Neuhaus draws attention to the rather more unsavoury elements of Collier’s The Bottom Billion, namely its insistence on military interventionism as a solution to African ills. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain why military intervention is just as misguided, counterproductive and destructive as the evils of developmentalism, but apparently it needs to be said. Just as developmentalism stunts and distorts the economic development of client states, as both Easterly and Collier argue, intervention does the same to the political life of “beneficiaries” of interventionist aid.
Intervention does absolutely nothing to solve the fundamental political woes of any given state, but at best simply locks them in place. It may even exacerbate them by drawing one group or another into the orbit of the intervening power, making the different responses to intervention grounds for future conflict. Undertaken in an emergency as a “temporary” measure, outside intervention becomes a persistent habit of major powers (which are, of course, not intervening out of their goodness of their collective hearts, but for some other reason), and it becomes the default “solution” to every significant domestic crisis in these countries. Forever being “aided” and “helped,” the peoples that “benefit” from this interventionist regime end up being no more capable of coping with the internal divisions and problems of their countries than they were before and may prove to be worse off. They become permanent protectorates of the “international community,” global wards that get progressively worse the more “help” they receive.
Rather than developing the institutions and skills necessary for running their own affairs successfully, these states are forever being artificially propped up, simply deferring more permanently stable arrangement indefinitely. To those who think outside intervention brings order from chaos, I say simply this: Wait and see what happens in a year or two. It is at best a stopgap measure that averts some terrible event here or there. Above all, this interventionist idea says that some nations have the right to trample on the sovereignty of others. It is inconceivable how a peaceful international order can survive with this kind of two-tier system of states. A very few states may embark on “genuine” humanitarian missions, but the rest will be pursuing aggrandisement and influence. Wars of aggression will be dressed up as efforts to “restore order” and “bring peace,” and the war in Iraq has already shown the way.
From the American perspective, intervention is also a very sure way to fritter away lives and resources on problems that we cannot solve. Americans have shown time and again that we do not really have the inclination, patience or training to do the work that intervention requires, and even if we did it would not be in our national interest to use our resources in that way. Under the circumstances, it is actually immoral to urge intervention, knowing that the public will not be willing to bear the cost and see it through–we would be committing the errors of encouraging the miserable and making false promises. There is also something truly condescending in the assumption that other nations of the world need our intervention. It is at least partly this mentality of Western obligation and non-Western blame for Western “failure” to act that hampers entire regions from improving local conditions on their own.