The crisis in Rwanda in 1994 was a product of Belgian and German imperialism, colonialism, and growing ethnic tensions between the Tutsi and the Hutu—particularly the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and Hutu extremists who rose to power after the independence of Rwanda in 1962.
The Rwandan conflict gained international attention particularly by the UN, and it was debated whether or not the conflict was a genocide and if humanitarian intervention should be allowed in the region to alleviate the issues. Furthermore, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Rwanda crisis, ideas and tools of humanitarian intervention have not changed in the intervening quarter-century given that these ideas are still rooted in the Western, liberal capitalist model of democracy and the need to forcefully spread this model to dissimilar regions and governments.
Two strong arguments for humanitarian intervention in a Rwanda-like crisis are that the countries that the West wants to invade are perceived by the West as “lacking democracy;” and that human rights abuses are taking place in the country at the hands of their government and the West must step in to defend the well-being of the civilians there.
For instance, Western nations will claim that nations such as Gaddafi’s Libya are guilty of human rights violations such as terrorizing and massacring their civilians, and that troops must be sent from these Western nations to destabilize the allegedly brutal regime and “restore democracy” in the region. In relation to the Rwanda crisis, intervention by UNAMIR was supposedly needed to protect the Tutsi from genocide because then there could be violent reaction from Hutu extremists.
Given the deaths of Tutsis and moderate Hutus as a result of the break of violence following the plane accident, thousands more deaths of innocent civilians would supposedly follow if UNAMIR did not intervene. The purpose of the UN is to protect the rights of the vulnerable internationally. One strong argument against advancing justice as a central principle of international relations is that it could be a violation of state sovereignty and that nations have a right to create their own domestic laws independent of international influence.
The US explicitly stated that unless the Rwandan politicians managed to put into place the Broad-based Transitional Government outlined in the Arusha Accords, it would veto further extension. The Rwandan conflict was within international jurisdiction and therefore, included US concerns and interests.
Two criteria that might have to be met before intervention is considered legitimate are that war must be fought with the intention of winning and that force should be used only as a last resort when all other diplomatic and private options had been employed and failed. This reflects the US understanding of the purpose of warfare seeing that the US ultimate goal of war is to win, to forcefully export foreign commodities from other nations for the benefit of the US corporations and military.
If there were a Rwanda-like crisis today, I would not argue for intervention especially not coming from the West; however, for the sake of the argument, I will give the Western imperialist argument in defense of what is considered humanitarian intervention—which is characterized by sending troops and funding rebels in the region with the intent of destabilizing the government and toppling the leader in order to “restore democracy,” particularly through a Western-backed new leader in place.
A contemporary instance of said strategy is the US involvement in Syria against the Assad regime. According to the Western narrative, under the Obama administration, Assad was guilty of gassing thousands of Syrian civilians to death using sarin gas and it was also suspected that the Syrian government was contemplating the use of chemical weapons. In “The Obama Doctrine,” Goldberg claims that in the summer of 2011, Obama called for Assad to step down from the government for the safety of the Syrian people. After a few months of deliberation, Obama authorized the CIA to train and fund Syrian rebels. Contrary to the Western narrative depicted in mainstream media, the Syrian rebels the Obama administration funded in reality were jihadist groups including Al-Nusra, the label “rebel” is just a euphemism for them.
As proven by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh among numerous other credible sources, the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton sent sarin gas to Syria through Turkey around 2012, framed Assad and blamed the casualties on him. Using mainstream media to paint the US in a heroic light and demonize the Middle East is an effective strategy according to the imperialist narrative because it tricks citizens into thinking that the US government is truly spreading democracy to other regions and makes national outrage towards the US state department less likely to occur.
In regards to the Syrian conflict, the international actors that carried out the plan were the US and its allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. The main reason behind the Syrian conflict is that the US wants to help Turkey construct an oil pipeline that would go from Qatar to Turkey near the border with Bulgaria; it is a conflict driven by capitalist greed, imperialism and corporate interests. Going along with the imperialist narrative, the US assistance to and allyship with Turkey and Qatar is effective because the US is helping to destabilize the Syrian government with the usage of drone strikes, funding jihadist groups and propaganda, so that it may be easier to construct the pipeline through Syria to Turkey.
In comparison to the Rwanda crisis, the ideas and capacities concerning humanitarian intervention are similar today than they were to actors in 1994 because both scenarios are products of imperialism and capitalist exploitation and greed. US intervention in Syria is to destabilize the regime in defense of Turkey, all under the guise of spreading democracy and having a savior complex.
As the massacres spread throughout Rwanda in 1994, the US and Belgian troops prioritized evacuating citizens of Western descent residing in Rwanda; UNAMIR soldiers left schools unprotected to assist in the evacuation of Westerners, leaving thousands of Rwandans sheltered in the school to get killed by extremist forces. The US ambassador to the UN at the time, Madeline Albright, requested the removal of UNAMIR forces in Rwanda, and later on the last Belgian peacekeepers there also left.
It is more than evident that Western intervention in non-Western countries will always be for the interests of the West, capitalism and imperialism, not for oppressed nationalities—although this is the facade that the West uses in defense of its actions in other regions.
Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.