Intervention vs. Interference

Peace making. Peace building. Providing a helping hand. On a ‘totally amazing gap yahh’. However you look at it, Western involvement in other areas of the world is increasing. Intentions are good for the most part. At an individual level, when people sign up to go to an African country and build infrastructures, or irrigation systems, or work in a school, they do so because they want to provide any relief they can to a community that has little in the way of resources. At a much larger level, often, Western political forces get involved in conflict zones as a part of their own political agenda.

Liberal peacebuilding is a concept that is being highly contested by scholars as I type. Can liberalism exist alongside a notion of intervention? Debatable. The main foundations of liberalism denote that individual rights and cultures are fundamental creating a harmonious society. Whether or not intervention can even nod towards acknowledging existing traditions and individual rights is a tough one to answer. Creating a democratic environment in which people can flourish individually would be the argument that this is not, in fact, a contradiction of terms. However, I see the paradox as being that the concepts of ‘democracy’ and ‘liberalism’ are highly Westernised in how they are conceived. Why should local people in less powerful states be indoctrinated by Western values? Is democracy really what is the most effective method of building peace?

Imposing values which are alien to the local people can only cause friction. Often, there is a development of resentment towards those who are intervening, as there is little local understanding of what is important in the society. A rejection of the help is seen in West Africa now, as the Ebola crisis unfolds. Local people who are in small villages are having strangers in white biosuits turn up, with unknown accents, taking away their sick children away, and coming back with their lifeless bodies. Then, to add insult to this injury, the medical professionals are not allowing the grieving family to bury their loved ones in the traditional way that they are used to. Obviously, there is valid reasons for this, as the containment of Ebola needs to be prioritised. However, education is what is important. In order to meet in the middle, the Western intervening forces cannot solely provide a solution with a legitimate local understanding; local people need to have some kind of education in matters such as this, and local understanding should also be utilised. So, in this case, there is a ‘meet in the middle’ solution.

However, whether the notion of liberal peacebuilding is ideal or not is the main issue here. If women are second-class citizens in a village in Nepal, why is democracy considered to be the best solution for that village? Westernising the world is not the be all and end all for the world’s problems. Often as well, Western intervention is done with a hidden agenda of gaining a foothold in a place where potential interests lie. Again, with the Ebola crisis, there was no Western action until the fear of it hitting Europe was close to becoming a reality. Shouldn’t we see the world as a population of human beings, and if someone is in need, that is when to step in and give a helping hand? Although this is unrealistic, it is an attitude that could provide a less politically fuelled plan of action.

The overarching issue I have with the intervention vs. interference debate is the Western, mainly white superiority complex that is felt throughout the main actions that are taken. Why does it seem like a white person will step in to a project in, for example, Kenya, and bring a new hope to the community? Is it purely a selfish act of do-good-feel-good? Or is it genuine delusion that these short-term actions will make a real difference? The fact that there is a market for these sort of projects says a lot. Selling places on a volunteering project for white teenagers to go over and construct a poorly-built school that the villagers will only knock down and re-build with their own skills is evidence of the Western pedestal that we place ourselves on.

We do not know better; we know differently. The sooner we acknowledge this, the greater the improvements will be in our intervention at every level of scale. It is about communication, education and compromise. We cannot force one set of ideals upon an existing society. It simply will not work, and it does not work.

This is something to be continued, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.