Undefeatable clients

Let's have a foreign policy topic for a change.

A part of the West's foreign political repertoire in the post-Cold War world has been a true oddity: 'We' don't permit the final defeat of our clients / proxies / our enemy's enemies.

This became visible in Bosnia where we simply didn't allow (para)militarily clearly lost enclaves to collapse (until 'we' did, and felt remorse).

Similar in the Syrian civil war; the disliked (by us) government may actually finally succeed after building enough loyal (para)military strength? No way - arm the rebels quickly (under the ridiculous pretence that it's all about chemical weapons)!

The civil war in Libya was even more extreme: The West did supposedly not attack the regime, but it made sure that the regime failed to crush centres of resistance by bombing the regime's heavy weapons such as tanks, artillery.
A bit more of the same could have looked like the air support for the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan '01, with a similarly quick collapse of the government. Instead, for most of the intervention the emphasis was on keeping the rebels from losing.

Now what exactly could be the excuse? With the superior forces' victory prevented, the only options are
(1) loooong conflict (hardly justifiable)
(2) peace or truce by negotiations (unlikely or very late in all examples)
(3) inferior forces' victory after a long time

Now how is this an effective fig leaf and how does this look better than attacking the superior forces or government of a sovereign country during a civil war?

 I suppose this  is a fine-tuned hypocrisy, meant to pass the smell tests of public opinion and United Nations. In the end, it's still taking sides and meddling in a foreign conflict.

The Bosnian enclaves, Libyan rebels and also Syrian rebels were and are probably the less evil side of their respective conflicts, but the pattern if not habit of the West does not pass my smell test.
This is hardly what we want to be standard, right? Or would you want China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Saudi-Arabia intervene like this, keeping their favoured side from losing a civil war?
Well, the answer is predictable, for Pakistan actually does it and it's not exactly a popular move of theirs as far as Westerners are concerned.

I want to have this sorted out. We need a better way of handling foreign civil wars if we cannot resist the urge to meddle in other people's affairs.
The United Nations habit of calling for a ceasefire was no superior habit either. This approach merely prolonged conflicts and provoked that the temporarily superior side attempts to 'achieve' as much as possible before their foreign backers get too much embarrassed by the lack of a ceasefire.

An all-or-nothing approach would be nice. The UN should enforce a ban of foreign meddling in civil wars, and meanwhile keep an eye on any civil war to expose violations of a ode of conduct. The government of the country in question could then be expulsed and all foreign intervention become legal. The effect might be a moderation of the ways of conducting the typically very dirty civil wars.
Too bad; not going to happen. The great powers with UNSC veto right would not allow such a limitation on their own adventurism.

Still, this extremely hypocritical 'we are no aggressors, but we don't allow you to win' approach should be replaced. I'm sure it's not going to look well in history books files, but that's the smallest concern. We may actually cause the death of ten thousands by prolonging civil wars and allowing the accumulation of hatred and mercenaries.



  1. What did the English do during Napoleon's time and how was it perceived?

    1. The Seven Years War's English subsidies to Prussia are a better analogy, for England's allies during the Napoleonic Age were defeated repeatedly. Napoleon was merely too lenient to keep them from coming back.

    2. The opposition to Napoleon were undefeatable clients as soon as the idea and technology for levée en masse spread. The French did not honour their humanistic promises during their conquests, kindling the flames of national resistance.

  2. "We may actually cause the death of ten thousands by prolonging civil wars and allowing the accumulation of hatred and mercenaries."

    We also allow the increased proliferation of weapons, which we're seeing today having destabilising effects across whole regions.

    1. Delivering weapons is a poor idea if it makes the powerful believe they can "win" a war which they would otherwise avoid or end.

      I'm not sure that factory-made weapons are necessary for mass killings; the ultra-quick Rwanda genocide largely involved farming tools as weapons.

  3. I think we are just fine and dandy as long as the press and the people in our countries are ok with the level of death. I wonder if the main difference between Syria and Libya is what countries are going to get the fallout from the fighting. Seems in Libya near a western country we bombed but with Syria near Turkey we are ok with the bloodshed.

    1. Seriously, our feelings should be unimportant.
      Syria is still a sovereign nation, and the UN won't turn it into a free for fire zone anytime soon, period.
      We've signed and ratified multiple treaties promising not to attack in cases such as this one. A promise broken too often, but there is hope we can still improve ourselves and learn self-discipline and honour(ing of treaties).

  4. Undefeatable clients is no bad idea because it makes it most obvious that it's always a win -draw situation for the Western allies and a draw - lose situation for the others.
    Military hardware that is quick to learn and doesn't threat high-tech equipment would be the ideal export into that region. Combine it with a no-fly zone via Western air power and we have an unstopable force mix to transform the world. Not exactly defence, but defence is rather a construct of legitimacy. The core is violent enforcement of interests and its borders.

    1. "military hardware that is quick to learn" (small arms, mortars, anti-tank weapons, mines, rockets and plenty of ammunition) is exactly the kind of gear that spilled out of Libya and into Mali; is the kind that is floating around Central Africa; is moving across Sudan and Somalia; is being shipped from Croatia into Syria. Many of the weapons and munitions have date stamps going back decades, and will be in use decades from now, much as weapons provided to the Muj in the '80's are still in play today across the 'Stans.

      We make the mistake of thinking about short term gains without considering the effects of long term regional instability.

  5. At what point does a government loose the right to be the government? Does the world stand by and watch a government turn loose it's military on it's own people and do nothing? Maybe the answer is never maybe the world should just stay out of each countries internal affairs.
    The thing I see is all the middle eastern countries calling for the west to come in and do something and yet they have spent billions on weapons and can't together stand up to Syria?

    1. The problem is that once you create a simple method for declaring a government illegitimate and free for attack, this would inevitably be used as a loophole by aggressors.
      The government of Kuwait '90 could hardly be understood as respecting human rights. Saddam Hussein could reasonably have explained that his invasion was liberating the women of Kuwait (half the population) from extreme oppression.

      And the Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi-Arabia need their now modest military forces at home to keep their population in check, not infected with revolutionary attitudes by fighting for rebels abroad.

  6. I agree with what you are saying for the most part. Do you not have a threshold to where military forces is okay to use against a country other than attacking your country? Would it be ok to sit back and watch a leader kill everyone that isn't something (you choose what that is) or at some point do you say enough?