Robert Kaplan has an article in the July/August 2003 issue of Atlantic Monthly where he discusses how the American military builds relations around the world at a tactical level. Its all worth reading, but one section in particular struck me as having an important lesson for Russian troops in Chechnya.
He describes how the US attempted to build respect for human rights within the military in El Salvador. Although the Salvadoran officers believed that human rights were fine in principle, they they didn’t feel they had the luxury of applying them in practice.
In the 1980s in El Salvador, Colonel J. S. Roach, a member of the operational planning team there, observed that “the Salvadoran military understood they weren’t supposed to violate human rights, but they believed they were driven to extreme measures by extreme circumstances.” One can debate what members of El Salvador’s military “understood,” but Roach’s team and others pounded home the point that violating human rights almost never makes sense from a pragmatic perspective, because it costs the military the civilian support so necessary to rooting out guerrilla insurgents. “Human rights wasn’t a separate one-hour block at the beginning of the day,” Roach said. “You had to find a way to couch it in the training so that it wasn’t just a moralistic approach.” Human-rights abuses didn’t come to an end in El Salvador, but observers agree that they were sharply curbed.
Most Chechens, it’s fair to say, hate the Russians, and they hate Ramzan Kadyrov and his pro-Russian thugs. But they also hate the rebels too. Why? Nothing to do with the politics of the situation. The real reason is that all of these groups think that the best way to secure their positions is to terrorise the civilian population. And in the short term, perhaps they are right. Very few people in Chechyna today would dare to express a political opinion without having a well armed militia to back them up.
But I think that its time both of these groups of Chechens took a good hard look at their tactics, and consider why they have to rely so heavily on outside financial support, rather than on the popular support of their own people. I’m not going to go so far as to say that whoever respects human rights in Chechnya will win the war – support from outside will remain critical. But it can’t make the situation a whole lot worse.
Hat tip: James at Outside the Beltway