Using military intervention to overthrow Mugabe
THE ARGUMENTS FOR
The world owes it to the 3m refugees who have crossed the Limpopo river from Zimbabwe into South Africa, and others who have fled as far as Britain. If Mugabe's malignant regime came to an end, the majority would happily return home.
There's more hope of success if the West acts quickly. The rule of law and democratic process are not far beneath the surface in Zimbabwean society. African countries torn apart by prolonged civil turmoil, such as Uganda or Ghana, typically take several decades to regain stability.
Intervention has worked in Africa in the past. In 1999, British forces helped UN peacekeepers re-stabilise Sierra Leone, with a small (800-man) and relatively low-cost military solution.
The Zimbabwe military is beatable; economic factors have severely weakened loyalties. Only the special forces are competent. With more than half the population now in support of Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC, many soldiers may refuse to fight to keep Zanu-PF in power.
Unlike Iraq, there's little danger of sectarian splits. Before Mugabe decimated the Ndebele tribe on political grounds, there was little history of ethnic antagonism.
Zimbabwe is an important food source, traditionally known as 'Africa's bread-basket'. Many surrounding countries have a vested interest in seeing its agricultural economy restored. This will not happen until genuine farmers return to their land, and Mugabe's political cronies are kicked off it.
It would benefit trade, allowing both the dismantling of state controls on commerce and the removal of the limited sanctions currently affecting Zimbabwe. This would facilitate the restoration of the economy and stimulate enterprise and foreign investment.
The closing of the Mugabe chapter in Zimbabwe's troubled history would send a clear message to other leaders who are tinkering with ideas of so-called land-reform in their own countries.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST
Any intervention by Britain will be condemned as neo-colonialism and Morgan Tsvangirai will appear to be a stooge. In any case, like America, Britain is just too busy elsewhere, with forces overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unlike Sierra Leone in 1999, where it was the government who asked for help from British paratroopers, intervention would doubtless be considered an invasion of a sovereign nation by the UN - something they could not support.
Although they are demoralised, Zimbabwe has a lot of soldiers. The 40,000 Zimbabwean Army and Air Force troops could be doubled if paramilitaries, militias and youth cadres were called upon. The police are highly militarised and all 18 to 24-year-olds perform compulsory military service. In 2005, the CIA calculated that 2m Zimbabweans were eligible and fit for service.
Zimbabwe's neighbouring nations won't help in any intervention themselves, not least because it sets an uncomfortable precedent for their own countries. African Union nations are overstretched just providing soldiers for Somalia and Darfur.
Even if a neighbouring nation saw a reason to tolerate the West launch an incursion – and it would need to be Mozambique for a sea-borne operation, or South Africa overland – the terrain of Zimbabwe, especially in the mountainous north and along the Mozambican border, is well suited to guerrilla resistance operations.
It will destabilise global security. Covert political or military activity by the West would divide the continent along neo-Cold War lines; it's not worth alienating the Africans or the Chinese.
Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Mugabe himself is hard to get at. He takes stringent security measures at all times. An assassination attempt would be difficult.
The overthrow - or assassination - of Mugabe would not necessarily solve the problem: it presupposes that Mugabe is the source of all tyranny in Zimbabwe. A Zanu-PF successor might continue the brutal regime. ·
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