Lord David Owen, former foreign minister of the United Kingdom, dismissed what he called the “postmodern” worldviews of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush in a lecture on “The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention,” for the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) program, in the Lowenstein Center on June 14.
“It is absolute, arrant nonsense that everything is new and that the world is far more dangerous than it was prior to September 11,” Owen said. “In 1962 we had nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them in Cuba. We know now that invading Cuba would have triggered a nuclear attack, because the [Cuban and Soviet] forces there were inadequate. Nuclear war was averted because President Kennedy ignored the advice of his secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, to invade Cuba.”
Owen, a neurologist who went into politics in 1966, is the former European Union co-chairman of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia. In a lecture that covered the intertwined histories of conflict and humanitarian intervention since World War II, he told IDHA students and faculty that “America is a pretty crucial country,” when it comes to humanitarian intervention, and that he fears the war in Iraq is forcing Washington to shift away from foreign policy based on moral considerations.
“We no longer have ‘humanitarian intervention,’ but ‘liberal intervention,’ he said. “It will be hard to get the United States involved in humanitarian interventions outside its immediate sphere of influence, Latin America.”
As a member of Parliament for 26 years, Owen served as navy minister, health minister and foreign secretary under Labour governments. He has served on a number of independent commissions, including the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, and the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Armed Conflict.
The month long IDHA program trains aid workers and their organizations to function more effectively in times of war or natural disaster. The highly intensive, multidisciplinary course simulates a humanitarian crisis, and includes lectures, workshops and field experiences, 10 to 12 hours daily, up to six days a week. It is run by the University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, headed by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D. (FCRH ’57).