there is a very simple rule in international relations: do not touch another state’s territory.
the principles of sovereignty and territory have been established for the handling of affairs between states in 1648. what the political science community calls the “westpahlian system” means nothing more than accepting that a state is composed of a defined territory and that whatever happens within those boundaries is of the concern for the state and no one but the state. internal sovereignty refers to the fact that the state’s authority (no matter whether elected by the people, legalized in any modern form of democracy, or taken by force or heritage) has the power to make laws and the means to make sure the people comply to those rules within the territory. no other state has the right to define laws, religion, taxation or the political system for any other country but its own.
this value in international relations between states is central until today. the importance of the non-intervention in any state is a fundamental part of the charter of the united nations – chapter 1, article 2 (7) “nothing contained in the present charter shall authorize the united nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state…” (http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/chapter1.shtml)
following the news today, we hear about fightings and killings. there is not one day that passes without somebody dying, and almost no day that goes by without the media covering the tragedy. when one hears about systemic killing of innocent people by the state’s authority – as seen in egypt and libya 2011 – it is easy to reconsider the central rule in international relations.
considering george lakoff’s take on empathy being a natural part of human behavior (lakoff, george (2008). the political mind – a cognitive scientist’s guide to your brain and its politics. new york) one has to see the immediate pressure put on political officials, who are torn between the rule of non-intervention and the (truly humanitarian or not) value of empathy and “responsibility to protect”.
there is several reasons for a state to consider intervening in a conflict. given the current situation in syria one can distinguish seven interests for intervention:
1.) a potential nation conflict. the uprising of the kurdish population as a part of the uprising against assad seems to diminish the state in its boundaries, which are at the same time (so far) the limits of what is internationally recognized as “civil war”. the development of a conflict between nations does not know state boundaries and might spill over to neighbor countries. this is a big incentive for turkey especially to intervene in the conflict in syria in order to avoid a spill over into its own territory.
2.) mass-migration. masses of people fleeing their country from conflicts is a side-effect of (civil) war. most of them try to get across the border to a peaceful country. this creates pressure on neighbor states for they might lack the capabilities to take in so many people. it might be a better trade-off to stop the conflict, than to handle the mass of refugees.
3.) preventing the european union. the tense situation of migration and a potential nation conflict seems to spill over to turkey more and more. the risk of turkey being torn into the fighting posts the threat of the conflict coming into immediate touch with the european unions border.
4.) european morals. looking back in history many cite the french revolution as the most glorious victory of human beings in the fight for representation and democracy. egalite -equality, fraternite – brotherhood, liberte – freedom. the arab spring seems to dictate moral values in european minds to support people fighting against an oppressive regime.
5.) stabilizing the near east. in a systemic level approach one can see a tendency of internationally strong states in protecting the status-quo. this does not determine which rule(r) should govern syria, as long as it keeps the region quiet and does not expand the conflict. as soon as the conflict seems to destabilize the region, though, the powerful states might consider intervening to secure their own interests of stabilization. – stabilization is still the main factor for political cooperation and a good climate for trade and hence of immediate interest.
6.) fear for the future. the threat perceived by western countries from either radical or religious groups in power in arab countries presents a big incentive to intervene into the conflict in order to make sure, that the system that will take over the reign of president assad will be within the conception of the west what a “good solution for the future” might be.
7.) democracy. the strong believe in the democratic system by western states does not necessarily determine an outcome to the syrian conflict on the side of the rebels (france did not get a democratic system immediately after the french revolution either). it does, however, suggest, that if the rebels work together with western governments, dictating them what to do after the conflict (“the-day-after”-plan by the german, united states and syrian -cooperation), there will be a good chance for support from the west.
a first sign of this support can be seen in the discussion about no-fly zones in syria, for i agree with the article of die zeit that an establishment of no-fly zones is a way of entering the war and also taking sides in the conflict, even though this is denied by official positions. (http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2012-08/Schutzzone-Syrien)
there is many reasons for entering a conflict in another country, yet the principle of non-intervention (nowadays extenuated by the “responsibility to protect”) is still deeply rooted in the values of states (especially deep in those countries that fear that intervention from outside in one country might trigger a more general behavior of states dictating other states how to handle their internal affairs – e.g. russian federation). in this situation it seems inevitable that one is torn between the values.