclusive to internal forces.

For autocratic developing country regimes, and systemically powerful existing or emerging powers, intervention in the name of protecting the citizens of another sovereign state is conceived as a threat, undermining the structures of territorial and political sovereignty and power.

Moreover, the diminishing power of the nation-state has long been embedded in the international system, concealed under the guise of global bodies such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the UN. In particular, it is the “veto rights” of the victors of WWII, the UN Security Council's Permanent 'Five' that determines policies, rights, the global distribution of power, in other words: who has access to the powerful and who is prevented from accessing it.

Within the framework of the “right to intervene,” the Security Council, the world's largest arms dealers, and resource-seeking nations will ultimately decide which countries are “protected”.

The African Question

Africa itself is party to the ICISS via the Ezulwini Consensus, embraced by the African Union’s Executive Council in 2005. The Consensus recognized and mandated the "authority of the Security Council to decide on the use of force in situations of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing." However, there is little role for justice in determining “just war,” when it is realized through the selective strategies of power embedded in the Security Council.

Angola's forced peace under the Dos Santos regime, informing the nature of its devastating poverty and inequality, has long been financed and abetted through Beijing, through mechanisms such as oil-backed loans. The more autocratic a resource-rich regime is, the quicker Beijing parachutes into it, as it is more likely to cause little or no interference by civil society and social justice movements advocating for human and environmental rights. This policy, facilitating undisturbed opaque state-to-state relations, though deeply political at its core has often been falsely interpreted as “political non-interference.”

As in the case of Angola, the agency of rent-seeking regimes must not be marginalized but instead be located as an active partner colluding with foreign powers for personal gain.

The truth is, while the preservation of the nation-state is perceived as the primary concern of developed governments, corrupt regimes holding developing nations hostage are similarly anxious to preserve sovereignty as a means of exploiting 'national' resources.

One example is Nigeria, one of the US's top five oil suppliers: Recently, during Nigeria-US bilateral relations discussion in Washington, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs William Fitzgerald promoted US securitization of the Gulf of Guinea to handle the conflict in the Niger Delta, supplying 80 percent of oil - and Nigerian state revenue. Since the 1960s, some US$400 billion in revenue has been siphoned through the systemically corrupt state and multinationals. Undoubtedly, much was re-injected in the Nigerian army, Africa's largest standing force, in addition to the notorious mobile police known as “kill and go”.

Not only have the 30 million people of the Delta been politically marginalized, but the military has often been used by multinationals to “contain” protesting communities through mass slaughter, burning of villages, rape and other means.  But in Nigeria, as in most other African nations, it is the corporate actor, financing rent-seeking governments, that plays a prominent role in shaping the policies of the 'sovereign' state.

Perhaps the most famous example is that of slain Nobel winner and civil society activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.  In May 1993, following the peaceful mass mobilization against Shell's environmental pollution in Ogoniland—a region yielding a pittance of 30,000 barrels per day—Nigeria's Lt-Col. Okuntimo issued a confidential memo stating, "Shell operations still impossible unless ruthless military operations are undertaken for smooth economic activities to commence. Recommendations: Wasting operations during MOSOP and other gatherings making constant military presence justifiable ...”

Shell operates in, and controls, almost 50 percent of the supplying and almost 50 percent of revenues to the state, with oil accounting for more than 95 percent of foreign exchange earnings.  As the recent Wikileaks 'cablegate' has exposed, in 2009 Shell executive Ann Pickard boasted that Shell had placed staff within Nigeria's ministries. She said, “the GON (Government of Nigeria) had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries."

Nigeria's systemic corruption facilitated through international actors, chiefly resource-seeking multinationals, has been incorporated into the global market. The power of the sovereign state may have protected, in theory, the country's exclusive right of control in the past.

But, in the future the “responsibility to protect” under the shade of the Security Council, may in the case of China and the like, be largely motivated by geostrategic control of resources. The Sino-Sudanese alliance between Dictator Omar al Bashir and Beijing succinctly articulates the strategies of power informing the ways in which the favor of the powerful determines ‘identification’ of crisis and responses to perceived justice and injustice. Most often, in an energy hungry era, this is driven by oil.

Nigeria and Sudan’s case not only highlights the avenues of injustice in the international system, but also the role of non-state actors such as multinationals, who essentially act as self-regulated, unaccountable legal entities, thanks to the institutionalized norms of the rapidly shedding Westphalian tradition.

Even as multinationals comprise some of the world's largest , conducting 60 percent of global trade within rather than between corporations, piercing the corporate veil concerning critical issues related to economic activities in the “host country.” This, including financing costs, labor costs, pre-tax profits, has effectively been concealed from the national and international eye. Such secrecy, manifest in this exclusive democracy undermines the national interest through corroding democracy and the rule of law established through the constitution.

If the “Responsibility to Protect” is to gain legitimacy, not only will the Security Council require drastic democratization, but multinationals will also have to be recognized as accountable entities in countries of operation. Failure to do so may render the current interpretation of “just war” morally indefensible.