In 1994, unrest swept through the Maryland-sized African nation of Rwanda. Thousands of Hutu extremists launched a massive assault on the Tutsi, who traditionally make up Rwanda s upper class, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people (Night Rider most days ). The United States immediately responded to this slaughter by turning the other way, denying that a problem existed until years after the genocide had ceased. In 1999, ethnic cleansing (hostility between ethnic groups) broke out in Kosovo in a less severe form. This time, instead of being killed, the Kosovars were driven out of their homes and neighborhoods. This time, United States and NATO forces immediately confronted the problem by launching a substantial air war on the area. Clearly, the doctrine for ethnic cleansing is widely varied, and merits further discussion.
Ethnic cleansing is a phrase for an attempt to purge an area of an unwanted ethnic group. It can include deportation, intimidation, and acts of genocide or mass murder. (Encarta, Ethnic cleansing ). It occurs most frequently in third world countries. Whenever it arises, it is followed by a host of moral questions. Do we just stay out completely and allow the country to deal with its own problems? Or, if we decide to take action, do we merely send medical aid or help militarily? Should we send in the army? Or is an air war the only acceptable option? It all comes down to an ethical issue, with one group insisting that preventing the loss of lives is paramount. The other side states that ethnic cleansing is caused by a fundamental disagreement between two ethnic groups, so unless we allow the groups to resolve their own issues, they can never be content and productive.
Whenever any human rights issue breaks out, there are differing opinions on the appropriate course of action. The difference in the case of ethnic cleansing is that this issue is much more critical than almost any other human rights issue. In the case of ethnic cleansing, the United States approach to intervention could determine the fates of thousands of people. In cases of extreme ethnic cleansing, intervention can take place on an international level, with many nations cooperating in an attempt to bring about a resolution of the perceived injustice. In Rwanda, such an international coalition was formed by Canada to safeguard the repatriation of the exiled Rwandans on their return home. This intended military escort function of the international community was averted, because of the sudden and quite peaceful march homeward of the Rwandans before the coalition had mobilized. Had the military escort occurred, there would have been potential for escalation of the Rwandan problem into an international military crisis, should bloodshed of any kind have erupted during the long march home of the refugees (Whaley). This potential for explosion of what some see as a nation s domestic concern into military action crossing international lines is what can deadlock the strategists, sometimes permitting ethnic cleansing to be substantially completed before a resolution can be endorsed by all nations concerned about the matter.
Although ethnic cleansing has been present throughout history, we are only in the last century really starting to acknowledge it as an issue that needs to be definitively dealt with on a global scale. The incident that caused ethnic cleansing to be a major international issue was Adolph Hitler s extreme ethnic cleansing of the Jewish, which made the rest of the world realize that if SOMETHING was not done, the problem could spread to engulf the entire world. Especially in recent years, with the major world powers militaries sitting, these countries are now starting to intervene in other countries ethnic issues, such as Bosnia, Germany, Iraq, and Kosovo, as well as the intended intervention in the Rwandan refugee repatriation.
There are three positions on this issue. The first is the laissez-faire approach, that we should not intervene in other countries issues, on the grounds that they will deal with it themselves in the way that is best for them. Those with this view would point out that when the US was a new country, it went through the ethnic cleansing of Blacks, Indians, and Mexicans without needing assistance or interference from other nations. Although this side is partly motivated by economic reasons (saving money by not going to war), they are mostly motivated by their laissez-faire ethics.
The second side is those who believe the world powers should intervene. This side is driven almost entirely by ethics, saying that saving lives is paramount to all other concerns. This side feels that to allow one ethnic group to be persecuted by another when we have the power to stop it is morally unspeakable. This side will invariably point to Hitler as an example of what could happen when ethnic cleansing is let to go uncontrolled. This is the side whose views are currently dominant, which caused NATO to intervene in Kosovo.
There is also a middle ground, which believes that cleansing should be allowed to go on, as long as it stays within the country s own borders and does not affect its neighbors adversely. This middle ground supports certain parts of both sides. It believes that while the country should be allowed to conduct its own internal affairs as it sees fit, as soon as the conflict oversteps the nation s borders, we must intervene to prevent the trouble from spreading as it did during the holocaust.
At the present moment, the pro-action side is most influential in determining strategies for dealing with ethnic cleansing. This is illustrated by the Kosovo conflict. Only a few years previously, the anti-action approach was in favor; no outside intervention occurred during the Rwandan genocide. No predictions forecast an end to the issues of ethnic cleansing. As long as distinction can be made between groups, that distinction will be made, and as long as that distinction is made, there will be a few warmongers who will take advantage and cause bloodshed. Although the madness of a few people will not always spread, once in a while it will go out of control, leading to a massive genocide such as in Germany and Rwanda. And when there is another massive wholesale destruction, what will the world powers do about it?