Reporting foreign intervention
Since the foreign military intervention began in Libya in early March, The World Tonight has been airing the debate over why action is being taken in Libya and not other countries, such as Ivory Coast.
Ivorian mothers and children sit at a UNHCR camp for displaced people in Duekoue.
Over the past decade, we have covered the waxing, in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, of so-called humanitarian or liberal intervention, and its waning in the wake of the Iraq invasion in 2003. It is never a simple case of the international community intervening to protect civilians who are victims of repression from their own governments. If it were, we would have seen foreign forces going into such countries as Sri Lanka or Burma as well as Sierra Leone and former Yugoslavia.
Last Thursday, we asked Elizabeth Dickinson of the respected Foreign Policy magazine why up to that point there had not been the same international action in Ivory Coast as we'd seen in Libya. She told us that conditions were not yet right for intervention there despite the humanitarian situation with large numbers of civilians being killed and displaced by fighting between forces loyal to the internationally recognised President Allasane Ouattara, and his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to leave office despite losing last year's election.
Was it as simple as the fact that Libya is a major oil exporter and Ivory Coast a major cocoa exporter?
No-one goes to war over cocoa, Elizabeth Dickinson argued, but that is not the whole story. As usual in international affairs things are never that simple and there is rarely any single reason to explain why governments decide to take action or sit on their hands.
There have to be a combination of factors in play and - rather like the ingredients of a cocktail - there needs to be the right mix for intervention to take place.
The motives to intervene in Libya were much more than a simple humanitarian impulse. Colonel Gaddafi had publically threatened to take revenge on his enemies in Benghazi, so there was an imminent danger of a humanitarian catastrophe, and a humanitarian disaster there could have lead to large numbers of refugees fleeing across the Mediterranean which the Europeans clearly don't want. Libya is, of course, a major oil producer, so it is also strategically important to Europe and indirectly to the US.
In addition, at the moment when the Libyan revolt picked up steam, both the British and French leaders wanted to demonstrate they were on the side of Arab publics after being caught by surprise by the "Arab Spring". President Sarkozy had taken a lot of criticism for backing the Tunisian leader, Ben Ali, until the last moment (his foreign minister had to resign over her links to the now former Tunisian leader) and David Cameron had been criticised for touring the Gulf states with a business delegation, including arms exporters, at the same time as his government was suspending arms export licences to countries in the region, including Libya, which were using force against peaceful protesters.
Colonel Gaddafi also lacked powerful foreign friends to protect him. So when the French and British brought Resolution 1973 to the UN Security Council, it seems the leaders of China and Russia did not believe they had enough at stake to protect the Colonel by wielding their vetoes, and the Arab League and African Union backed the intervention as they have no time for the Libyan leader who has never been shy of lecturing them on their faults or interfering in their internal affairs.
Finally, there was a known tactic - a no-fly zone - that was readily to hand.
All these factors had to come together at the same time for intervention to take place.
In the past week, enough factors have come together so that France and the UN have now intervened in Ivory Coast proving that old maxim that a week can be a long time in (geo)politics. Last Friday, a new Security Council resolution was followed by French and UN helicopters attacking Mr Gbagbo's troops who were resisting the advance of Mr Ouattara's forces.
So what changed? Firstly, Mr Ouattara's forces suddenly got the upper hand in the fighting on the ground, so the foreign forces did not need to use much air power to give what they hope will be a decisive push. And, as we've been hearing on The World Tonight this week, the humanitarian situation deteriorated rapidly and evidence of massacres emerged creating a sense of urgency.
Add to this President Sarkozy's new found desire to show France is not a friend to authoritarian leaders, and you had the necessary ingredients for military intervention.
Neither Ivory Coast or Libya are straightforward and easy to explain, but we have tried to avoid falling into the pitfalls of seeing them in black and white terms and reflect the debate over why international - including British - military forces have got involved.
But, unfortunately for Bahraini or, for that matter, Burmese pro-democracy activists, the humanitarian impulse to help there has not been reinforced by a confluence of other key factors to trigger strong intervention on their behalf.
Alistair Burnett is the editor of The World Tonight.