Dr Tim Jacoby speaks at Conservative Party Conference

by | Oct 20, 2011 | Events | 0 comments

Dr Tim JacobyDr Tim Jacoby, Senior Lecturer in Conflict Studies at IDPM and HCRI Director of Teaching, spoke at a fringe meeting during the Conservative Party Conference. Organised by the non-partisan Foreign Policy Centre, it was entitled, “Which Path to Peace: Promoting Stability in States Affected by Conflict”. The other speakers included Alistair Burt, Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, Dan Smith, Secretary-General of International Alert, and Hugh Ward, Head of Capability at Saab Training and Simulation.

Alistair Burt outlined the government’s policy in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. He pointed to the important role of the British Council and World Service in supporting work of the stabilisation teams within the FCO. He outlined the government’s approach to “upstream prevention” of crises, to establishing an “Arab Partnership” and to striking a balance between stabilisation and counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. Dan Smith outlined the different approaches to humanitarian crises. He argued that the first (“leaving them alone”) represents an abdication of responsibility and would be contrary to the UK’s national interest. The second, the use of development, must, he suggested, continue. This should, however, be supported by a third approach – a tighter focussing in on “problem countries” with a particular emphasis on their “attitude and psychology”. Hugh Ward described his organisation’s work in Camp Bastion where they have trained over 15,000 soldiers in the detection of landmines and improvised explosive devices.

Tim Jacoby placed these policy concerns within a broader ethical context. He outlined the rise of “new humanitarianism” and its criticism of the duty-based approach of the past. Good intentions are, it is argued, not enough. Actions (such as humanitarian, or even military, interventions) are not, according to this reasoning, intrinsically good in themselves. Instead, they are only good or bad in their consequences. An example of this thinking was the decision of many NGOs to withdraw from the huge refugee conurbation in Goma in 1994 on the grounds that they were supporting Hutu militia responsible for the preceding genocide in neighbouring Rwanda. A more duty-based approach might have taken the view that people (even murderers and, perhaps more pertinently, their children) should be fed, housed etc regardless of their prior actions. Once this moral position is abandoned, it is, according to this reasoning, very difficult to claim neutrality, impartiality and independence – without which it is difficult to gain access to crises and harder still to maintain security. Indeed, this was one of the reasons the Red Cross declined to release the evidence it had of human rights abuses in Kosova in 1999. Tim concluded by illustrating the dilemma between duty and consequence with Bernard Williams story of Jim and the Indians (which he used to illustrate the difference between the philosophies of Kant and Bentham): You come across a cowboy in the Wild West with 20 captives. He says, “Jim, if you kill one of these Indians now, I’ll let the other 19 go free, but if you walk on your way, I’ll kill all 20 myself”. Clearly, you have a duty not to kill an entirely innocent stranger – therefore walking away (or non-intervention/no political engagement in the humanitarian context) is an intrinsically good action. However, it may be that the consequences of that action are worse than the alternative (standing by and doing nothing while people starve, suffer at the hands of tyrant etc). Obviously, there is no easy answer, but perhaps those at the conference and, indeed, everybody else, should not be trying to find a fence to sit on….!



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