The world’s view of the state of armed conflict is severely distorted, in that it bears almost no resemblance to the actual scale or severity of conflicts in the world. This is primarily due to the highly selective and increasingly assimilated agendas of the media, policymakers, the public and academia. This situation results in ‘stealth conflicts’ – conflicts that are undetected and absent from these agendas. Using the massive conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the prime example of such stealth conflicts, this paper demonstrates how, for the past five years, the largest and deadliest conflict since World War II has been almost completely absent from international consciousness outside the region.
When questioned on the effect of NATO’s unsanctioned air war against Yugoslavia in 1999 on the rule of law and on the United Nations, a common response among prominent academics, diplomats, and UN Secretariat staff was that “one must also consider what would have been the price of not acting”, referring to the humanitarian cost. It was commonly accepted that even without Security Council authorisation, the level of humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo not only made intervention acceptable, it made intervention an “overwhelming moral imperative”,  echoing the sentiments of NATO spokesmen. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that such an assumption is misplaced, and that the media is primarily responsible for its creation.
To make the assumption that intervention with or without authorisation is morally justified, it must be determined that the cost (in terms of human suffering) of inaction outweighs the cost (both in terms of human suffering and of legitimacy) of action. Where intervention has already occurred, this will mean evaluating the costs of the intervention, and the hypothetical costs of non-intervention. Where intervention has not occurred, the hypothetical scenario will be the potential costs of an intervention.
With its selective and concentrated coverage of conflicts and a tendency to demonise one party to a conflict, the media greatly distorts our view of the real costs of intervention and non-intervention. The result is the artificial creation of a moral imperative to intervene in one or two minor conflicts where intervention may not even be warranted or effective, and the blackout of major conflicts with massive humanitarian costs, where there may well be a moral imperative to act.
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