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Promoting Democracy and Human Rights

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 13th October 2008.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 7:10 pm, 13th October 2008

But the reality is that the human rights abuse in Kosovo, serious though it was, was no more serious than in many other parts of the world where we have not contemplated going to war. The reasons for military action in Kosovo had more to do with the role of NATO, and the importance of showing that it had a role, and with demonstrating western resolve than with the specific situation in Kosovo.

I shall explain briefly why I think it will almost always be the case that military intervention in the internal affairs of another country that has not attacked us will turn out to be disastrous. There are four reasons. First, when people go in, particularly with regime change in mind, they create a political vacuum. Once that happens, they cannot control what emerges. When we went into Iraq, it was no part of western, or coalition, policy that Shi'a and Sunni sectarianism would grow dramatically and become the dominant force in Iraqi politics, yet it should have been anticipated that if a political vacuum is created, the people of the country concerned will determine for themselves the political consequences that flow from it.

Secondly, intervention changes the political dynamic of the country that has been invaded. Until NATO took military action against Serbia, the vast majority of Kosovar Albanians, although they wanted independence, would have compromised on autonomy. They did not believe independence could be achieved, so they were willing to go for autonomy, which is what Rugova was arguing for and other Kosovar Albanians would have settled for at that stage. Once a group knows that NATO is on side, it has a historic opportunity that has never happened before and will probably never happen again. Every single Kosovar Albanian then said, "There is no question of autonomy or compromise; it is independence or nothing." That not only could have been predicted, but was predicted. However, it was ignored at the time, because it was inconvenient to do otherwise.

First, military intervention creates a political vacuum. Secondly, it changes the internal political dynamic. Thirdly, although we will win the conventional war—NATO will always win a conventional war, just as the coalition did in Iraq, and just as NATO did in Serbia—the consequence will be asymmetrical responses from those who know that they cannot beat the west or NATO in a conventional way. So it comes about that there are Shi'a and Sunni militias—and, in Afghanistan, the Taliban—operating in quite a different way from those taking part in conventional conflicts, but nevertheless making a mockery of what we set out to achieve.

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