Read the full transcript of  Head to Head  Humanitarian intervention or imperialism? below:

Part one

Mehdi Hasan (VO): The French are back, and now roam some of the countries they once ruled. But for humanitarian intervention, read military operations. My guest tonight co-founded Doctors Without Borders, witnessed genocide first hand and, as former French foreign minister, he argues that the West, regardless of borders, has a duty to act.

I'm Mehdi Hasan, and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go head to head with Bernard Kouchner, one of the strongest advocates of the so-called 'right to intervene', which some say he invented. Can military invention ever be strictly humanitarian? Or are western countries just reviving their colonial past?

Tonight I'll also be joined by: Lindsey German, who runs the Stop the War Coalition; Barak Seener, Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London; and Hamza Hamouchene, a political commentator, founder and president of the Algerian Solidarity Campaign.

Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentlemen, Bernard Kouchner.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]

Mehdi Hasan VO: One of Europe's best known politicians, he headed the UN mission in Kosovo

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you very much for coming.

Bernard Kouchner: Thank you.

Mehdi Hasan: You are considered to be one of the founders of humanitarian or liberal interventionism: what you've called the "right to interfere", and what the UN has called the "responsibility to protect". Can you tell us, in a sentence or two, what this concept is all about?

Bernard Kouchner: It depends. It depends on the law, it depends on the Security Council of United Nations, et cetera. But what is important: do we have to take care of the people by prevention, not to authorise, not to let th-the killers, er…er, kill the people? Mass massacre, genocide, et cetera. Do we have to stay inert or not? As doctor, as doctors, we answer no.

Mehdi Hasan: Wh-what would you define…what's the definition of the right to interfere?

Bernard Kouchner: First, you don't have to mix the humanitarian action and the political action.  For, of course, the...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Or the military action, which is where much of the debate lies.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Military action, yes, but of course, in case of war, you have to protect your doctors at least and the patients also. First the patients, second the doctors. So don't mix everything. We were moved by the fact that we had…it was our duty and our oaths to take care of the people, and as for a doctor, this is better to prevent than to cure, than to take, I mean to…to…to take care of the patient after. We were obliged, we were obliged and we did change the international law.

Mehdi Hasan: As one of the architects of humanitarian intervention, what would you say to those people, especially in the developing world, in the global south, who say that in practice, this so-called right to interfere, to intervene, is only ever exercised by western powers, by people in the north? Developing countries don't get to go around intervening in developed countries. It seems to be one-way traffic.

Bernard Kouchner: This is not completely untrue. But who is supposed to protect the people? The people able to do so? The people involved? I mean, the d-d-d-d…let's say, the Good Samaritans?  Who?

Mehdi Hasan: Well, let me read to you a quote from David Rieff, who used to be a big supporter of humanitarian intervention like yourself, but then became very disillusioned with the whole idea. And he wrote a few years ago, quote, "When a British or French minister proposes a UN resolution calling for a military intervention to make sure aid is properly delivered in New Orleans, then, and only then, can we be sure to put the spectre of imperialism dressed up as humanitarianism behind us."  He's got a point, hasn't he?

Bernard Kouchner: My opinion, if I may…

Mehdi Hasan: This show is all about your opinion tonight.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] If you want my opinion, Mehdi…

Bernard Kouchner: There is no imperialist victim and non-imperialist victim among the civilian population; there are no bad victims and good victims; there are no bad dying people and good dying people. They are all…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But there are…there are countries who have an imperialist agenda, some would argue, and are hiding behind humanitarian laws.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah…I defend the victims. I am always on the victims’ side.

Mehdi Hasan: In France, for example...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Your country. Very nati...proud, nationalistic country - great legacy and history.

Bernard Kouchner: Prr! [LAUGHTER]

Bernard Kouchner: What about UK? Are you coming from the UK?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Indeed, the UK is as well, but, er, I'm not…I'm not interview...I'm not interviewing the former British Foreign Minister tonight.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Ah, but, "as well," oh…oh!

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Unfortunately they were all nationalists in that time.

Mehdi Hasan: Agreed, agreed. But given we're talking about France and you're French, let me put this question to you... [LAUGHTER]

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But I’m answering...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Last time I checked...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] I'm saying to you because you are a British Citizen, so...

Mehdi Hasan: Of course, I'm British…and I'm British…and I'm Brit...and if you read my stuff, I'm no fan of British government foreign policy. But anyway...

Bernard Kouchner: I’m very happy to pass a sort of exchange, you know!

Mehdi Hasan: Let me get the question out. In 2017, if Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, is elected President of France and starts persecuting French Jews, French Algerians, French Moroccans, would Israel, or Algeria, or Morocco have a right to intervene in France to protect those minorities?

Bernard Kouchner: I think that it will not be necessary. We will protect the Jewish ourself.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, but if it wasn't happening, you would accept that an outside country could come into France to protect your minority population?

Bernard Kouchner: It was exactly the case in the…during the Algerian war and unfortunately we had to go to war during eight years, very bloody war, and we were wrong.

Mehdi Hasan: OK, well let’s… we’re going to try to run through lots of conflicts in brief time. Would it have been easier, as some argue now, to have intervened in the conflict in Syria today, had Iraq not happened?

Bernard Kouchner: Unfortunately we did not. Unfortunately. I was strongly in favour at the beginning, at the beginning, because now it is a bit difficult, all the actors has changed position and political involvement. But at the beginning I think, and I propose that, that it was possible to avoid the bombing of the civilian population. Was it er, better with, er, Bashar al-Assad, er, oppressing, au fin, oppressing freedom, in fact, and, er, arresting the people, violation of human right, et cetera?  Er, do we have to stood on his side or not? I think we had to say that it was a dictator and nothing else. I'm on the Syrian people’s side. And of course, all the millions of refugees, they are waiting for peace. How can we, er, let's say, impose peace? This is very difficult, and not is this the only difficult, but they are supported by Russia, by Chinese and other Arabic countries. But better to stop the war, of course. How to stop the war? Do you have a recipe? No, neither me.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok. Well, on that note, let me, er, bring in our panel, er, who are with us tonight from across the spectrum. Er, Lindsey German is an anti…anti-war activist, president, er...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] She is right.

Mehdi Hasan: ...o-or one of the people who runs Britain’s Stop the War Coalition. Um, Lindsey, you've opposed a fair few wars in your time. But surely you would accept the principle that, in some cases, where a massacre is happening, or about to happen, there is a principle case for people who have the means to stop that massacre to go in and do it, to hell with international law?

Lindsey German: I don't accept it at all, and the reason I don't accept it is because we have a long history now of so-called humanitarian intervention which has led to more people being killed, has led to more devastation.  We've seen Libya, which is a complete disaster area now. Places like Afghanistan are still racked with all sorts of problems that they had…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So your view is intervention almost always makes things worse?

Lindsey German: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, and we're always told it's going to stop a massacre. In reality, when you look at the events that take place, it is not to do that. That wasn't what Afghanistan was about, it wasn't what Libya was about, it wasn't what Iraq was about. So I'm against this and I...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So are you saying that humanitarian is a cover...for…?

Lindsey German: It is a cover, and it's interesting you've been having the discussion with Bernard about exactly where and who intervenes, and it is the major powers. It's about certain countries and certain rulers…

Mehdi Hasan: Ok.

Lindsey German: …who aren't liked by the Western powers.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, well, on that note, let me bring in, er, Barak Seener, who's an Associate Fellow at the defence think tank The Royal United Services Institute in London. Er, you are a supporter of the principle of intervention and military intervention, but surely you would accept Lindsey's point that it's not always about humanitarian goals, is it? Sometimes it's about good old-fashioned geopolitical interests, and we use the language of humanitarianism as a bit of a cover?

Barak Seener: If you're going to look around the globe to see the different crises or ethnic cleansing, genocide that are taking place, there has to be three pillars that will guide your foreign policy. There has to be capacity of resources, there has to be your ideals, and there has to be your security interests slash economic interests.  If there's an issue of nuclear proliferation, if there's an absence of governance, that's the number one thing on any national security strategy - you've got to go in.  You have to have a degree of military intervention.  You can't ignore it.

Mehdi Hasan: But when a…when a western leader, quote, a French leader, a British leader, an American leader says, "We're going in to save the people," do you believe them?  A lot of people say, "We don't believe you."

Barak Seener: I think that there's going to be a…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] United Nations.

Barak Seener: …a degree of that being, er, motive, because it's precisely a country which is a failed state that is likely to be a sponsor of terrorism, but also abuse its domestic infrastructure, to abuse its own citizens.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in Hamz... Hamza Hamouchene is a human rights activist, chair of the Algeria Solidarity Campaign. Hamza, in a country like Syria, where tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed, some of them by chemical weapons, how long can you do nothing militarily if you have the means to set up a no fly zone or arm rebels with better arms?

Hamza Hamouchene: Looking simply at history, um, will tell us that the western powers intervene when their interests are endangered, intervene to maintain their domination, and expand their influence. How can we believe that these western powers, um, intervene for the sake of the people, when they support other atrocities and crimes…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok. Let’s put…Let’s put the point…

Hamza Hamouchene: …um, like the state of Israel, like...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Let's put the point to Bernard Kouchner. Rhetoric is easy, but how can we trust the intentions of the same people who backed dictators and tyrants elsewhere while claiming to protect people in this part of the world?

Bernard Kouchner: But I'm not pretending that we are civilising the world. I pretend very clearly…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] When you say…

Bernard Kouchner: …that it is better to save one life than not to do anything. If you cannot understand that, sorry for you. If it is your cousin, your brother, your mother, you will ask me to intervene.

Hamza Hamouchene: [INTERRUPTING] No, no…

Mehdi Hasan: Lindsey German, very briefly.

Lindsey German: You're confusing two different things…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Sorry?

Lindsey German: …You're talk...you're talking about your role as a doctor…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Lindsey German: …and people’s role as a doctor - that is quite different from what people in government are doing.

Mehdi Hasan: The Hippocratic Oath surely says: first, do no harm.

Bernard Kouchner: No, certainly not, the Hippocratic Oath, it was the argument against us. This is a…a relation, a very particular relation between one patient and one doctor.  Not the mass massacre, not the genocide, not the big killers.

Mehdi Hasan: The problem with these…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …wars that we're talking about is innocent people die in them. Lindsey's point is that when you go in to prevent a massacre, often other massacres happen, sometimes at our hands.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, yes, yes, absolutely.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So it’s not that easy, is it?

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] That is not a reason not to stop, because…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] It is a reason if you end up doing more harm than good.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But no… Simplicity is not always wrongness. I'm explaining you why we wanted to protect the people before the killing. Because this is easy to say, "I'm here to take care of the patient," if they are dead - the patient - this is not enough.

Hamza Hamouchene: [INTERRUPTING] France, Britain and the US armed the rebels in Syria…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no…no, no…no, no…no, no…no, no, no, no.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] You are mistaking…the opposition…

Hamza Hamouchene: …If you're really interested in saving...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, hold on, hold on, Hamza, let him come back in.

Bernard Kouchner: We are not arming the rebels. We wanted to arm at the beginning, at the beginning, and we were unsuccessful.  We wanted to arm the democrats against the dictator.  It was simplistic but it was true.  Unfortunately, they have been replaced by terrorists and killers.

Mehdi Hasan: You mentioned earlier, just a moment ago, you mentioned that you would like to prevent a massacre before it happens?

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But I-I-I will, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Libya…Libya is a classic example cited by… [INTERRUPTION] …people who say that by going into Libya in 2011, the French led the charge, alongside the UK and the US…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …To…we went in to avert a massacre in Benghazi…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] That’s true.

Mehdi Hasan: …and that was a humanitarian intervention. The problem is of course, it then turned into regime change. Gaddafi was toppled, French and British special forces were calling in air strikes. Our air forces were basically acting as rebel air forces. The UN resolution said, "Simply protect civilians," but we went all the way to Tripoli and took out Gaddafi, who was then pretty brutally killed. How can you say it's a humanitarian intervention, looking back now, given it didn't stick to the strict parameters of protecting Benghazi?

Bernard Kouchner: At the beginning, it was something to protect the citizen of Benghazi, and it was right. But, I'm sorry, there is some rules. Er, you cannot just eat and leave, and, certainly, we had to…t-t-to protect the people, we have to be, er, let's say, human rights fighter by advance. To protect human rights is a long, long story and this is difficult when you are not part...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Are you…are you really saying that you didn’t…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes…no…we did not…

Mehdi Hasan: …You went into Libya to protect Benghazi and we just got carried away and ended up in Tripoli?

Bernard Kouchner: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Really? [LAUGHTER]

Bernard Kouchner: No. No, but we were…we did…That’s exactly what we did.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You didn't go in to topple Gaddafi, that wasn't the original intent?

Bernard Kouchner: No, certainly not. It was not. We came in the name of the Security Council, and we overrun the…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And many of those Security Council members say you violated Resolution 1973 by going all the way to Tripoli.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] That's not completely untrue. 

Mehdi Hasan: Ok [LAUGHS].

Bernard Kouchner: But, er… [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] "Not completely un…"

Bernard Kouchner: Er, at the beginning, we came...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I do love that phrase. That's a…that's a new one for me. "Not completely untrue." Post-Gaddafi Libya: somebody else that's not...some-…some-…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] It will have to be used because I…I will use it several times.

Mehdi Hasan: Please do, please do, I…let me use it. What's "not completely untrue" also is that post-Gaddafi Libya isn't the greatest of places to live today.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Not only it was not completely true, but it was right.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, so you opened Pandora's Box and you walk away, and you say you're still on the side of the victim?

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Er, a bit, yes…yes, a bit, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] I'm sorry to be in agreement with you...

Mehdi Hasan: No, no, no, no, that’s…I'm glad you're in agreement with me…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Oh, thank you very much.

Mehdi Hasan: …I'm glad you accept…what went wrong. Just very quickly, before we move on from Gaddafi, he was a vile dictator for many years. And yet, four years before France decided to take him out, he was in Paris on a state visit. He was doing sightseeing at Versailles. He had a…pitched his tent next to the Élysée Palace. You were the French Foreign Minister.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] And did you notice, sir, that I refused?

Mehdi Hasan: But your government invited him - you can't wash your hands...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, but I…I…told Sarkozy I'm not with you on that, er, invitation and I refused to meet with Gaddafi.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Why didn’t you…why didn’t you… As someone who is always on the side of the victims, why didn't you resign from a government which invited, er, Gaddafi to Paris and called him "Brother Leader?"  Why didn't you resign and say, "This is outrageous?"

Bernard Kouchner: That was a contradiction in politics, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok. Well, let's bring in Lindsey German who was a... do you wanna respond to the point Bernard made that you're on the…as a pacifist, you're on the side of people like Gaddafi, effectively?

Lindsey German: [INTERRUPTING] I'm not a pacifist and I…I don't always take the view that wars are wrong. But I think that the wars that have been…that have involved the United States, Britain and France latterly, with, er, with…particularly with Libya, I think have done tremendous damage to the world. I think the world is a much more dangerous place than it was in 2001.  People talk about the threat of terrorism. There is now the threat of terrorism across large parts of Africa, large parts of the Middle East...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you accept that, had France and Britain not intervened in 2011, peop-...innocent people would've died in Benghazi at Gaddafi's hands?

Lindsey German: That may well be the case, but innocent people have been dying this year because the country is divided, the country is in a form of civil war, there is no government…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But… but it existed already…

Lindsey German: …and the situation is certainly not better. And I think the real question here, Hamza touched on it, is: does France and Britain and the United States, do they have the right to tell other countries what to do? And you cannot simply…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, I'm gonna…

Lindsey German: …talk about this as if it's just doctors going across borders. That isn't what it's about.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, hold on, let me…let me bring in…let me bring in…let me bring in Barak Seener…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But it was a military intervention. In order that the British…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, let's hear from…

Bernard Kouchner: …and the French fighters - I mean, the planes, er…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Let's hear from…

Bernard Kouchner: …just avoid…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok.

Bernard Kouchner: …the killing of th-the people. But it was a military intervention, without any...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, let me bring in…hold on, let me bring in Barak Seener, he's waiting very patiently…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, but without any humanitarian involvement. Any!

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in Barak Seener. You would accept that Libya - which, we were told, was a humanitarian liberal intervention to protect human rights, it wasn't about oil or security or terrorism, it was about protecting the people of Benghazi - is, today, a…pretty much a disaster zone?

Barak Seener: There’s the law of unintended consequences that doesn't undermine the legitimacy of intent, and the fact that there was, er, legitimate intent, it means that there is a Pandora's Box that will be opened up. Perhaps you can mitigate the law of unintended consequences and that Pandora's Box by increasing military intervention and, ironically, perhaps, engaging on a neo-colonialist state-building enterprise. Now, it's precisely those people that are against such intervention that are against state reconstruction. And there's a reason why we Western states are intervening - for a couple of reasons. Number one, we have greater legitimacy than developing states, simply because of our human rights ethos that they lack because they haven't had a social contract, they haven't had liberalisation. Secondly, as well…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Surely…

Barak Seener: …our military…wait a sec, our military expenditure is a product of our GDP in general. Countries with greater GDP are going to have greater militaries. Countries that don't have GDPs...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So…so…so, very…very briefly, you’re…you're…you're all in favour of China intervening around Asia? Because they have quite a big GDP, last time I checked. [LAUGHTER]

Barak Seener: No, but they lack the legitimacy.

Mehdi Hasan: Hamza, Bernard talked about the reality of the world we live in.  You know what, in the real-…in the real world, you have to accept double standards.

Hamza Hamouchene: I don't see them as double standards. I see them as a consistent pattern of backing authoritarian regimes and providing them with weapons to oppress their own people. You said it very clearly:  the…the enlightened Western leaders were supporting Gaddafi and entertaining good relationship with him before the Libyan uprising, and when they saw the opportunity to go on topple the regime and put a more compliant puppet regime in its place, they went for it. We don't learn our lessons. Hu… "humanitarian intervention" is just a façade of liberal imperialism. We've seen how you destroyed Iraq.  Er, the situation in Afghanistan is disastrous. Libya now is becoming a centre, exporting instability, militant and violence to the…to the...to the…to the Sahel.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok…ok…ok… Well, let me…let me take…let me take up the panel's points and come back to Bernard here and ask you this: the law of unintended consequences in Libya; one of them was that fighters, ammunition, weapons came out of Libya into Mali, which then triggered another intervention by France, in Mali.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes…yes.

Mehdi Hasan: How can you have a doctrine, which involves military action, which has all these Pandora's Bo-Box moments, all these unintended consequences - don't you think you have to think more long-term?

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] I'm very sorry to tell you that in Mali, this is not the case. We…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Mali was not linked to Libya?

Bernard Kouchner: I…I didn't answer to such an evidence. No, I said that Mali, for the time being, this is a success for what?  For the freedom of women, for the fact that the peop... they are not oppressing the women in Timbuktu?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] That wasn't my question.

Bernard Kouchner: Et cetera…yes, but it was my answer. Ok.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, can I…let me…let me re-ask the question… let me re-ask the question…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, no, no, no, I don't want you to criticise...

Mehdi Hasan: …Do you accept that we went into Mali...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Do you accept that I can't answer to your question?

Mehdi Hasan: Only my question, not the question you weren’t asked.  My question was...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes! Ok…No…I asked…you’re asking…

Mehdi Hasan: You can come to your point in a moment.

Bernard Kouchner: You’re asking your question, I'm offering my answer, ok?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, so we're in different programmes tonight?

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] So, in Mali, who asked us to come?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you agree that the French…?

Bernard Kouchner: …The UN…the UN system with a resolution - and the resolution has been fulfilled.

Mehdi Hasan: Do you… Yes, I-I don't deny the UN point. I don't deny…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Thank you.

Mehdi Hasan: …the improvements and all that.  I'm asking a very simple question: do you agree…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] You're getting better.

Mehdi Hasan: ...the French intervention in Mali was triggered by the French intervention in Libya, yes or no?

Bernard Kouchner: No. We were asked by the people. All the government, all the ministers in, er, in Bamako, they asked us to intervene and we did.

Mehdi Hasan: You also went in alongside the Malian army, which has been accused of massive human rights abuses…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, of course, abuses, but I’m…

Mehdi Hasan: …of unlawful killings, torture. Amnesty International says the Malian security force’s…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] The coup d’état, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …record is simply appalling. 

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: You have no qualms about being on the same side as the Malian army?

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, we suppressed this power in... ha-a-have we been accused, the French troops, or the African troops, working...?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] I'm simply wondering: as someone who says they’re a humanitarian on the side of the victims, does it bother you that when you intervene in such places, you end up finding yourselves…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] On the contrary, we stopped…

Mehdi Hasan: …on the side of rather unsavoury people…

Bernard Kouchner: But h-how can you such…

Mehdi Hasan: whether it's Libyan rebels or the Malian army? It's a very simple question.

Bernard Kouchner: But you are (UNCLEAR) the country of the truth. We intervene and stop this power of the so-called…er…er…Malian army.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You didn't intervene to fight the Malian army.

Bernard Kouchner: Of course not!  Huh, we suppressed the power of the guy who is…was in power after a coup d'etat.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok.

Bernard Kouchner: We suppressed that.

Mehdi Hasan: And what do you say to, er...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, no…ok, are you in agreement or not?

Mehdi Hasan: Not quite. What do you say…?

Bernard Kouchner: Well, "not quite", that is to say, "yes". [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: What do you say, er... "it's not untrue", to use a phrase.

Bernard Kouchner: [LAUGHS] Now you are getter better, Mehdi! [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: What…um…what…what would you say to Sergey Lavrov, the former…the Russian Foreign Minister who said last year, when he was talking about these Al-Qaeda-linked rebels in…in Mali who were getting weapons from Libya, he made the point that France is fighting against those in Mali whom it once armed in Libya against Gaddafi. He's got a point, hasn't he?

Bernard Kouchner: Yes, that's true. The arms were coming by the southern part of…of Libya to Mali. It was partly true, yes, certainly. And I...I…I didn't support... I told you that this Libyan operation was badly, if I may say, it was very quickly prepared and not prepared at all.  And it was not the way to protect th-the population.  Yes, we protected Benghazi, but we didn't protect the rest.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But here’s the…but…you’re being…but this the point…this is the point. The unintended consequences...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But this is the point, of course, yes.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, no, unintended consequences…you say, "I want to go in and save lives," you said at the start, "We have to take action to prevent massacres."

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] But we did, successfully. Benghazi was not erased at all.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But what…what I'm saying to you is this: that when you do it, you have unintended consequences…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no we…we protect Benghazi population - was not bomb, ok? That was our purpose. After, you were right, we a bit overrun the d-…the resolutions, that's true, unfortunately.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, we're gonna take a break there. Er, you're watching Head to Head on Al Jazeera. We're gonna be back after the break - we're gonna be talking about the Balkans, about Kosovo, we're gonna be talking about Rwanda…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Hey!

Mehdi Hasan: …the intervention that never was. We're going to a break. You're gonna have to wait a second. [LAUGHTER]

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No…

Mehdi Hasan: And we will back with a very combative former French Foreign Minister...

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, but don't be nervous…don't be nervous…quiet, quiet, quiet.

Mehdi Hasan: Bernard Kouchner…

Bernard Kouchner: This is a difficult subject, Mehdi. Don't be pah pah pah pah pah pah. [LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE]

Part two

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera.  We're talking about humanitarian intervention, the right to intervene, the right to protect, with one of the architects of the doctrine, the former Foreign Minister of France, Bernard Kouchner, who joins us here in the Oxford Union. Bernard, why do you think it is that the intervention in Kosovo in 1999 is considered to have worked, have been a success in a way that Iraq isn't, Afghanistan isn't, even Libya isn't.  It's seen as the…the…the benchmark, the role model for interventions.  Why is that?

Bernard Kouchner: Because I was in charge. [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: You were…you were, you did run Kosovo for two years, the UN administration after…um…

Bernard Kouchner: Yes. Yes. A-and we considered the people as equal, and we tried to convince them that the UN system, because I was in charge in the name of the UN system, was not, er, taking side.  We were just stopping the massacres and offering to the people, the Kosovars, because they were the majority, large majority, to run their own affairs.  So we did.  And at…at the end, now, and thanks to them, and congratulation to the Serbian government, and the Kosovar government, they are talking to each other.  And not only are they talking to each other, but this is, I think, one of the, let's say, UN success.

Mehdi Hasan: There were a lot of problems associated with crime and criminal networks in Kosovo. In fact…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Like in all the Balkans, like in all the Balkans.

Mehdi Hasan: Indeed, and some would argue it got worse after the war.  But listen to what Amnesty International said about the UN administration mission in Kosovo, which you were in charge of between '99 and 2001.  They said that your administration, quote, "singularly failed to investigate the abduction and murders of Kosovo Serbs in the aftermath of the conflict."

Bernard Kouchner: That's why we offer vote to the Kosovar and the Serbian and they did it, yes, yes. 

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] They did what?

Bernard Kouchner: A…a war is cruel, you know.  Assassination in the war, it is the way, not to win, but to prove...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Hold on, how does that work?  War is cruel…war is cruel…?

Bernard Kouchner: No, no, no, like exactly…like exactly it exists in all the war, and we were very, let's say, devoted to all the enquirement. One murder, we rushed to the place, we sent the poli... et cetera, et cetera.

Mehdi Hasan: Amnesty doesn't agree with you, they're wrong in this?       -

Bernard Kouchner: No, ok, but they were seated on their arse and we were in charge.  So that's a very different and this is not a perfect...it was not…

Mehdi Hasan: With respect, as someone who claims to be a champion of human rights, I'm sure every authoritarian government in the world might say, "Amnesty's sitting on its arse and we're in charge."  That's not really an excuse, is it?

Bernard Kouchner: I do repeat, the people who said so, they have never been there.  Because we did our best...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Amnesty have never been to Kosovo?

Bernard Kouchner: They...yes, yes, yes…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] That’s an interesting statement.

Bernard Kouchner: …I say so because I was in charge…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok.

Bernard Kouchner: …with my people from the UN.  A thousand of people.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So, there wasn’t…so…so Serbs weren't driven out of Kosovo, Roma people weren't driven out of Kosovo in the wake of the war?

Bernard Kouchner: No, but this is not only in Kosovo.  Of course they are killing each other, unfortunately, and we…not only we protest....

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But I thought you went in to stop the killing.

Bernard Kouchner: ...but they are no longer killing each other, but talking to each other.  So this is a good result.  When I came in, during months, every night, every day, assassination. I don't say that we stopped all killings overnight, no, but it was not the same scale at all, huh?  One million people were displaced in Montenegro, in Albania, et cetera. So in two months we allow them to come back and to rebuild the houses. But don't critic everything.  Tell me, what we were supposed to do? I need that side. [LAUGHS] I mean, we did our best and we refuse the clash in between the two communities.  The Albanian, the Muslim Albanian Kosovars, and the Serbian.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] No-one is…no one is criticising everything that was done, and people are accepting goods things on that.  I'm asking you, if you go to war in the name of human rights…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] We did.

Mehdi Hasan: …and you carry out human rights val-violations, you blow up a TV station…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, we are not carrying out…

Mehdi Hasan: …you blow up a bridge...

Bernard Kouchner: It was…

Mehdi Hasan: That's a contradiction.

Bernard Kouchner: It's not. It has been accepted by the member of NATO, all the countries of the world, but Russia, ok? And Chinese. So, it was not my duty. I-I protested every victims as my, not only my compassion, but my support, and the families.  But what can I do?  So was it…was it a reason, was it a good reason not to be involved in Kosovo to make peace?  We did make peace.

Mehdi Hasan: Let me just deal with another country. Rwanda is a place where every humanitarian interventionist says the west should have intervened…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …in 1994, when Hutu militias killed up to 800,000 people…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes…yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …in the space of 100 days. 

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: Genocide. 

Bernard Kouchner: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: The problem for you, maybe, or for others on your side of the argument, of course, is that France did intervene in Rwanda. The problem was it intervened on the side of the people doing the killings, the Hutu militias.  President Paul Kagame of Rwanda…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Don't say so, but it was true at the beginning, yes. But who was…

Mehdi Hasan: President Kagame says France played a direct role in the political preparation of the genocide.

Bernard Kouchner: Mehdi, do you know where I was Aug...in...at April?  Inside the genocide, I was in Rwanda.  I'm the only one. The French soldier has been accused to participate.  They were not participating at all.  They didn't kill the people, they were in charge…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] With respect, that's pedantry. 

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no, no, no.

Mehdi Hasan: They didn't kill the people themselves, but they helped the people who did, come on!

Bernard Kouchner: No! Not at... they…they helped the people before in the, let's say, three years before, because they were training the army.  But of course, the army, the Rwanda’s army, part of them, they…they became…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Bernard Kouchner…

Bernard Kouchner: …they became militia, but not all of them.  And the French soldiers never killed anybody.

Mehdi Hasan: "Everything that was prepared was prepared with France's implicit consent, that's a sure thing."  Do you know who said that?

Bernard Kouchner: That's too much, er, I-I-I-I....

Mehdi Hasan: That's too much?  You said that in April 2014.

Bernard Kouchner: Yes, that's too much.  I said so, that's too much.

Mehdi Hasan: Did you not feel a little bit ashamed as a humanitarian?

Bernard Kouchner: No, I was not, I was not in that time.

Mehdi Hasan: France has never apologised for its role in the Rwandan genocide. 

Bernard Kouchner: No.

Mehdi Hasan: Belgium has, France has never.

Bernard Kouchner: Yes, and including…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Why not?

Bernard Kouchner: …and Clinton did, yes.  But...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Why not the French?

Bernard Kouchner: When I was…please.  When I was, er, Foreign Minister, we reconciliate, we reopen the diplomatic relation and with Mr Sarkozy, not only we visit Rwanda, but Kagame visited France.  So I did my duty.

Mehdi Hasan: Why not apologise?

Bernard Kouchner: Well, I was not in charge!  I criticised, as you said, Turquoise operation.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, so do you think, do you think the French government should apologise for its role in Rwanda?

Bernard Kouchner: Yes…………………. Partly.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok.  Let's go to our panel who have been waiting, er, to come in.  You've been hearing us talk about Kosovo and Rwanda.  Lindsey German, violence happens in that part of the world.  They had to stop the war.  You can't be a perfectionist, killings were going on, but the killings came down in Kosovo.

Lindsey German: There's a great deal of myth and, er, um, untruth told about Kosovo.  It was a situation where you could've had a peace solution, except they forced a war, er, the Rambouillet Agreement, they forced a war on the Serbians. They…they gave them conditions they couldn't possibly meet. They bombed for 78 days in Serbia. They bombed Belgrade…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] What about all the refugees that Bernard said came home thanks to that war?

Lindsey German: The refugees were people who were only refugees after the war started.  So they were people who were escaping from the war.  And this is such a dishonest [INTERRUPTION] way of actually…way of actually approaching the thing.  And if you look at Kosovo today, I would say Kosovo has a very good case for being one of the greatest failed states, not just in Europe, but around the world.  It is a centre of drug running, of, er, of gun running, of prostitution. It is not a state which anybody could be proud of.  So why you can just say this is all perfectly ok and it achieves...it didn’t do anything of the…of the sort.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, let me…let me bring in…let me bring in Barak Seener.  Is Kosovo a state anyone can be proud of?

Barak Seener: If I'm responsible for my intent at the moment of decision-making, would it be moral for me to say, "Let them kill one another, [INTERRUPTION] let there be genocide that will take place, because what may happen afterwards may be worse,?"

Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in Hamza: a policy of inaction could be equally immoral.  Rwanda, if Rwanda happened today, a clear-cut case of genocide.  Would you support an inter-military intervention to stop that?

Hamza Hamouchene: I think when a humanitarian crisis is developing, um, the outsiders have three choices: either they are to escalate the crisis, or do nothing, or mitigate, er, try to mitigate the circumstances. I think the Kosovo and the Rwandan crisis fall in category number one.  Um, what happened actually in Kosovo is that the crisis escalated after the NATO bombing had started, and this is a predicted, er, consequence, er, according to the commander of the NATO forces at the time, who declared, himself, that the political leaders were not interested in ending the ethnic cleansing.  But then we need to look at the bigger picture.  What was happening at the same time? The same year, 1999, Turkey.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let's briefly make that point; the double standards point is often raised.

Hamza Hamouchene: Well, Tu-Turkey actually is a member of NATO, and they were committing the most atrocious crimes against the Kurdish populations.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] What did you do?

Hamza Hamouchene: What did you do?

Bernard Kouchner: No, what did you do?

Hamza Hamouchene: I’m asking you, what did you do? No, don’t ask me.

Bernard Kouchner: No, but it is easy to criticise. You are protesting because we are intervening but you are not intervening enough.

Mehdi Hasan: On a…on a personal note…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Ok.

Mehdi Hasan: …how did you go from being Communist student, hanging out with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the '60s in Cuba…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] I was strongly…

Mehdi Hasan: How did you go from that to being a member of one of France's most right-wing governments under Nicolas Sarkozy and telling Condoleezza Rice, "We will never betray America,?"

Bernard Kouchner: Because I became intelligent. [LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE]

Mehdi Hasan: That’s a good answer.

Bernard Kouchner: [LAUGHS] No, no…

Mehdi Hasan: [LAUGHS] So you weren’t intelligent before? So you weren’t intelligent before?

Bernard Kouchner: [LAUGHS] I was not, I was not!

Mehdi Hasan: Ok.

Bernard Kouchner: No, because I published, before the election, a book, en français, pardon, "Deux ou trois choses que je sais de nous," and it's a book, as I was travelling all over the world, and I knew what happening in globalisation, the people were working, they were, we’re not, no longer the centre of the world.  We are not, no longer able to be arrogant.  European people, not only the French.  And so I-I-I, facing the crisis was coming, financial and, er, er, fi- not only financial but, er, deep cultural crisis that we had to be together.  The left and the right on a programme of reform, necessary programme of reform.  That's why I accepted what Sarkozy proposed to seven members of the left and socialist party.

Mehdi Hasan: And you were expelled?

Bernard Kouchner: And I-I-I wa- wa- wa-…

Mehdi Hasan: And you were expelled from the socialist party?

Bernard Kouchner: Huh, sorry?

Mehdi Hasan: And you were expelled from the socialist party for joining his cabinet, weren't you?

Bernard Kouchner: Yes, which is normal. They are stupid, they are stupid.

Mehdi Hasan: They're…they're stupid and you're intelligent.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] No, but the problem is, still the same group…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Do you think you moved to the right over your political...?

Bernard Kouchner: No!  Not at all.  I never voted in favour of the right.  Never in my life.

Mehdi Hasan: You just joined the government of the right? [LAUGHTER]

Bernard Kouchner: No!  They proposed a national unity, I said so.  And what is going after the...

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] It wasn’t really a national unity government, was it? It was a pretty strong Sarkozy government.

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Because you don't…are not involved in politics, sometimes you are not understanding. Ok, national immunity means what happened in Germany, where the socialist party is governing with Madame Merkel and they are right.

Mehdi Hasan: But the socialist party didn't join Sarkozy, you did.

Bernard Kouchner: No.

Mehdi Hasan: That's not really a national immunity government.

Bernard Kouchner: I am sorry for them, they not follow, they were not following me, ha ha! I am very sorry for that but I think that it was the good method, to accept, to make altogether a national movement to reform our country.  And I'm still thinking the same thing. And…

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go, let’s go to the audience.  We’ve been talking tonight about Syria, about Libya, about Mali, let’s go to the audience, and there’s…let’s go to the back first.  The gentleman there with the glasses, four rows back.  Yes, you.

Audience participant 1: Um, I was actually almost convinced with your passion for, er, humanit-humanitarian intervention but, er, just consider the statement that when western powers intervene in a country, um, in the guise of humanitarian aid, it’s more a bane rather than a boon for those countries.  I mean, if you look at it, er, the, the enmity of western powers is far better that the friendship, so how would you react to th-this statement?

Bernard Kouchner: There is a very good answer for that: ask the victims.  We were not just pushed by our sense of, er, let’s say, er, th-the change of the world o-or humanitarianism, or universalist attitude. We were called by the victim. Ask the victim. This…they are the only people able to answer the question.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok. Let’s go back to the audience. Let’s go to the lady in the front row and then we’ll go to the gentleman next to her.

Audience participant 2: The public are so used to this duplicitousness and are now skeptical. For instance, the invocation of R2P, Responsibility to Protect, was used to legitimise illegal interventions.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] What kind of interventions are you thinking of?

Audience participant 2: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria…it’s used…this propaganda is used…this rhetoric is used…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Ukraine?  Ukraine?  No?

Audience participant 2: Indeed, Ukraine, definitely, absolutely.

Bernard Kouchner: On the rivers.  Yes.

Audience participant 2: Absolutely.  Um, a-and it’s all under the guise of moral humanitarianism.

Bernard Kouchner: Yes.

Audience participant 2: I would like to ask you, how would you defend that?

Bernard Kouchner: Are you…is it forbidden to have a moral?  To have an ethic of, let’s say, not leaving the people being killed by dictators and not dictators, government?  If it is so, I am in favour of the intervention.

Audience participant 3: Thank you.  Would you agree with the view that when engaging with its European partners, France is far more likely to be able to assume a position of leadership in the field of military intervention, rather than humanitarian assistance?

Bernard Kouchner: No.  I mean, we never intervene, in the recent government of François Hollande, without the clearance of the UN system.  Never.  So it was because of a UN resolution.

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go to the woman in the back, please.

Audience participant 4: Um, you mentioned a couple of times that you believe that, er, we should have…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Can you speak up a bit?

Audience participant 4: You mentioned a couple of times that you believed we should have intervened in Syria earlier on.  Can you please explain how that would have ended up in, potentially, a democracy by now, since there isn’t really that much, um, evidence of other times that interfering, intervening in that area leading to peace.

Mehdi Hasan: Her question was: what would the end game have been in Syria?  Would it have turned it…what evidence is there that Syria would have become a democracy after we militarily intervened?

Bernard Kouchner: No evidence!  You cannot just rule th-the world.  This is impossible - unfortunately in a way, fortunately in the other.  People, the people, the nation exist, so what?  Are we just…we are talking about the protection of the victims, that’s all. That’s all. For the rest, we are no longer in the time of colonisation.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, let’s take some more questions from the audience.  Gentleman there in the black tie and the suit, do you want to wait for the microphone to come to you? And then we’ll go to the lady next to you.

Bernard Kouchner: Ah!

Audience participant 5: My question is: do you believe it is now essential for there to be reform of the UN Security Council if the Responsibility to Protect norm must survive?

Bernard Kouchner: Of course, yes.  But unfortunately, we try and try and for the time being, nobody’s in agreement for the reform, including and especially the reform of the Security Council who have no representative of Africa, we have no representative of Latin America, et cetera, et cetera, and of course, of Asia, China and that’s all.

Mehdi Hasan: I promised the lady in red the next question.

Audience participant 6: I’d like to ask and focus on the issue of MSF, which hasn’t been mentioned, and as the Co-Founder…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders.

Audience participant 6: Yes, Doctors Without Border.

Bernard Kouchner: Thank you.

Audience participant 6: So, um, as a Kenyan myself - I'm from Africa - er, one of the things that I’ve found is that NGOs often have this paradox, right?  So, on the one hand, they’re seen as these humanitarian saviours that come to places like Kenya, where there’s the Al Shabaab; CAR, where there’s…there’s Seleka versus the Balaka. One of the…but, on the other hand, when you look at MSF, the actions are often followed by French troops. So, how would you react to people when they ask you, "Is MSF just another engine that protects French commercial interests?" Thank you.

Bernard Kouchner: You are partly right.  I mean, the NGOs are made of women and men like the other organisation and then…let’s…all the, the system but, er, I think you are…this is a bit too much.  You accept that…we…they’re…are never been involved without a call.  People were calling them, people, some of them, a community, a big village, a big town, et cetera.  Otherwise, this is not a humanitarian intervention.

Mehdi Hasan: Lady there with the glasses and then I’m gonna go back to the back of the hall, so be patient.

Audience participant 7: You mentioned the case of Kosovo and there is…it…my question is about what happens after intervention?  When you were in charge of the UN there and all the inter-ethnic violence that happened and the way in which minorities mostly did not return to Kosovo, from your experience, what lessons can the international community learn from that case for any other post-conflict situation? Thank you.

Bernard Kouchner: Do you know, what I have learned from all the cases I’ve been involved in, this is hatred, and certainly also confrontation in between religion. But it was not the case of Kosovo at all. But, well, you know, you are always surprised by the level and th-the magnitude of hatred. People killing the other. Could you imagine what was the meaning of that in Kosovo every night?  It was in between Kosovar also; not only between Serbian and Kosovo, and the Kosovar.  So, that’s…this is not a lesson I know about violence but, er, are we supposed to react or not?  Because this is very good to have this catching match but I want to convince somebody, only one of you, better to intervene and to protect one life, or not to intervene?

Mehdi Hasan: And protect lives who may be lost in that intervention.

Bernard Kouchner: No, no, no, no, no.

Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go to the gentleman who’s waving his hand.

Audience participant 8: When we are talking about the intervention, how about the Russian intervention and the Iranian intervention in Syria?  And another thing, er, yes, we need to, er, protect and save, er, minorities in Syria, but they are not affected by the Free Syrian Army, they are affected by S- the Syrian regime as well but, as well, does it mean that, er, Assad, er, is allowed to kill and slaughter the majority, the majority of Syrians just under the umbrella of protecting the minorities?

Mehdi Hasan: Are you Syrian yourself?

Audience participant 8: Yeah, I’m Syrian.  I’m a Syrian activist.

Mehdi Hasan: And would you like to see a western military intervention in Syria?

Audience participant 8: We would like to see any kind of pressure to force Assad in, er, just leaving the country to step, er, back and leave the country, yes.

Bernard Kouchner: But we are not intervening enough?

Audience participant 8: You are not, no.

Bernard Kouchner: Yes. Ok.

Audience participant 8: And just like…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] I-I was, I-I told you, to answer to your questions, I was completely in favour of bombing the airport at the beginning because, what?  Not because he was not a dictator able to, er, to protect th-th-the Turkmen, no.  Because he was bombing and killing the civilian population massively, which was against, of course…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And do you think that would’ve stopped him?  Do you think air strikes would’ve stopped him?

Bernard Kouchner: Yeah, I think so at the beginning, yes.

Audience participant 8: Finally, one more thing…

Mehdi Hasan: Really? Just a bunch of air strikes would’ve forced him to run away?

Bernard Kouchner: No, not to suppress the, the aeroplane, yes, of course it was.

Mehdi Hasan: But what about…? Ok.

Audience participant 8: One, one more thing…

Mehdi Hasan: Very briefly.

Audience participant 8: Yeah, yeah.  W-we started o-our revolution, er, civilians protesting in streets. We still fighting for our freedom…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Ok, we’re gonna have to take another point. Very strong point, thank you.

Bernard Kouchner: No, no, no, but I support what you said.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, you support him, he’s made his point. Well, let’s take this lady’s question and then I’m going to ask a question to the audience.

Audience participant 9: Um, so, something that came up a number of times, which I think is maybe worth going back to, is the question of the link with the 19th Century, ‘cause a lot of these neo-colonial accusations, um, generally point to the past of France or England.  Um, and while they…I think it’s important to remember that they don’t say that colonialism and neo-colonialism are the same thing, they do say that there are some disturbing echoes, and something that is really important to remember about the 19th Century, which I think we’ve dismissed here, is the fact that it was both about interests and resources and whatnot, and about intent.  There is a very real question of the link between the, sort of, civilising mission, which was genuinely felt, therefore, can France actually, in light of its past [INTERRUPTION], unless there is a, for example, a reform of the Security Council, ever claim we got it wrong the first time around, but this time we’re doing the right thing?  Can it have any credibility, any legitimacy? Thank you.

Bernard Kouchner: You are…your reproach is of no solidarity with the people? What do you mean? I don’t understand.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] She’s saying there are…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Are you against the position, the French position, on what? Don’t say we are intervening in République centrafricaine because we have interests - this is not true! Medecins Sans Frontieres and [UNCLEAR] received a Nobel P-Prize for peace.  Why?

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] You’re taking…

Bernard Kouchner: Why? According to you.

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Bernard, you’re taking it very personally. We’re talking about a concept that you’re here to defend.

Bernard Kouchner: No, but you can receive that too.

Mehdi Hasan: Um, that’s the first guest that’s ever slapped me on the hand. [LAUGHTER] Um, I feel very told off. Gentleman at the back with his hand up very high, he’s been waiting a while.

Audience participant 10: I, I agree; when you come up with an idea of something good to do and people say, "No, it’s a bad idea for this reasons," but suggest nothing better, that’s very frustrating because they’re not contributing to your effort to do something good. I think the core of the problem, of the issue that people are taking is to do with risk. It seems to me that you think whatever the risks involved, it’s better to do something rather than nothing.

Bernard Kouchner: I’ve been always i-in the, let’s say, the third world or the poor world, side, always. All my life. What do you mean?

Mehdi Hasan: Ok, well, let’s…before we, before we go - and we’re finishing now - let me ask one final question, which I’m sure you’ll really enjoy, [LAUGHTER] er, given the mood you’re in.  You once said IN…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] I’m ready to…for the worst!

Mehdi Hasan: It’s the last question, so I think I’ll chuck it at you anyway - and it’s an important question, it’s a very important question.  You once said that the most important thing you’ve ever done in your life…

Bernard Kouchner: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …is the right to protect…

Bernard Kouchner: Yes.

Mehdi Hasan: …and you’ve said that tonight. You’ve been very emotional about the right to protect people; and clearly, the humanitarian interventions that have happened, the so-called humanitarian interventions, have saved lives, many innocent people have been saved…

Bernard Kouchner: Thank you, Mehdi.

Mehdi Hasan: I’ve conceded that from the very beginning. What you haven’t conceded, or what you don’t want to dwell on, is they’ve also cost a lot of innocent lives. My question to you is: as someone who’s pushed this right to intervention very passionately, very emotionally, do you often think the lives of the innocents who are lost as a result of the wars are on your conscience?

Bernard Kouchner: Sorry, this is just ridiculous. So…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] It’s ridiculous to ask you if you…

Bernard Kouchner: …we believe that we have saved a lot of…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Bernard Kouchner: …people and some died…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes.

Bernard Kouchner: …not because of the intervention…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, because of the intervention.

Bernard Kouchner: …only because of the situation. I mean, you are completely, let’s say, on a torrent of negation. Ok, be negative, but the people asking to be saved, asking to be part of…

Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] A lot of the people…

Bernard Kouchner: …an international involvement, thank you for them because they are much more numerous than the victims you are intending [LAUGHS] to ask me to cause, t-t-to prove me that we cause the victims. This is not true.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok.

Bernard Kouchner: Absolutely untrue.

Mehdi Hasan: Well

Bernard Kouchner: We saved the people - and in Kosovo particularly - what was right? That we were not intervening in Rwanda and it was a big, big, big, big fault - international fault. Not only the French, not only the French.  All together.

Mehdi Hasan: I want to give you the last word.

Bernard Kouchner: Oh! [LAUGHTER]

Mehdi Hasan: Because you’re feeling… [LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE]

Mehdi Hasan: Do you think… [APPLAUSE]

Mehdi Hasan: Do you think, do you think the right of interference is now established? It's not going away?  It’s…

Bernard Kouchner: [INTERRUPTING] Unfortunately, after this session, certainly not. [LAUGHTER] I understand some of the criticals were right. Of course, this is not perfect, but it-it’s much better than doing nothing.

Mehdi Hasan: That's a great…

Bernard Kouchner: Doing nothing is easy. Pacifism is a very good idea; unfortunately, it doesn't work.

Mehdi Hasan: Ok.

Bernard Kouchner: Be good!

Mehdi Hasan: On that note, Bernard Kouchner, thank you very much for joining Head to Head tonight. [APPLAUSE] Thank you very much. Thank you. You were brilliant. Thank you. Thank you to our very…thank you to our very opinionated panel, our very passionate audience.  Thank you to you all for watching at home.  We'll be back with Head to Head next week on Al Jazeera.  Goodnight.

Audience: [APPLAUSE]