The number of refugees always seems to be increasing. Why? A friend sent me an article that goes a long way toward explaining why. It’s by Edward Luttwak, a military strategist and historian. It was written back in 1999 but its thesis is just as relevant today. The title: Give War a Chance. It especially applies to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Here’s the beginning:
An unpleasant truth often overlooked is that although war is a great evil,
it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead
to peace. This can happen when all belligerents become exhausted or when
one wins decisively. Either way the key is that the fighting must continue
until a resolution is reached.
If fighting is halted before one side achieves victory, there is no motivation for anyone to give up. The only reason anyone surrenders in a war is that there is no hope for military success. But —
Since the establishment of the United Nations . . . wars among lesser powers have rarely been allowed to run their natural course. Instead, they have typically been interrupted early on, before they could burn themselves out and establish the preconditions for a lasting settlement. Cease-fires and armistices have been imposed under the aegis of the Security Council in order to halt fighting.
Such cease-fires give the combatants time to recover their energy and re-arm.
It intensifies and prolongs the struggle
once the cease-fire ends-and it does usually end. This was true of the
Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49, which might have come to closure in a matter
of weeks if two cease-fires ordained by the Security Council had not let
the combatants recuperate.
Remember, this was written ten years ago. This directly applies to the Gaza war today:
Today cease fires and armistices are imposed on lesser powers by multilateral
agreement … for essentially disinterested and indeed frivolous
motives, such as television audiences’ revulsion at harrowing scenes
of war. But this, perversely, can systematically prevent
the transformation of war into peace.
The self-styled international community does tremendous harm to the prospect of peace.
A variety of multilateral organizations now make it their business to intervene
in other peoples’ wars. The defining characteristic of these entities is
that they insert themselves in war situations while refusing to engage
in combat. In the long run this only adds to the damage.
UN forces’ first priority is to protect themselves. Likewise UN peacekeepers. And they make things worse, because local populations think they are protected and do not realistically assess the dangers. This is what happened in Rwanda.
But the most destructive of all are humanitarian relief effort, Luttwak says. His example is UNRWA and the Palestinians, so listen up. He compares UNRWA to UNRRA, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, which ran the displaced persons camps in Europe right after World War II.
The UNRRA camps were bare-bones operations that kept displaced persons alive, but provided no luxury. Thus there was great incentive to resettle everybody, and indeed everybody was resettled.
But UNRWA camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and the
Gaza Strip provided on the whole a higher standard of living than most
Arab villagers had previously enjoyed, with a more varied diet, organized
schooling, superior medical care, and no backbreaking labor in stony fields.
They had, therefore, the opposite effect, becoming desirable homes rather
than eagerly abandoned transit camps. With the encouragement of several
Arab countries, the UNRWA turned escaping civilians into lifelong refugees
who gave birth to refugee children, who have in turn had refugee children
of their own.
And this makes the point even more keenly:
If each European war had been attended by its own postwar UNRWA, today’s
Europe would be filled with giant camps for millions of descendants of
uprooted Gallo-Romans, abandoned Vandals, defeated Burgundians, and misplaced
Visigoths-not to speak of more recent refugee nations such as post-ig45
Sudeten Germans (three million of whom were expelled from Czechoslovakia
in 1945). Such a Europe would have remained a mosaic of warring tribes,
undigested and unreconciled in their separate feeding camps. It might have
assuaged consciences to help each one at each remove, but it would have
led to permanent instability and violence.
Luttwak touches on a point that Ann has made many times about NGOs, or volags:
…the proliferating, feverishly competitive nongovernmental
organizations (NGOS) that now aid war refugees. Like any other institution,
these NGOs are interested in perpetuating themselves, which means that
their first priority is to attract charitable contributions by being seen
to be active in high-visibility situations. Only the most dramatic natural
disasters attract any significant mass-media attention, and then only briefly;
soon after an earthquake or flood, the cameras depart. War refugees, by
contrast, can win sustained press coverage if kept concentrated in reasonably
accessible camps. Regular warfare among well-developed countries is rare
and offers few opportunities for such NGOS, so they focus their efforts
on aiding refugees in the poorest parts of the world. This ensures that
the food, shelter, and health care offered-although abysmal by Western
standards-exceeds what is locally available to non-refugees. The consequences
are entirely predictable. Among many examples, the huge refugee camps along
the Democratic Republic of Congo’s border with Rwanda stand out. They sustain
a Hutu nation that would otherwise have been dispersed, making the consolidation
of Rwanda impossible and providing a base for radicals to launch more Tutsi-killing
raids across the border. Humanitarian intervention has worsened the chances
of a stable, long-term resolution of the tensions in Rwanda.
Nothing has changed, has it? And here’s something that again can be applied directly to the Gaza situation:
To keep refugee nations intact and preserve their resentments forever is
bad enough, but inserting material aid into ongoing conflicts is even worse.
Many NGOS that operate in an odor of sanctity routinely supply active combatants.
Defenseless, they cannot exclude armed warriors from their feeding stations,
clinics, and shelters. Since refugees are presumptively on the losing side,
the warriors among them are usually in retreat. By intervening to help,
NGOS systematically impede the progress of their enemies toward a decisive
victory that could end the war. Sometimes NGOS, impartial to a fault, even
help both sides, thus preventing mutual exhaustion and a resulting settlement.
And in some extreme cases, such as Somalia, NGOs even pay protection money
to local war bands, which use those funds to buy arms. Those NGos are therefore
helping prolong the warfare whose consequences they ostensibly seek to
And here is his conclusion, with which I heartily agree:
Policy elites should actively resist the emotional
impulse to intervene in other peoples’ wars-not because they are indifferent
to human suffering but precisely because they care about it and want to
facilitate the advent of peace. The United States should dissuade multilateral
interventions instead of leading them. New rules should be established
for U.N. refugee relief activities to ensure that immediate succor is swiftly
followed by repatriation, local absorption, or emigration, ruling out the
establishment of permanent refugee camps. And although it may not be possible
to constrain interventionist NGOS, they should at least be neither officially
encouraged nor funded.