Global Policy Forum

Humanitarian Intervention?

Picture Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

What is to be done in a crisis like the genocide in Rwanda, when the international community seeks to stop the killing? Can nations, acting through the UN Security Council, fulfill a "responsibility to protect" innocent civilians? Or is such a doctrine just a Trojan horse for great power abuse?

When nations send their military forces into other nations' territory, it is rarely (if ever) for "humanitarian" purposes. They are typically pursuing their narrow national interest - grabbing territory, gaining geo-strategic advantage, or seizing control of precious natural resources. Leaders hope to win public support by describing such actions in terms of high moral purposes - bringing peace, justice, democracy and civilization to the affected area. In the era of colonialism, European governments all cynically insisted that they acted to promote such higher commitments - the "white man's burden," "la mission civilisatrice," and so on and so forth.

The appeal to higher moral purposes continues to infect the political discourse of the great powers. Today's "humanitarian intervention" is only the latest in this long tradition of political obfuscation. In 2003, the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq was labeled "humanitarian intervention" by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Still, should intervention (even multilateral intervention, approved by the Security Council) be excluded in all circumstances?

This section looks at the issues and the fierce debate that has arisen within the United Nations about these "new approaches" to sovereignty and collective action.

GPF Reports | UN Documents | Articles

GPF Reports

In whose name? A critical view on the Responsibility to Protect (May 13, 2014)

The full report is available for download.

"In whose name? A critical view on the Responsibility to Protect” by Lou Pingeot and Wolfgang Obenland provides an overview of the history and content of R2P, its positive contributions and its flaws. It concludes that R2P does not give a satisfying answer to the key question it is supposed to address: how best to prevent and, if prevention fails, respond to large-scale human rights violations and killings? The concept is particularly dangerous as it amalgamates arguments and proposals, mixing uncontroversial and widely accepted notions (that states have a responsibility towards their citizens) with more dubious claims (that military intervention is an appropriate tool to protect civilians).

Rather than building a last resort option – military intervention – for when all else fails, there is a dire need to devote attention and energy to prevention and to ensuring that the international system does not fail to begin with. Existing legal instruments and institutions for crisis prevention and management fulfill many of the functions of R2P without undermining the principles of peaceful dispute settlement or the equal sovereignty of states. The report ends with an overview of alternatives that deserve more reflection and action.

In whose name? is available for download.


In whose name? A critical view on the Responsibility to Protect

Authors: Lou Pingeot and Wolfgang Obenland
Published by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office and Global Policy Forum
New York/Bonn, May 2014
ISBN 978-3-943126-15-0
Download the report

UN Documents

Responsibility to Protect: Timely and Decisive Response (July 25, 2012)

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's 2012 report focuses on R2P's "third pillar" and the potential use of force authorized under the doctrine.

Responsibility While Protecting: elements for the development and promotion of a concept (November 11, 2011)

The "Responsibility While Protecting" is a Brazilian initative meant to respond to the BRIC's concern about potential abuses of R2P for military interventions. It sets a set of principles to supervise Security Council's mandates under R2P as well as better monitoring mechanisms.

The Role of Regional and Sub-Regional Arrangements in Implementing the Responsibility to Protect (June 27, 2011)

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's 2011 report focuses on the necessity for R2P to incorporate a regional dimension in order to be better accepted internationally.

Early Warning, Assessment and the Responsibility to Protect
(July 14, 2010)

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's 2010 report focuses on the prevention mechanisms of genocide and crimes against humanity as part of R2P.

Implementing The Responsibility to Protect (January 12, 2009)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon summarizes the three-pillar proposal to implement the "responsibility to protect." Although states and governments unanimously adopted the doctrine at the 2005 World Summit, the Secretary General underlined the necessity to thwart states from misusing this doctrine. To this end, he proposed a strategy that centers on prevention and assistance through education and training, and saving lives through "timely and decisive action," instead of on "arbitrary, sequential or graduated policy." (United Nations)

Embracing the "Responsibility to Protect:" A Repertoire of Measures Including Asylum for Potential Victims (July 2008)

This UNHCR report addresses the misconceptions of the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) and the challenges to its application. It acknowledges the vagueness of the R2P language and admits that powerful countries have abused a similar doctrine of "humanitarian intervention" to justify military force in places such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Despite this criticism, however, UNHCR endorses R2P and advocates that member states grant asylum as a possible R2P measure. (UNHCR)

Excerpt of the Millennium+5 Outcome Document (September 15, 2005)

Heads of state who gathered at UN headquarters for the Millennium+5 Summit approved the final outcome document. Although the document insists on pursuing peaceful means to protect populations from crimes against humanity, it also accepts the need that the international community, through the United Nations, should "take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate." (United Nations)

Excerpt of Kofi Annan's Report on UN Reform: In Larger Freedom (March 21, 2005)

Aware of the sensitivities involved in the debate, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reiterates the existence of a "responsibility to protect," but stays away from linking the concept to the "right to intervene." He insists on the responsibility of the international community to use "diplomatic, humanitarian and other methods" and suggests that the Security Council "may out of necessity decide to take action under the Charter of the United Nations, including enforcement action." (United Nations)

Excerpt of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (December 2, 2004)

Although the High Level Panel acknowledges that the tension between the "competing claims of sovereign inviolability and the right to intervene" has yet to be overcome, its final report endorses the "emerging norm that there is a collective international responsibility to protect, exercisable by the Security Council authorizing military intervention as a last resort." (United Nations)

The Responsibility to Protect (December 2001)

The final report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) introduced the concept of common "responsibility to protect" in cases of genocides, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. This ICISS report charts the evolution of "sovereignty as responsibility" and attempts to develop consistent, credible and enforceable standards to guide state and intergovernmental practice on humanitarian intervention.




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Mali: Old Wine in New Bottles? (March 18, 2013)

The French government attempted to justify its military intervention in Mali on humanitarian and security grounds. Francois Hollande’s government argued that the Islamist forces in Mali represented an intolerable threat to the human rights of Malian citizens as well as the security of West Africa and Europe. Despite its public relations efforts, the French government has not been able to avoid accusations of neocolonialism. Some have argued France has failed to abjure its outmoded paternalistic-colonial tendencies, while other critics suggest more immediate economic concerns motivated the intervention. Regardless of the actual reason for the campaign, France seems unwilling or unable to extricate its contemporary foreign policies from its colonial legacy. (Think Africa Press)

The Last Thing Syrians Need is More Arms Going to Either Side (March 4, 2013)

The UK government has recently expressed increased interest in providing material aid to anti-Assad forces in Syria. Charles Glass argues that such a policy is only likely to contribute to a worsening of the humanitarian situation in the country without providing a resolution to the civil war. Despite expressing a desire for peace in Syria, western governments including the UK have consistently opposed the Assad government, and would therefore have little credibility as mediators in the conflict. The Russian government, on the other hand, has been more sympathetic to the Assad government. Glass argues that, if humanitarian concerns are actually prioritized, diplomatic efforts could more effectively be channeled into pursuing an agreement with Russia to prevent the importation of arms for any side of the conflict. (Guardian)

Humanitarian Groups Warn Against Direct Aid to Syrian Rebels (February 27, 2013)

The US is strongly considering providing direct humanitarian assistance to favored opposition groups in Syria. Humanitarian aid organizations are expressing deep concerns about this strategy because their ability to be granted access to conflict situations relies heavily on their political neutrality and strict agenda of responding to humanitarian needs alone. If the US plans go ahead, the Assad government may not only restrict access, but perceive aid agencies as a front for a US military agenda. This has multiple consequences. Humanitarian aid agencies could be blocked from entry, or even become military targets themselves. Also, if aid is selectively given to some groups over others, the aid itself can become a source of conflict, thus fostering more violence. Regardless of political affiliation, children in need of food should be given assistance. This is the principle of humanitarian aid, which can be damaged beyond repair in a situation like Syria, if its apolitical reputation is tarnished by intervening powers. (UN Dispatch)

Mali: The Worst is Yet to Come (February 20, 2013)

The recent French intervention in Mali was successful in repelling the Islamist fighters who had previously established control over much of the country. While this seems to be an indication of the operation’s success, observers are concerned that the conflict may be transforming rather than simply ending. While insurgents no longer control northern Mali, and are not in a position to invade the capital Bamako, there are some initial indications that tactics of asymmetric warfare including suicide bombing may precipitate a more protracted conflict. So long as the underlying causes of conflict remain, violence in Mali will likely continue, even if French intervention has stemmed the direct military threat of an insurgency. (Guardian)

Hate Obama's Drone War? (February 14, 2013)

The Obama administration has recently been the subject of criticism for its controversial use of drones. Professor Rosa Brooks argues that the administration’s use of drones can be associated with an eroding commitment to sovereignty in international affairs. Though human rights activists are some of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration’s drone program, Brooks argues that some of these same critics have contributed to the erosion of sovereignty through their support for the responsibility to protect doctrine. Ultimately, the US drone program is predicated on a flexible interpretation of sovereignty, a concept that has had its strictures attenuated by the proponents of humanitarian intervention. (Foreign Policy)

The Intervention Trap (February 7, 2013)

The French intervention in Mali was explained by French authorities and their international allies as a necessary measure to combat a potential terrorist threat and preserve Mali’s territorial integrity. Professor Olivier Roy argues that these two objectives are not necessarily complementary, and so long as combatants in the conflict are treated as “Islamic terrorists”, the goal of establishing stability and territorial integrity in Mali will prove to be elusive. The conflict in Mali is fundamentally grounded in nationalist grievances and aims which have been co-opted by relatively marginal religious extremists. Roy contends that extremist groups endeavor to entice western intervention in order to transform nationalist conflicts into confrontations with the west. Ultimately, if western powers are truly interested in political stability, they must avoid falling into this “intervention trap” and encourage negotiated resolutions to nationalist demands. (New Statesmen)

Responsibility to Protect is  a Power Play (January 25, 2013)

The recent French operation in Mali has reinvigorated debates over humanitarian intervention. In this article, independent scholar Diane Johnstone argues that the concept and language of genocide is being appropriated to justify interventionist policies by major powers. Johnstone is concerned that the obviously commendable and uncontroversial desire to prevent genocide has provided a pretext for great power interference in the affairs of smaller states. She also argues that the responsibility to protect undermines the perception that war is an atrocity in itself, and turns war into a legitimate tool for atrocity-prevention. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

The War in Libya Was Seen as a Success, Now Here We Are Engaging with the Blowback in Mali (January 13, 2013)

The French government has intervened in Mali with the stated intention of establishing political stability and defeating the insurgent forces currently destabilizing the country. While many observers recognize the need to stabilize Mali, Owen Jones argues that “this intervention is itself the consequence of another.” The conflict and intervention in Libya destabilized the region and established a well armed, battle-hardened contingent of fighters who are now active in Mali. Along with claims about the risks of political instability, humanitarian concerns have also been cited as a reason for the intervention. However, all sides of the conflict have been implicated in these violations, including the Malian authorities that the French intervention is supporting. Since this intervention is partially a consequence of the previous one, there is concern that even if the operation in Mali is initially successful, it may precipitate even further western military entrenchment in the region. (Independent)


Mali: West Africa’s Gate to Chaos, Intervention  (December 18, 2012)

France is currently pushing for a Security Council resolution that would call for a “stabilizing” military force to be rapidly sent to Northern Mali. In this article, Ramzy Baroud provides a systemic perspective by shedding light on the history of Tuareg refugees, the large consignments of weapons made available after NATO’s intervention in Libya, and France’s destabilizing influence in Mali since its colonization in 1898. He argues that “former colonial powers rarely abandon their ambitions [and] remain deeply entrenched by meddling in various ways that destabilize the former colonies.” Recently, the US also has shown increasing interest in the prospects created by the “ungovernability” of the Sahel by creating the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2008 and promoting an all-inclusive Al-Qaeda narrative to justify interventions. Ultimately, Baroud believes that “the growing chaos will likely benefit interventionist states [and that the] new war on terror, will justify further intervention in West Africa and more meddling in the affairs of ECOWAS countries.” (Arab News)

The Humanitarian Fallout of a Military Intervention in Mali  (December 14, 2012)

An international military intervention in Northern Mali “could further destabilize an already extremely fragile humanitarian situation” and “very well inflict more harm to the population.”
Jérémie Labbé from IPI rightly argues that intense fighting would directly affect the civilian population, increase the number of refugees and internally displaced persons, and compromise the relatively stable situation of the last few months. Moreover, a military deployment would inevitably constrain an already difficult humanitarian access. Ultimately, “the risk is real that a military intervention will be perceived as promoting a Western agenda,” which might endangers the neutrality and safety of humanitarian actors operating in the region. In order not to repeat the mistakes of the relief operations in Somalia, Labbé stresses that a potential intervention should proactively and strictly comply with the UN human rights due diligence policy and that humanitarian actors should engage with non-traditional actors such as Islamic charities and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). (International Peace Institute)

Rice: French Plan for Mali Intervention is 'Crap' (December 11, 2012)

Following the unexpected ouster of Mali’s transitional Prime Minister, members of the Security Council are determined to launch a military intervention in North Mali. Yet, the shape of such military action remains unclear as France and the United States are divided on the right strategy to adopt. France, South Africa, India, and other Council members favors the adoption of a single Security Council resolution authorizing a foreign intervention force by the end of 2012. France promotes a "two track" approach - promoting a democratic political transition while training Malian security forces to conduct offensive military operations. Skeptical of the capacity of the 3,300 Western African troops to oust the rebels from North Mali, the US promotes a longer-term “multifaceted strategy” to intervene in Mali, including political, humanitarian, environmental, and military pieces, as well as a greater role for its counterterrorism regional allies, mainly Algeria. (Foreign Policy)

Military Intervention in Mali Could Begin in Early 2013 (December 5, 2012)

On December 11, 2012, Malian President Cheick Mobido Diarra was arrested by soldiers and announced his resignation. The French government immediately called for a new government and a military intervention, arguing that that "these developments underline the need for the rapid deployment of an African stabilization force.” Despite warnings from humanitarian organizations and recent negotiations between the government and rebels, Western powers and their African allies are still promoting the military option. Alassane Ouattara, President of Ivory Coast and chair of ECOWAS, has declared that a UN-mandated African force is now ready to lead a military intervention in Mali as early as “the first quarter” of 2013. Yet, the resignation of Mali’s president will certainly deepen the “total confusion” about an international intervention that was decried by Chad’s President Deby. (Associated Press)

The Long War Reaches Mali (December 5, 2012)

Western powers have recently switched the focus of their “war on terror” strategy from Yemen to Mali. They are increasingly funding “counter-terrorism” programs in the country and , bilateral economic aid and emergency humanitarian assistance. North Mali is now described as a safe haven for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and a UN-backed military intervention seems more likely. In this article, Tom Hayden recalls that Western powers’ main economic interest in Mali is in its gold mines,” and that several so-called humanitarian interventions of Western powers have resulted in pushing armed groups “into new territory with angry, restless and anti-Western Muslim populations.” (Huffington Post)

ECOWAS to Send Troops to Mali (November 12, 2012)

In spite of repeated warnings from aid workers, humanitarian NGOs and UN officials about the devastating humanitarian cost of an intervention in North Mali, the military option now seems inevitable. After holding an emergency summit with military experts from the UN, Europe, the African Union, and member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have agreed to send 3,300 troops in North Mali, in addition to around 5,000 Malian troops involved in the operations. While such intervention is being promoted as an African initiative, it is worth mentioning that Western powers’ assistance will be crucial, especially in terms of air power, military planning and intelligence. (BusinessDay)

Military Action in Mali will have Humanitarian Cost: ICRC (November 6, 2012)

Security Council Resolution 2071 requested a detailed plan for an international military intervention in North Mali. Such involvement would most likely be conducted by troops provided by ECOWAS members with the support of Western powers. Yet, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), criticizes the fact that "there is a lot of talk on how to 'liberate' the north, how to reconquer the north, but there is little consideration of what the humanitarian impact of whatever scenario would be." The potential humanitarian cost of such military operations would aggravate an already worrying situation in the Sahel by further limiting access for aid workers, threatening food security, and creating more refugees and internally displaced persons and in the region. (Reuters)

The Responsibility to Protect: What is the Basis for the Emerging Norm of R2P? (November 6, 2012)

The United Nations advocates the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a controversial doctrine related to military interventions. Yet many fundamental practical questions remain unanswered and "no-one seems sure of what R2P even is." Practically, there is no clearly defined legal status, set of implementing mechanisms, and monitoring bodies limiting potential for abuses, as well as "no consensus on what actions R2P actually legitimates, nor by whom or when." In fact, Adam  Branch argues that "it is precisely R2P's indeterminacy that makes it so popular today," as countries have the flexibility to "protect" according to their will and without worrying about their need to be accountable. Branch explains how this lack of conceptual clarity is particularly worrying for the African continent, where three-quarters of the crises in which R2P has been invoked or applied. Ultimately, R2P engenders a divide between Western "protectors" and African states, whose legitimacy and sovereignty are to be judged by the "international community". But it is also increasingly segmenting  Africa itself as countries have to choose on which "side" they stand. (Think Africa Press)

Mali, and the Next War (November 1, 2012)

An intervention seems more and more unavoidable in North Mali. Western powers – mainly France and the US – are pushing to gain consensus over a military operation against radical Islamist rule across most of northern Mali. The justification provided is that the region “has the potential to be as much a locus for al-Qaida-related movements as Pakistan in the early 2000s.” US, France and other Western powers have refused to send troops on the ground and will rather rely on troops provided by members of ECOWAS. However, the West will certainly be directly involved by heavily backing up regional troops and setting up what Paul Rogers describes as “a ‘shadow war’ involving drones, special forces and private military contractors.” There is no doubt that another military involvement by the West in a Muslim country “is good news for an evolving al-Qaida movement” that will continue gaining in popularity across the Muslim world. (Open Democracy)

In the Footsteps of Hammarskjöld: the United Nations and Interventions for Security and Development (November 2012)

This report brings an interesting perspective on the interventionist role of the UN from Dag Hammarskjöld’s legacy to the emergence of a “culture of protection” as recently incarnated by R2P. Henning Melber sheds light on the rhetoric of Western moral obligation to intervene, which engendered an “increasingly explicit linkage of the security/military agenda and the humanitarian agenda.” While he does not reject the doctrine, Melber warn about the risks of “too uncritically accepting the notions as free of interest by those who promote them.” As for its application, he wisely recalls that “foreign intervention is neither a guarantee to protect humans from further atrocities, nor a secure point of departure for peaceful sustainable nation building.” One major problem is that the R2P doctrine is now widely applied at the UN despite a clear lack of standards to apply it, which makes it impossible “to reach a factually based conclusion about whether an intervention reduced bloodshed or increased the number of victims.”  (Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation)

Clinton Presses Algeria on Mali Intervention Plan (October 29, 2012)

As it has been the case with Libya a year ago, the US plays a prudent and discreet role in the conception of a military intervention in Northern Mali, letting France at the forefront. However, Washington has made clear that its overriding concern is to root Al-Qaeda out of the region, leading Hillary Clinton to declare that “counter-terror efforts in Mali could not wait for a political resolution to Mali's problems.” Indeed, despite calls for diplomatic mediation in Mali, the UN and Western powers have not made any serious efforts to come to a political solution and have instead adopted Resolution 2071 to authorize an African-backed intervention. This explains why the US is putting pressure on Algeria, the most influential power in the region, to support an intervention. While it seems that Algeria has "tacitly" agreed to military action, the country has always expressed its suspicion regarding a foreign interference in the region, fearing that it would push fleeing Al-Qaeda members and Tuareg refugees across its southern border. (Reuters)

Military Intervention in Mali: A Dangerous Idea With Too Much Support (October 17, 2012)

On October 12, the Security Council adopted a resolution opening the door for military intervention against rebels in North Mali. While Western powers justify their call for intervention on the basis of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, Simon Allison points out that the determining factors are rather the presence of al-Qaeda in North Mali – which sets the conflict on the global agenda of the “War on Terror” - and the low risk involved for major powers. In fact, a military intervention would be led by ECOWAS’ forces and the countries calling for such action would not have to send their own troops on the battlefield. Ultimately, the Security Council’s resolution indicates to what extend a military intervention would be beneficent for everyone “except, perhaps, Mali and the region as a whole,” which would be even more destabilized. (Guardian)

Security Council Gives Green Light to Send Foreign Military Trainers to Mali (October 12, 2012)

The option of a military intervention against Tuareg rebels and Islamic militants groups in Mali’s northern territories seems more plausible. On Friday October 12, the UN Security Council agreed on a resolution that provides an open-ended invitation to outside powers to send military trainers to Mali. While Resolution 2071 does not explicitly call for immediate military action, it expresses the council's "readiness" to authorize a full-fledged intervention. Colum Lynch argues that it actually “contains a lot of elements that will immediately deepen the role of outside powers in Mali and pave the way for a future intervention.” The question remains whether an external military intervention can be conducted without the collaboration of a stable government in Bamako. Will this really stabilize the country or rather amplify the food crisis, increase the number of internally displaced persons and restrict access to genuine humanitarian relief? (Foreign Policy)

The Bicycle Theory of International Diplomacy Drives Mali Debate into Slow Motion (October 8, 2012)

On the occasion of the UN 67th General Assembly, France’s Francois Hollande declared that "there is no time to lose" in dealing with North Mali. France’s call for a U.N.-backed African intervention force against Islamist rebels and Tuareg secessionists in North Mali seems broadly popular within the Security Council and ECOWAS. Yet, Colum Lynch recalls that “the effort to muster a force has been stalled by a range of factors.” Not only does resistance remain in Mali, where an intervention is generally seen as external interference, but plans for such military interventions remain unclear. Not to mention that, while members of ECOWAS support such initiative, Mali’s direct neighbors are afraid of the potential destabilizing spillover effects of a military campaign. (Foreign Policy)

The Diary of a Former Sanctions Buster (October 2, 2012)

Promoters of the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) often defend the doctrine by arguing that many non-violent prior steps, such as sanctions, can precede military interventions. Jérôme Tubiana, who was in charge of monitoring the UN Security Council’s “list of individuals subject to sanctions” in Darfur, severely criticizes the implementation mechanisms of such sanctions. Not only are the “suspects” not consulted or even informed that they are part of such lists, but by dismissing key players of the conflict from mediation efforts, “the sanctions are endangering the peace process, which should be the UN's priority.”  To him, “no matter that the system is inefficient, unfair or even damaging for peace, what matters is hiding the international community's deep divisions and maintaining the illusion that the UN acts with force in Darfur. (Open Democracy)

Five Reasons Not to Intervene In Syria (October 1, 2012)

The author of this article, Steve Breyman, counters an op-ed piece in the New York Times- “Five Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now” by Michael Doran and Max Boot. Libya, with its civilian casualties and continued instability, is far from an exhibit of “getting into a conflict zone and getting out fast without ground wars or extended military occupations.”  Intervention in Syria is likely to result in a spillover of the conflict to neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, just as the fall of Gaddafi directly influenced the Tuareg rebellion in Mali. When Doran and Boot invoke the promise “to foresee, prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities,” enshrined in the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, Breyman reminds the “neoconservatives” of the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan. He then concludes by asserting that “Neoconservatives were dead wrong about Iraq. They are genuinely dangerous on Iran. They must not be heeded on Syria.” (Counterpunch)

Mali's Humanitarian Crisis May Worsen if Intervention Calls Heeded, UN Warned (September 27, 2012)

On the occasion of the UN 67th General Assembly, France, the US, and many other Western and African member States have called for military action in Mali. Since the coup of March 2012, North Mali which controlled by Tuareg rebel and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb have increased its presence in the region. Yet, aid officials and experts of humanitarian affairs warn the UN that such intensification of the conflict would actually exacerbate the current food and nutrition crisis by displacing important part of the population. (The Guardian)

Mali: UN to Debate Military Intervention (September 25, 2012)

The crisis in Mali continues, and the International Crisis Group has warned that "all scenarios are still possible" in the country, "including another military coup and social unrest in the capital." Mali will be an urgent subject of discussion at a high-level meeting on the Sahel region, held at the 67th Annual Session of the General Assembly. Mali’s defense minister and spokesperson for its transitional government, is actively pushing for the deployment of ECOWAS troops within Mali. Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister also supports this international intervention. However, the United Nations is reluctant to authorize military intervention in Mali, for fear of further escalating the crisis. (allAfrica)

What America Knows How to Do Best (September 24, 2012)

Western media have given extensive coverage to United States military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, the US is involved in many other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines, Central Africa, and Guatemala. In addition to direct military activities, drone strikes and proxy wars, the US is the world's top weapons exporter, with 78% of the global arms trade in 2011. Tom Englehardt argues that “when Washington sees a problem anywhere on the planet, its version of a "foreign policy" is often to call on the US military.” He concludes: "force is increasingly not [the] option of last resort, but [the] first choice." (Al Jazeera)

Despite Syria’s Bloodbath, Libya-Style Intervention Remains Unlikely (September 21, 2012)

Recent anti-US protests and the unstable lack of security that defines post-intervention Libya has “raised new questions about Libya as a model for intervention” according to Tony Karon. After 18 months of violence, the conflict can now best be described as a Lebanon-type inter-ethnic civil war. Hence, a military intervention would mean taking side with an opposition that remains deeply divided. This and the Libyan chaos will restrain Western powers, and specifically the US, when contemplating military operations in the country. (Time)

The Siren Song of American Imperialism (September 20, 2012)

From the invasion of the Philippines in 1908 to the recent mission in Libya, military interventions under humanitarian pretexts have always been at the cornerstone of US foreign policy. In this article, William Astore draws an interesting historical parallel between President Taft’s defense of the invasion of the Philippines more than a century ago and Presidents Bush and Obama’s rhetoric to justify wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Already a century ago, the US was presenting its intervention as a benevolent civilizing missions to bring “progress” to the Philippines ans “build” infrastructure, security forces apparatus, and education system. Astore concludes indeed that the “imperial rhetoric hasn't changed at all”. (Huffington Post)

Divided We Stand: Libya’s Enduring Conflicts (September 14, 2012)

On Monday September 11th, US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens was killed in the midst of anti-American protests in Benghazi. As the International Crisis Groups describes in its latest report, this is “a stark reminder of Libya’s security challenges.” The Security Council’s endorsed Western intervention left the country barely functioning. As a result, while local armed groups fighting for the control of resources are in charge of providing security in the country, the proliferation of weapons is threatening the whole Sahel region. Ultimately, the chaotic situation of Libya 18 months after the intervention reminds us that before calling for a similar military mandate in Syria, interventionists should carefully weights the potential longer term consequences with which Syrians would have to live once the last jet planes fly away. (International Crisis Group)

A Safe Haven Inside Syria? Bad Idea (September 1, 2012)

On Monday September 3rd, Syrian National Council leader Abdel Basset Sayda stirred up the debate on intervention in Syria: "We need a humanitarian intervention and we are asking for military intervention for the Syrian civilians." A few days earlier, Turkey has pleaded for an intermediary solution through the establishment of a militarily protected safe haven for refugees inside Syria. But would this be effective? Christopher Dickey sheds light on the uneven record of such strategy used in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 and Srebrenica in 1995. To him, safe havens “generally offer poor shelter, and often give probable cause for escalating violence.” He therefore denunciates Turkey’s latest initiative as a dangerous use of “humanitarian pretexts” and concludes that: “At best this is a cynical use of refugees as geopolitical pawns, at worst it’s a kind of humanitarian blackmail.” (The Daily Beast)

Brazil Hosts Workshop on "Responsibility While Protecting" (August 29, 2012)

On Wednesday September 5th, the UN General Assembly held a dialogue on the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P). This concept, established at the UN in 2005, affirms that if a state fails to protect its citizens, the international community has the responsibility to act through coercive measures, military intervention being the last resort. Concretely, R2P was invoked in the Security Council’s resolution 1973 that authorized Western Powers to intervene in Libya in 2011. Yet, this has been highly controversial as they used their mandate to ensure a “no fly zone” to support regime change in Tripoli. It is for this reason that Brazil is currently promoting a new concept, the “Responsibility While Protecting” (RWP), which calls for greater accountability and “more rigorous criteria for the use of force and to limit the freedom of western powers once military operations are underway.” (Foreign Policy)

Migrant Boat Tragedy: NATO Condemned Over 63 Migrants Left to Die at Sea (April 11, 2012)

University of London has released an extensive report about the boat containing “migrants” fleeing war torn Libya from Tripoli in March 2011. The boat ran out of fuel and was subsequently left to drift despite having been tracked by state of the art “forensic oceonography” technology administered by NATO forces. The report argues that NATO contributed to the deaths of 63 of the 72 people aboard the “left-to-die boat.” The report calls on NATO member states to fully disclose the facts. According to UNHCR, 2011 has been “the deadliest year” for migrants in the Mediterranean, since they started to document these statistics in 2006. (Guardian)

In Defence of "Iraq Syndrome": Liberal Values Never Drive Intervention (April 3, 2012)

Liberal support for military interventions by the West rests on the assumption that the West is essentially a benevolent force in the world. However, even a cursory survey of the US or UK’s foreign policy over the last decade would reveal that foreign policy decisions are not based in a desire for “freedom and democracy,” or even a desire to minimize suffering. This analysis has been branded in some sectors “Iraq Syndrome,” in the belief that the Iraq Conflict has encouraged a reluctance to support conflict, even for nominally humanitarian reasons.  In this Guardian article David Wearing skewers this belief and makes a case for skepticism. (Guardian)

How to End Mass Atrocites (March 9, 2012)

The US-based “anti-genocide” movement has a limited conception of genocidaires and their motives, as well as a restrictive view of what an acceptable peace could look like. Proponents of "the Responsibility to Protect" often put the emphasis on military intervention, constraining attempts to stop war crimes and maybe even encouraging them, argues Alex de Waal in theNew York Times. Governed by “ethics, not evidence”, the anti-genocide movement has a very specific image of its role in stopping genocides, and blinkered by this image of itself, fails to pursue those methods most likely to save lives.  (NYTimes)

As Calls for Intervention in Syria Grow, Vijay Prashad Urges Reevaluation of NATO Attack on Libya (February 21, 2012)

In an interview on Democracy Now!, Professor Vijay Prashad expounds upon NATO’s worrying attitude toward its intervention in Libya.  While using “human rights abuses” as a justification for intervention, NATO has repeatedly blocked attempts to investigate alleged war crimes committed during its humanitarian campaign in 2011. The lack of self-reflection, evaluation and assessment following a campaign waged in the name of protecting civilians, suggests a deliberate obfuscation of the facts, and an obstruction of any attempts to uncover the true cost of military intervention in Libya. (Democracy Now!)

One Year On: Chaotic Libya Reveals the Perils of Humanitarian Intervention (February 19, 2012)

In this article Peter Beaumont argues that the aftermath of the Libyan intervention discredits the practice of humanitarian intervention as it currently stands. Instead, he argues, humanitarian intervention, and the corollary discourse of the “Responsibility to Protect,” should encompass longer-term plans to ensure stability, institution building, and peace. While Beaumont’s skepticism toward “regime change” style humanitarian intervention is completely appropriate, his belief in longer term occupation dressed up as capacity building is far too optimistic. (Guardian)

The Conest Over Peace and Security in Africa (February 6, 2012)

Africa expert Alex de Waal argues that foreign powers, in particular the US, UK, and France, dominate African conflicts, and that they have eclipsed traditional conflict resolution methods, discredited domestic in the eyes of citizens across Africa.  Negotiated settlements between international power brokers take precedence over local political actors, who are increasingly excluded from peace processes and as such, damage African democracies and make lasting peace a less likely outcome. (AfricanArguements

Displacement: Governments Falling Short on R2P, Says New Study (January 20, 2012) 

Most discussion on the concept of the responsibility to protect (R2P) focuses on whether the “international community” should intervene to protect civilians under threat in any country. However, the 1st tenet of R2P, that governments have a responsibility to protect their own citizens, is less often discussed. This IRIN article examines the case of internally displaced people (IDPs), and how some states are failing to prevent displacement. But extending the scope of R2P to IDPs is problematic: does this mean that the “international community” should intervene in countries where governments are failing to protect the population against displacement? (IRIN News)



Outside the Law (October 25, 2011)

The NATO intervention in Libya was doubtful from the beginning. The legal justifications for intervening were uncertain, and the second problem concerned the procedural rules of authorization by the Security Council. The basis for intervening under international law was to protect the Libyan civilians from their government. Some saw this as a victory for the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, which permit interventions if a government does not protect its own citizens. However, critics claim that the doctrine is being used for political and not purely humanitarian purposes. (Foreign Policy)

Hey G.I. Joe – Welcome to Uganda but Don’t Slip on the Oil (October 16, 2011)

The recent decision by President Obama to deploy 100 troops in several central African countries to defeat the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA) begs the question of why these troops are deployed now, and what the implications will be for US foreign policy. Foreign Minister of Uganda Henry Okello Oryem states that US assistance has been requested for 20 years. The four LRA-affected countries, Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, appear to welcome the US soldiers, but to what extent they will operate remains unknown. Uganda has recently found large oil reserves on its territory, and critics state that the deployment of US soldiers is about political and economic interest rather than any humanitarian cause. (Justice In Conflict)

US Approves ‘Humanitarian Intervention' in Several African Countries (October 16, 2011)

President Obama has ordered the deployment of 100 armed military advisers to central Africa in order to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). US forces will deploy into Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The US advisers will help the regional forces to combat the LRA, the rebel group responsible for estimated 30,000 deaths and the displacement of about two million people in the region. Although some human rights organizations have welcomed Obama’s decision, critics are wary of the deployment of US forces in Africa on alleged “humanitarian grounds” after the Afghan and Iraq episodes. (Al Jazeera)

Chapter VII: A Loophole for Imperialists? (September 6, 2011)

The NATO intervention in Libya has been hailed by many as a resounding success. However, the action taken significantly overstepped UN authorisation, a fact which has been continually ignored by the media. Furthermore, the West has already claimed victory for democracy in Libya, even before the real rebuilding of the country has begun. This involvement in Libya has been repeatedly justified with the use of “Responsibility to Protect” language, presenting the action as humanitarian intervention. This conceals the real motives of countries, such as the US and UK, who are now vying for oil contracts with the Libyan rebel forces. (Al Jazeera)

The Crisis of Humanitarian Intervention (August 5, 2011)

In this article, the author addresses the issue of humanitarian intervention, its legitimacy and the way it should be implemented. He stresses that humanitarian intervention constitutes a breach of national sovereignty and that intervening States are mostly motivated by personal and geopolitical interests. The intervention in Kosovo paved the way for future military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In each case, the author argues, interventions have had long-term negative effects. (Foreign Policy in Focus)

Humanitarian Intervention and its Non-Humanitarian Agenda (August 4, 2011)

The terminology of humanitarian intervention is often couched in terms of the “responsibility to protect”. Yet this term veils the geopolitical motives of military interventions. UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights Richard Falk critically examines these concepts, highlighting the inability of commentators to pinpoint the real political reasons for action. He comments on the inherent difficulties of intervention and non-intervention, conceding to a lack of a clear answers in this debate. Instead emphasis should remain on recognizing the political interests at play, and not accepting the selfless rhetoric promoted by intervening countries. (Citizen Pilgrimage)

Responsibility to Protect – The Cases of Libya and the Ivory Coast (May 15, 2011)

Marjorie Cohn, professor of International Human Rights Law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, critically questions the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine. In Libya the US, UK and France quickly resorted to military action - rejecting Libya’s offer to accept international monitors and Qadaffi’s offer to step down and leave Libya. Double standards in the implementation of the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine are also apparent.  The US have not attacked Bahrain, where lethal force is being used to quell anti-government protests, nor have they responded to the Arab League’s request for the Security Council to consider imposing a no-fly-zone over the Gaza Strip in order to protect civilians from Israeli air strikes. Such double standards suggest that the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine will be used only against countries with leaders who do not favor US or European Union interests. (

R2P is misused (May 5, 2011)

This article considers the legal parameters of “humanitarian intervention” and “responsibility to protect” (R2P) in light of UN resolutions on international interventions in Libya and Cote d’Ivoire.  UN resolutions relating to Libya and Cote d’Ivoire were issued under Chapter 7 and the guise of customary international laws relating to humanitarian intervention and the international community’s responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians.  In reality, however, the focus in both Libya and Cote d’Ivoire is on strategic warfare rather than on protecting the basic needs of people living in insecure areas.  The author of the article suggests that ensuring people have access to shelter or bringing civilians to safe security zones, which may be cities or temporary refugee camps, should be the priorities of any force acting under the precept of humanitarian intervention or R2P. (Open Democracy)

Responsibility to Protect or Right to Intervene? (April 12, 2011)

The UN No-Fly Zone in Libya has raised questions over the legitimacy of governments’ “responsibility to protect.” This article indicates the fundamental flaws in sanctions directed at only one of the fighting parties (Gaddafi’s forces) whilst discussing arming the rebels. This article highlights how civilians should be protected from all fighting parties if responsibility to protect is not to be viewed as an extension of the West’s interests. (Open Democracy)


Making War to Bring ‘Peace' (August 3, 2009)

Noam Chomsky, celebrated American philosopher and political activist, discusses the Responsibility to Protect or R2P - a doctrine that claims to prevent severe crimes against humanity. He summarizes important events in global policy-making that argue for the right of intervention. Chomsky observes that "the powerful prefer to forget history and look forward; whereas for the weak, it is not a wise choice." Unfortunately, the commitment to R2P, just like the commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is not yet noticeable among the powerful states. (InTheseTimes)

U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.'s Died (July 10, 2009)

During the US invasion of Afghanistan in November 2001, more than 1,500 detainees were massacred by US-allied Afghan troops and buried in a mass grave at Dasht-e-Leili. Survivors and witnesses told the media how they were stuffed into closed metal shipping containers without food or water. Many suffocated or were killed when guards shot into the containers. This article shows how US officials violated the law by impeding federal investigations, including a criminal probe by the FBI. (New York Times)

Declaration by Church and Peace on the Concept of Responsibility to Protect (July 9, 2009)

The European network of Peace Churches has issued an important statement critical of R2P. The statement opposes the "protection" of threatened peoples through use of military force. As an alternative to R2P, the statement supports strengthened OSCE missions and nonviolent intervention.

Foreign Aid Goes Military! (July 9, 2009)

Foreign aid organizations and Western policy makers have recently been combining foreign military intervention with traditional aid work.  Paul Collier argues that this marriage is the solution to the plight of the world's poorest nations. In a review on Collier's book, The Bottom Billion William Easterly is not so sure. He reasons that the blurring of the line between military and aid can undermine the effectiveness and safety of aid workers as well as pointing to some of the unintended consequences of foreign intervention. (New York Review of Books)

Are Wars Ever Just? (April 21, 2009)

The medieval Church developed the concept of “just war” to restore a moral order and define the goodness of war. Hence, European nations attempted to restrict wars to battle fields in order to spare civilian lives and justified the use of force for the protection of their population. Traditional laws of war merged with human rights and provided a moral argument for “just wars” in order to rationalize “humanitarian” intervention and to save humanity. Nevertheless, the scope of “humanitarian” involvement is limited to weak countries since military and economic superiority protects hegemonic powers.(U TV)

The War on Yugoslavia, 10 Years Later (April 6, 2009)

For 11 weeks in 1999, NATO and US forces attacked Yugoslavia, in violation of the UN charter and the US constitution. The US justified the use of force as an answer to the "humanitarian crisis" triggered by Serbian death squads and paramilitary troops. However, the US administration rejected calls from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN for diplomatic negotiations, and instead favored intervention by NATO forces. The air offensive did not protect Kosovar civilians and resulted in thousands of Yugoslavian civilians casualties. (Foreign Policy In Focus)

R2P: Disciplining the Mice, Freeing the Lions (March 23, 2009)

Is it possible to "halt or avert human suffering" through military operations? This is what powerful countries claim to realize under the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doctrine. The authors point out that western nations have long used human rights rhetoric to justify military intervention. The West's past interventionist history has undermined its credibility to intervene. Instead, powerful countries would do less harm by withdrawing their combat troops and refusing to support brutal regimes. (Foreign Policy In Focus)

Haiti and The Dangers of Responsibility to Protect (January 3, 2009)

In 2004, President Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti was overthrown by an opposition movement backed by the "friends of Haiti" - the US, Canada, and France. Referring back to US and Canadian reports, the author proves that regular reduction of foreign aid and efforts by the US Treasury to block Haiti's access to loans, resulted in Aristide's decline. Haiti illustrates a case where policies imposed under the "preventive and rebuilding phases of the R2P spectrum" lead to military intervention. the author concludes that the Haiti intervention created a precedent that reveals how R2P considerations were used. (Haitianalysis)




French Foreign Minister Voices Doubts on Human Rights Push (December 10, 2008)

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner stated in an interview that "there is permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy of a state, even in France." Kouchner, known for being a strong advocate of human rights and humanitarian intervention, initiated the appointment of a secretary of state for human rights. In this interview he acknowledges that this decision was a mistake, contending that the foreign policy of a country cannot be led by the "utopian" notion of human rights. (New York Times)


Bipartisan US Panel Offers Blueprint to Prevent Genocide (December 8, 2008)

A US bipartisan task force, consisting of former top national security policymakers, is calling on the incoming Obama administration to make the prevention of genocide a major priority in US foreign policy. An Inter-Agency Atrocities Prevention Committee should add "preventing and responding to genocide into the US military doctrine." If UN Security Council action appears insufficient to US standards, the US will consult NATO or other allied countries. This approach bypasses the Councils authority and therefore risks further US unilateralism. (Inter Press Service)

UN Special Advisor with a Focus on R2P Edward Luck's Statement on Conflict Resolution and Prevention in Africa (December 1, 2008)

In this statement, UN Special Advisor Edward Luck claims that the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) does not mimic humanitarian intervention as it is "not confined to military intervention." Luck believes that smaller, militarily weak nations should see R2P as a "moral imperative" rather than a "threat to sovereignty." Nations of the global South question R2P and fear that in the name of "morality" and "humanitarianism" Western countries will ignore their independence. (R2PCS)

Response to Gareth Evans' "The Responsibility to Protect: Holding the Line" (October 15, 2008)

Author Cathy Fitzpatrick responds to an article by Gareth Evans on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).She questions the credibility of the doctrine, noting its "dark sides." With its interventionist enthusiasm, it appears to endorse the militarization of humanitarianism and even is open to the charge of "human rights killing." R2P is a "norm" that is often invoked but rarely if ever applied. Fitzpatrick urges that we "retire this frenetic, hortatory, losing campaign" and use existing treaties to address the problems R2P pretends to solve. (openDemocracy)

The Responsibility to Protect: Holding the Line (October 6, 2008)

Countries of the global south raise concerns that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine serves as a new disguise for "humanitarian intervention" with destructive effects. Gareth Evans disputes these concerns, stating that a government has to protect another state when it is "necessary." In cases like Darfur, he contends, the world cannot watch in "cynism and indifference." (openDemocracy)

Spectacular Wrongs: Gary Bass's 'Freedom's Battle' (September 24, 2008)

In this book review Samuel Moyn looks critically at the argument that European states in the colonial era sometimes intervened to improve the "humanitarian situation". Instead, he shows that humanitarian intervention provided cover for self-interested action and that- then as now- citizen compassion was mobilized for other ends. (The Nation)

The New Humanitarian Order (September 10, 2008)

From the onset of 18th and 19th century colonialism, Western powers have sought to protect "vulnerable" groups, which led to the regime of trusteeship under the League of Nations. Western humanitarianism is, thus, not entirely new. This article discusses how power has used language to represent what are in fact self-serving acts of violence as humanitarian acts. The US and other powerful Western nations use the term "rogue state," which are usually in the Middle East or Africa, and demarcate what is and is not genocide. (The Nation)

Humanitarian Imperialism: The New Doctrine of Imperial Right (September 2008)

Noam Chomsky argues that after the Cold War Western powers needed a new system of justification to maintain their dominance. Powerful countries invoke "humanitarianism" and "national security interests" to intervene in other sovereign countries. In East Timor and Haiti, countries like the US and the UK have supported governments they later perceived as threats. Chomsky claims that, to avoid abuse, the UN should be the forum for decisions about the use of force. (Monthly Review)

Responsible Sovereignty: International Cooperation for a Changed World (July 15, 2008)

During a speech in Berlin, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon clarified the concept of the ‘responsibility to protect' (R2P) and affirmed his commitment to promoting the concept. Although Ban argues that R2P is not a conceptual invention of richer countries, he neglects to mention that in practice, rich countries target poorer countries when they invoke R2P. (UN News)

The Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention (June 12, 2008)

In 2005, the UN developed the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doctrine, ending the era of "the inviolability of borders." According to this Council on Foreign Relations article, since the doctrine emphasizes the responsibility to "react," "prevent" and "rebuild," its full implementation suggests regime change. Further, major powers determine when and how to implement R2P, according to their geo-strategic goals, national interests and the relevance of the targeted country to the "world community." This confirms the poorer countries' fear of international intervention as a threat to sovereignty.

Riots Expose Canada's Haiti Adventure as Sham (May 21, 2008)

Food riots in Haiti expose Canada's "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doctrine as a self-serving political reason for military intervention in the Caribbean nation. Canada, together with the US and France, used R2P to forcibly remove democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the name of human rights. However, economic development and food availability have actually decreased since the occupation. Jooneed Khan argues against the use of R2P as a justification for military intervention and, instead, recommends the cancellation of Haiti's foreign debt in order to bolster national economic development. (Rabble News)

The Responsibility to Protect and Its Application to the Situation in Burma (May 9, 2008)

No government should evoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine to mandate military intervention and force aid into cyclone-stricken Myanmar, this paper urges. If governments were to do so, they would misapply the doctrine and, more seriously, worsen the humanitarian crisis. The Burmese Junta might take forced intervention as a cue to close Myanmar's doors to any cooperation with the UN. This paper concludes that foreign governments can best alleviate the humanitarian crisis through bilateral negotiation with the Junta to secure access for aid agencies. (World Federalist Movement Institute for Global Policy)

The R2P Controversy (March 2008)

This Development & Cooperation debate showcases an ardent proponent and a fierce critic of the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) doctrine. Ramesh Thakur argues that R2P offers a sound basis for deriving the rules of multilateral action in a world that, he believes, can never free itself of military intervention. Such thinking contributes to a "new militarism" because violence can never achieve humanitarian goals, urges Mary Ellen O'Connell. Rather than legitimize "doing good" by violent means, O' Connell suggests that the UN adopt a responsibility to do no harm.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P): A Way Forward – or Rather Part of the Problem? (February 2008)

This Foreign Voices debate suggests that the R2P doctrine can only protect human rights in the context of non-violence. By citing the tragedies of Srebrenica and Rwanda, R2P enthusiasts divert attention away from the meddling role of Western countries in creating crises. One essay notes that the central element of the Responsibility to Protect is to prevent conflict rather than react through military means. Regional arrangements like the African Peer Review Mechanism, not foreign armies, ensure efficient prevention.

This Zeal for Intervention is Imperialism in New Clothes (February 13, 2008)

This article critiques the emerging trend of "liberal interventionism" and "engaged national interest" within international relations. Arguing that intervention mirrors moral imperialism, Simon Jenkins states that there is no justification for "ramming a system of governance down the throats of others." Jenkins concludes that "a true democrat cannot abandon Voltaire's respect for the autonomy of disagreement, let alone seek to crush it." (Guardian)

Intervention, Hailed as a Concept, Is Shunned in Practice (January 20, 2008)

In 2005, the UN General Assembly adopted the concept "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P). Since then, several institutions are launching research centers promoting the R2P concept and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has created an assistant secretary general post on R2P. This New York Times article supports R2P but acknowledges that advocates have begun to discover that theory is not easily converted into practice. Moreover, some developing countries worry "that they could become targets of intervention."



Western Humanitarianism or Neo-Slavery? (November 7, 2007)

In October 2007, Chadian authorities arrested European NGO workers for kidnapping more than 100 children they falsely claimed were Sudanese orphans. In light of this scandal, UNESCO Chair in Human Rights, Professor Amii Omara-Otunnu critically assesses "Western humanitarianism" and the role of NGOs in Africa. Omara-Otunnu argues that "little has changed since the mid nineteenth century," when Christian missionaries viewed African people as lesser human beings who needed to be saved through European colonization. (Black Star News)


Humanitarian Advocacy in Darfur: The Challenge of Neutrality (October 2007)

This Humanitarian Policy Group brief analyzes the nexus between humanitarian, political and military action within Darfur. Questioning the impartiality of aid agencies in formulating policy positions, the report claims that traditional notions of neutrality are being eroded. This "non-permissive advocacy", has led to "high levels of insecurity for aid workers, and continuous efforts by the Sudanese government to curtail what it believes to be ‘political' activities."

The Dismantling of Yugoslavia (October 2007)

This Monthly Review article tells the story of a dismantled Yugoslavia, where not only internal problems, but also external political pressure, especially from the US, tore the country apart. According to the article, the US - acting through NATO - legitimized the military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo by calling them "humanitarian interventions." At the time, the Security Council did not approve the interventions, but it later provided the US with an ex post facto legitimacy. The authors argue that Western media and politicians have simplified the history of the Balkan civil wars, portraying the wars as a battle between good and evil, while neglecting the role and interests of the US.

Responsibility to Protect: Moving the Campaign Forward (October 2007)

This report by the University of California, Berkeley supports the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and offers suggestions on how to move R2P from principle to practice. The study suggests the UN should bring R2P into force in order to "prevent, react to and rebuild after mass atrocities in the 21st century." The report, however, does not reflect on whether powerful countries will use force to promote their own national strategic goals rather than for "humanitarian purposes."

Bush's Napoleonic Folly (August 24, 2007)

In this article, Middle East history scholar Juan Cole draws parallels between US President George Bush's occupation of Iraq and Napoleon Bonaparte's conquest of Egypt two hundred years ago. Both leaders used the rhetoric of "liberty, security and democracy" to justify invasion and occupation of a Middle Eastern country, with dire consequences for its people. Cole argues that unlike Napoleon, Bush's "neocolonialism…swam against the tide of history, and its failure is all the more criminal for having been so predictable." (The Nation)

Peacemaker or Puppet? (August 16- 22, 2007)

Al-Ahram discusses how US policy influences UN action. On the pretexts of "humanitarian intervention" and peacekeeping, the US and NATO have solicited UN blessing for self-interested projects in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and now, Sudan. The article concludes that, if it can shake off US control, the UN will be better equipped to preserve "international peace and security" as its founders envisioned.

Humanitarian Wars and Associated Delusions (August 14, 2007)

For author Paul de Rooij, the humanitarian rationale for military intervention is nothing else than a "cynical means to sideline international law" when in fact governments' reasons to wage wars lie in their basic strategic interests, such as guaranteeing access to natural resources and markets. He deplores that western powers have succeeded in using the humanitarian interventionist doctrine to sell their war and dupe public intellectuals, NGOs and the anti-war movement. (CounterPunch)

An Atrocity That Needs No Exaggeration (August 12, 2007)

The New York Times reveals that the "Save Darfur" campaign greatly inflated the number of deaths in order to heighten the sense of crisis in Darfur and press for intervention. Experts have contested the widely advertised death toll of 400,000 and the most reliable estimate suggests that there were 131,000 excess deaths in Darfur as of June 2005, after which date, United Nations and relief groups register a sharp drop. According to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster, most deaths were due to malnutrition and disease, not violence. "Ultimately, the inflated claims fuel a death race in which aid and action are based not on facts but on which advocacy group yells the loudest," concludes the article. Facts were manipulated in order to promote a policy of humanitarian intervention.

Harvard's Humanitarian Hawks (July 14, 2007)

"Should a human rights center at the nation's most prestigious university be collaborating with the top US general in Iraq in designing the counter-insurgency doctrine behind the current military surge?" asks The Nation. This article discusses how the Harvard-based Carr Center for Human Rights contributed to the shaping of the new Pentagon "warfighting doctrine" and questions the role played by the human rights institution, known to be a strong advocate for humanitarian intervention.

The Schizophrenias of R2P (June 30, 2007)

Jose E. Alvarez, Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at Columbia University, warns against turning the idea of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) from "political rhetoric to legal norm." Alvarez asks what it means to protect and whether R2P justifies the use of preemptive force, which would explain the concept's popularity among powerful countries such as the US.

Darfur Advocacy Group Undergoes a Shake-Up (June 2, 2007)

Save Darfur, the most prominent advocacy group on the conflict in Sudan, has aggravated many aid agencies working in the region. Aid workers suggest that Save Darfur's conspicuous ad campaigns, which often call for intervention, occasionally bend the truth and make negotiation with Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir more difficult. Save Darfur is beginning to respond to these criticisms by reorganizing and changing their tactics. (New York Times)

Where Anti-Arab Prejudice and Oil Make the Difference (May 29, 2007)

While the myriad activists rally to intervene in Darfur, where several hundred thousand innocents have died, far fewer people – politicians and public alike – acknowledge the estimated 3-4 million deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This Guardian article argues that the perceived ethnic make-up of the groups in conflict in Darfur – "Arab killers" versus "African victims" - is one reason for the disproportionate attention given to Sudan. The other reason, the author claims, is oil interest, particularly that of China and the US. The article says that "liberal interventionism" is prone to double standards and disaster.

Will Iraq Be the Next Rwanda? (April 15, 2007)

This Washington Post opinion piece claims that the withdrawal of US troops would generate more sectarian violence and create a humanitarian catastrophe on the scale of the Rwandan genocide. The author uses the discourse of "humanitarian intervention" to justify the US presence in Iraq. However, critics argue that the occupation has indeed exacerbated, if not generated, violence in the country.

A Fair Foreign Policy (April 2007)

"UK foreign policy is at a crossroads," warns this Oxfam report. As a strong supporter of the British-sponsored concept of "responsibility to protect," Oxfam regrets that, after the "success" of military "humanitarian" interventions in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, the spectrum of the wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq has tarnished the reputation of British foreign policy, as London advocates for the protection of civilians in Darfur.

No Such Thing as Humanitarian Intervention (March 21, 2007)

The newest dogma in the international community, following Humanitarian Intervention in the Nineties, is the Responsibility to Protect, adopted by the UN in 2005. The author of this Harvard International Review article looks at four cases where so-called humanitarian intervention took place, namely the First Gulf War, Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. He warns about embracing new doctrines for humanitarian intervention uncritically as states with geopolitical interests can hide behind a moral obligation. According to the author, the consensus among many Western leaders, that humanitarian interventions are above criticism, vilifies any attempt to discuss alternative solutions.

The Politics of Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency (March 9, 2007)

This London Review of Books article discusses the consequences of a potential humanitarian intervention in Darfur. The author argues that foreign military intervention in Sudan – as lobbied for by the organizations that make up the Save Darfur campaign – will only result in an escalation of violence. Instead the most effective way to end the crisis is to focus on negotiating a political settlement between the different parties and realize that "peace cannot be built on humanitarian intervention."


In Search of Symbiosis: The Security Council in the Humanitarian Domain (March 2007)

This article, by Aurelio Viotti, analyzes the symbiosis between international security and humanitarian action by the Security Council. The author states that the merging of these two differing concepts has effectively blurred the distinction between the doctrines of just war theory and international humanitarian law. As a result, imprecise notions such as the "Responsibility to Protect" and "human security" threaten the impartiality of humanitarian action, as well as undermine one of the salutary political achievements of the Twentieth Century, the prohibition of the use of force within international relations. (International Review of the Red Cross)

Introduction to "Selling US Wars" (March 2007)

This excerpt from the book "Selling US Wars" by Tariq Ali analyzes the theories and mechanisms employed by the US to "ensure indirect domination" worldwide. One of the justifications the US gives for the extension of its sphere of influence is the "global war on terror," which the author states is an unacceptable form of "political violence terror." Ali also asserts that Washington's selectivity in enforcing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is another tactic in its pursuit of regional and global ambitions. Moreover, the author criticizes the use of "humanitarian intervention" and "democratization" as reasons for military invasions. (Transnational Institute)

Oil in Darfur? Special Ops in Somalia? (February 7, 2007)

This Global Research article discusses the concept of humanitarian intervention and the different actors involved – as well as their associated motivations – in pushing for intervention. In the case of Darfur, the author argues that a complex web including corporations, nongovernmental organizations and Western media outlets are all complicit in pushing governments to act to "save" the victims of the crisis. However, the article maintains that the motivation behind such intervention ultimately comes down to access and control of natural resources.



The Humanitarian War Myth (October 1, 2006)

This Washington Post piece points out that "humanitarian intervention," one of the justifications used by the coalition for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, leads to large scale human rights abuses, civilian casualties and sectarian violence. Author Eric Posner argues that all interventions based on such justifications fail to "liberate citizens from tyrants." By replacing old dictators with foreign occupying forces, intervening countries further increase tensions and the risk of civil war, and subject civilians to a state of constant warfare.

Responsibility to Protect? (September 19, 2006)

While Ottawa has invoked the principle of "responsibility to protect" individuals from gross human rights violations to justify Canada's intervention in Haiti, this Znet piece argues that removing Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power has "exacerbated, rather than improved Haiti's human rights situation." This article critically comments on the conclusions of a Lancet study in light of Canadian involvement in Haiti, and questions the very arguments of the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine.

Justice Unfettered? Internationalizing Justice in the Human Rights Era (July 2006)

The global community's growing interest in fighting impunity for crimes against humanity has contributed significantly to the internationalization of law. This Integrated Regional Information Networks report examines the historically complex relationship between international criminal law and state sovereignty. The report further analyzes the controversial concept of "humanitarian" intervention, which some defend as a means to justice, but critics often deride as a tool used by powerful nations to meddle in smaller states' affairs.

A Just War? Hardly (May 9, 2006)

Noam Chomsky believes that proponents of "just war theory" – such as Michael Walzer – are ignoring historical facts. Wars have rarely been "just." Normally countries waged wars because of their national interests. The US, which proclaimed the interventions in Kosovo and Afghanistan as "just wars" uses this concept as a pretext for "preventive war." (Khaleej Times)

Declassifying Canada in Haiti (April 7, 2006)

This two-part article discusses the extent of Canada's participation in the US-led 2004 coup that ousted Haiti's democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Publicly, Ottawa denies any involvement in the coup and maintains that Canada was seeking a peaceful settlement to the crisis. However, according to classified memos obtained by the Dominion, Canada was planning the removal of the Aristide government under the "responsibility to protect" doctrine months before the coup. This principle justified the military intervention under the guise of "humanitarian intervention for human protection." But rather than avert a crisis, the "duty to protect" intervention in Haiti became the backdrop for a major escalation of atrocities, with thousands killed and hundreds jailed for their political views, all to serve Canadian, US and European political and economic interests in Haiti.

Fragile Countries and United Nations Reform (February 23, 2006)

Many UN Reform proposals deal specifically with the topic of fragile states, including the Peacebuilding Commission, global democracy fund and responsibility to protect (R2P). R2P however is a sensitive subject that raises "thorny issues" of sovereignty, proportionality and the extent of military action. Commentators raise concerns that reform of UN bodies leads to a system that could support an "empire-like" approach. Moreover UN failure can lead to further instability. (Bangkok Post)

Humanitarian Intervention: Evolution of a Dangerous Doctrine (January 19, 2006)

Focus on the Global South's Executive Director Walden Bello criticizes the rationale behind the concept of humanitarian intervention. By using force against a sovereign country, humanitarian intervention not only undermines international law but also causes greater human rights violations in that country. Bello also warns that these military actions set the stage for future cases, letting the "hegemon" further advance its geopolitical interests.



Legalized Imperialism": "Responsibility to Protect" and the Dubious Case of Haiti (December, 2005)

This Briarpatch Magazine article suggests that Canada invoked the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) to legitimize foreign intervention and overthrow Jean Bertrand Aristide in February, 2004. When Aristide put the needs of Haiti's poor ahead of the International Monetary Fund's structural adjustment program, the US, France and Canada rallied behind Canadian MP, Denis Paradis', rhetoric of R2P, to enforce a UN mandate for the coup. As John Pilger puts it, R2P looks like "the latest brand name of imperialism."

We Are in Iraq to Bring about Democracy (September 28, 2005)

In his speech at the Labour Party's 2005 conference in Brighton, Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw justifies the war in Afghanistan and Iraq in the context of "responsibility to protect." At the 2005 Millennium Summit, "with the UK in the vanguard," the UN adopted the concept as a major UN reform. While Straw says he favors "collective action" and vows to put the Responsibility to Protect "at the heart of British foreign policy," he defends the occupation of Iraq saying "we are in Iraq to bring about democracy."

A Road Towards Peace, Harmony, and Common Development (September 19, 2005)

In his speech during the 2005 UN World Summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxiang warns the General Assembly against any abuse of the "right to intervene" and insists that the Security Council authorizes any collective action. Li states that China is strongly against "any willful intervention on the ground of rash conclusion that a nation is unable or unwilling to protect its own citizens."

Chavez Criticizes UN Reforms in Speech (September 17, 2005)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized the outcome document for the 2005 UN Summit, in a public speech in New York. Skeptical about the concept of "responsibility to protect," Chavez argued that the concept might serve as a vague justification for "powerful countries [to] invade developing ones whose leaders are considered a threat." As one of the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, Chavez warns that "responsibility to protect" might also be used as a justification for intervention in Venezuela in the future. (Associated Press)

The New World Order (July 14, 2005)

David Rieff, in his book "At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention," considers the problematic political, legal and moral implications of humanitarian intervention. Reiff examines responses of the international community in face of political conflicts, such as inaction in Rwanda, the late intervention in Bosnia, and the war in Iraq. This New York Review of Books article asks "how can the international community decide when to stand aside and when to act?"

Once Again (May 15, 2005)

Proponents for humanitarian intervention are advocating for the creation of a UN Force, ready to intervene in situations like Rwanda and Srebrenica. Although the UN Charter included a UN capacity for military action, the US and others have always opposed the idea. "Even if a multinational force existed, the UN or some other body would have to authorize action," reminds this Washington Post piece, questioning whether "talk of an international humanitarian intervention force may be nothing more than an academic exercise."

An Idea Paul Wolfowitz and Kofi Annan Can Agree On (March 29, 2005)

David Reiff's book, "At the Point of a Gun," discusses armed "humanitarian" interventions and the shifting US opinion towards the moral imperative of protecting human rights abroad. Reiff notes that intervention "in the name of democracy, human rights and humanitarian need" unites neo-cons, activists and humanitarians alike, but is destined to fail because the disguise of "reducing human suffering" is really a "recipe for recapitulation in the 21st century of the horrors of 19th–century-colonialism." (New York Times)

Crime of Crimes (March 6, 2005)

This Washington Post editorial questions whether genocide should be the determining factor for humanitarian intervention. As the author demonstrates, genocide is difficult to label, and doing so neither indicates that intervention will happen nor rules out intervention in cases not labeled as genocide. Though the author offers some controversial solutions and even advocates US unilateralism at times, he notes that the using the word genocide leads to a "warped diplomatic parlor game" and that "realities, not labels, should define our response."



How Silent Are the Humanitarian Invaders of Kosovo? (December 8, 2004)

John Pilger compares the fables of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to US and UK-fabricated figures of victims of genocide in former Yugoslavia. In both cases, Pilger argues, Washington and Downing Street justified the interventions with fraudulent evidence. For Iraq it was false proof of WMDs while for Yugoslavia it was exaggerated reports of mass killings. These justified the bombing of civilians and led the way to an imposed neo-liberal "free market economy." (New Statesman)

A UN for This Century, Not the Last One (December 3, 2004)

Former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook discusses the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change's recommendation of humanitarian intervention and highlights the dilemma between the right to protection from outside intervention on the one hand and the right to override state sovereignty when a government oppresses its people on the other. Cook expresses his concern about whether the UN will succeed in realizing some of the goals the panel has set for the reformed world body. The panel's emphasis on the rule of international law seems incompatible with current US reluctance to respect international agreements and a US Attorney General "who dismissed the Geneva Convention as ‘quaint'." (Guardian)

UN Panel Proposes New Criteria for Using Force (November 28, 2004)

The High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change has proposed to expand the criteria for UN military intervention as part of its efforts to reform the world body. Suggestions include taking action against terrorist threats and ominously echo the US doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, but a strike would require Security Council approval. (Reuters)

UN Reform Pushed by Martin at APEC (November 21, 2004)

At the APEC summit Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin made a passionate plea for UN reform and sought support for his concept of a new L-20, a group of "existing and emerging economic powers" that would, ironically, conduct its business outside of the United Nations. Martin also promoted the idea of humanitarian intervention, or "responsibility to protect," a concept that appears benign but may offer a humanitarian cover for great power intervention. (London Free Press)

Enough Imperial Crusades (August 18, 2004)

Peter Hallward traces the crisis in Sudan back to previous US and UK involvement, arguing that any direct Anglo-US intervention today is merely the soft face of imperialism. He asserts "This is a political question before it is a moral or humanitarian one. Today's humanitarian crisis is precisely a result of past political failure." In lieu of western intervention, Hallward advocates western support for African Union-led efforts, stating "Anglo-US forces now have only one moral responsibility: to stay at home." (Guardian)

Reinventing US Foreign Aid at Millennium Challenge Corp. (August 10, 2004)

The US takes a new approach in foreign aid through the Millennium Challenge Corp. an enterprise combining Wall Street savvy and conservative ideology to regulate and monitor impoverished countries' use of US aid money. To receive foreign aid, countries must "qualify" in accordance to predetermined factors. (Washington Post)

When Intervention is Necessary, Who Can You Call? (August 5, 2004)

Can US power "be used for good in Africa or elsewhere in cases of mass killings or other crimes against humanity?" Acknowledging the harmful and destabilizing history of US intervention, particularly on the African continent, the author nonetheless argues that the scale of "genocide" in Darfur requires that United States lead a multilateral force to end the crisis. (Foreign Policy in Focus)

In Sudan Crisis, a Duty to Intervene? (July 21, 2004)

As the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region escalates, the question of a possible humanitarian intervention is gaining increasing urgency. Many argue that there is a moral imperative to act in such cases, but others avoid using the word "genocide" for fear of compelling intervention. Some advocates of intervention are engaging in civil disobedience and protests to pressure the US government to send troops. (Christian Science Monitor)

< Never Again, No Longer? (July 18, 2004)

Is humanitarian intervention "yesterday's problem?" The author of this essay fears that since 9/11 the West is more concerned with its own vulnerability than that of distant strangers, and that the US war on Iraq has "hopelessly muddied the waters on the legitimacy of intervention." Intervention must involve national interest, humanitarianism is irrelevant, and crises like the one in Darfur will likely continue uninterrupted. (New York Times)

No More Lawless Interventions (July 6, 2004)

This article argues that to avoid future cases of "rushed intervention" such as Iraq and "delayed intervention" such as Rwanda, the UN must adopt more precise criteria for international action against dangerous regimes. It proposes a refinement of the "valid but incomplete" criteria for humanitarian intervention put forward by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a 1999 speech. (Guardian)

An Immense Charge: Realist Lessons about the Consequences of Intervention (May 26, 2004)

The article outlines several "lessons" to be learned from the history of recent interventions. Interventions "almost inevitably come too late," address "symptoms rather than underlying causes," and "can exacerbate, rather than reduce, the humanitarian crisis." (In the National Interest)

A Charter to Intervene: Human Rights Interventions Can Only Be Divorced from Imperialism with New UN Rules (March 23, 2004)

The author criticizes the weakness of current international law in allowing powerful nations to justify their controversial actions as humanitarian intervention. International law needs to develop a balance where permitting force would relieve the suffering of the oppressed people and not further the interests of powerful nations. (Guardian)

Blair's 'International Community' Doctrine (March 6, 2004)

Critics are concerned British Prime Minister Tony Blair's "international community" doctrine seeks to justify the US/UK war in Iraq, validates unilateral (i.e. non-UN sponsored) interventions, and offends the principle of territorial integrity enshrined in Article 2 of the UN Charter. (BBC)

Haiti: Dangerous Muddle (March 2004)

The author examines US "liberal interventions" in Kosovo and Haiti in 1994, and argues single-power interventions are both politically illegitimate and often lead to further political instability and crisis.

Annan Calls For Urgent Action, Even Military Intervention, to Prevent Genocide (January 26, 2004)

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for "strong and united political action and, in extreme cases,…military action" by states to combat acts of genocide. Annan said intervention to prevent genocide was not a "right to intervention," but at root a responsibility of the entire human race to protect fellow human beings from extreme abuse. (UN News Service)

War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention (January 2004)

US attempts to justify the Iraq war, even in part, in humanitarian terms risks giving humanitarian intervention a "bad name" and breeds cynicism about the use of military force for humanitarian purposes, argues Human Rights Watch.

The New Humanitarianism (December 2003/January 2004)

This major article looks thoughtfully and critically at humanitarian intervention. Reviewing the growing literature, the author concludes that the global economic order produces civil wars and failed states and elicits interventionist responses. Humanitarian interventions, he argues, maintain the unjust global order and obscure its negative consequences. Humanitarian agencies are complicit. (Boston Review)



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