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What is the Humanitarian Intervention

The holocaust era international community have shown serious commitment on the respect for human rights, with strict consequences for perpetuator of genocide, torture, and large scale of human rights abuse. (Posit the difficulty that the international community faces in arriving at a peaceful international community)

This is supported by global challenge in terms of humanitarian emergency and the need to build a relatively peaceful international community. In view of these, humanitarian intervention has attracted immense debate in international relation and other disciplines regarding the principles which the society of states has been built on (non intervention, respect of sovereignty, and non use of force) especially after the cold world and 9/11. However, these principles that were aimed at shaping a safe and peaceful international society sometimes conflict with the key features of statehood (i.e. sovereignty and non interference). Although the responsibility to protect is vested on the sovereign states, they (states) sometimes partake in promoting insecurity of its people. This raises the question, is the state safe on the bases of the principles of sovereignty and non interference, and does the society of state have a duty to act on the grand of safeguarding human rights?this can form part of the research questions.) Be is as it may, the activities of the agencies in the complex and urgent humanitarian needs describes the momentum it have gathered from the global community in which humanitarian organisations operate transnational. More so, globalizations have contributed too many problems of contemporary life but have also created an increasing sense of cosmopolitan moral awareness” (Bull 1984b:12). Since the global human right myth strives to protect human rights and humanitarian values all over the world, it could be seen as a product of post holocaust world and it is embedded civil servants, media, local nongovernmental organisations and a worldwide network of humanitarian international organisations which are sustained and encouraged by the transnational global citizenry committed to human right and humanitarianism (Minnear and Weiss 1995: Jones 1995.pp175-195).

During the cold war, there was low consciousness on humanitarian intervention and it was not a legitimate practise but the 1990’s witnessed a tremendous change. As Nicholas J. Wheeler puts it, this change is primarily confirmed to domestic publics within liberal states, and the wider legitimacy of humanitarian intervention which have been challenged by many non-western states. Thus, the normative legitimacy of humanitarian intervention is hotly debated towards the end of the millennium. For instance, the ideological battle during president Bust’s administration between the neo­-conservatives and realist regarding the need for US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Post 1991 Gulf war prompted moral cynicism which is connected with optimism concerning the international intervention to rescue the Kurds in northern Iraq. As a result of the United Nations (UN) failure in Bosnia and Somalia, and the catastrophic effect of ignorance on the side of those that have the ability, resources and capacity (the West and UN) to avert the intervene in others places. The efficacy of military force in promoting humanitarian myth has been questioned to a large extent. This debate has been divided in the past years, some contend that these situations requires more willingness for military action for humanitarian reasons, while others argue that since citizens have moral responsibility to intervene on humanitarian grounds, it should be carried out without violent means since the use of force is counterproductive. Meanwhile if the above debate can be considered when we discuss the promotion of humanitarian values through the use of force, the aftermath of reconstruction in failed states, and then the need to evaluate whether states can be trusted with the responsibility to represent the common humanity also emerges. In view of these, Nicolas J. Wheeler states that the abdication of moral duty on the side of the society of states suggests that we should be cautious about vesting much trust on the leadership of states as guardians of human right in world politics. For both these reason, some analyse push for a post-statist reconceptualization of humanitarian intervention which they label non forcible or non violent humanitarian intervention (Ramsbotham and Woodhouse 1996).

The chapters in this research will focus on the following discussions;

Chapter one will be looking at the definition of Humanitarian Intervention and also making a reasonable comparison of a couple of definitions by different scholars. The act of humanitarian intervention raises these questions; when should state(s) intervention in another state? The aim of these is to convoy a critical analysis of the motives of humanitarian intervention to readers so they can understand the arguments raised in others chapters. However, the situation of the international political sphere leads to this puzzle, should states intervene. This question emerged due to lack of accord on many principles of humanitarian intervention within and outside the academic world. Chapter two will answer the questions raised in chapter one before proceeding to these, what is it Humanitarianism? What argument does it not raise? (The motives). Literarily, humanitarian intervention is a concept that describes the universal sentiments attracted by pity, a need to help or save a group of people suffering from natural disaster, wide spread of epidemic, famine, genocide or other form of human suffering. The later part of this chapter will have a critical consideration the arguments humanitarian fail to raise, i.e. motives like responsibility, benevolence and national interest.

Chapter Three:

Critiques of humanitarianism

Aims: other motives, especially national interest.

Conclusion: My overall opinion.

Here, I will limit my critical analyse to the problems of humanitarian intervention ranging from; the influence of national interest on humanitarian intervention and other motives. The argument in this chapter will also concentrate on the willingness (or what liberals call selective intervention) on the part of states or those that have the capacity to intervene on the ground of humanitarian grounds. This is vital to this research because it reveals the inconsistency in the theory and practise, and also questions the motives and how genuine most interventions are. More so, the realist contends that states are governed by what they value as a national interest, and will intervene whenever and wherever they feel their national interest is at stake. Hence it is usually controversial whenever some key principles is at stake in multiple occasions, but national interest might indicate divergence among key players which have strong influence in their respective actions. A good illustration of the following situation is the reaction of the Muslim states who accused the developed world of selective intervention when they ignoring the plight of the Bosnian Muslim and not responding to save them just as they did in Iraq Kurds. What is means is that the west and society of states often fail to treat similar cases in the same manner or with unequal attention and interest. However, the motive of the recent intervention in Iraq is no longer a new debate in social science, and its controversial nature fits in the right position to challenge the “real motive of humanitarian intervention” especially in this era of globalisation, imperialism and neo-colonialism. One can only ponder to solve this puzzle as scholars from different fields continue to construct and deconstruct the proponent in every academic work on this topic. The problems that now arise from these includes unnecessary bureaucratic delay, misappropriation of donations, inadequate distribution network, imperialism in place of benevolence, debts crisis, selective intervention from NATO, U.N, NGO’s and INGO’s. (Timothy Dunne pp.111-115 d same book)


My overall opinion; All states have a role to play on humanitarian intervention, as such all opinions should be represented (irrespective of military, race, economic, or development strength) to ensure that power play and influence of key actors especially in the UN Security Council is limited. This will checkmate the process of the political and ethical requirement of humanitarian intervention. My suggestion; There should be an absolute non interference or taking sides with any part either the government or opposition during humanitarian interventions. More details will be at the conclusion.

Chapter One

What is humanitarian intervention?

In this research, chapter one will begin with assessments of existing liberature to find a suitable definition that will serve the require aim in this research. It will also bring out the weaknesses in some literature and how it supports the paradox. This means a critical examination of motives, how it should be carried out, and what makes constitute a situation of extreme human right violation in the international society to mention but a few.

R.J. Vincent in his non intervention and international order defines humanitarian intervention ‘as activity undertaken by a state, group of states, or an international organisation which infers coercively in the domestic affairs of another state. It is a discrete event having a beginning and an end it is aimed at the authority structure of the target state’. It is not necessarily lawful or unlawful, but it does break a conventional pattern of international relations (Vincent 1974: 3-9). Although Vincent’s work was not absolutely focused on humanitarian intervention but it illustrates more on the traditional meaning of this concept. In response to this definition, Nicolas J. Wheeler argues that intervention have always been defined in terms of coercive breach of the walls of the castle of sovereignty. In such case, intervention contradicts the core principles of sovereignty, and logically overrides the cardinal doctrines of non interference as stated in the customary international law and codified in Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter. This limits the UN intervention power by not allowing it to intervene in “vital domestic matter within the jurisdiction of any state”. However, Vincent contribution is broad and within the frame work of humanitarian intervention but it does not offer a clear perspicacity on its legality. And the difficulty in finding a well articulated broad and a definitive judgement with particular reference to the legality of humanitarian intervention has remained a problem in the field of international relations (Nicolas J. Wheeler :391-393)

As broad as this concept might be, this research will focus on limiting considerations to serve the purpose of this work which is to examine the motives of humanitarian intervention, but interestingly, this raises the question of what counts as humanitarian? Hence the international Committee of the Red Cross identifies humanitarian intervention as those that “prevent and alleviate human suffering”. More so, it is imperial, non political cutting across all sex, race, and nationality. To believe that humanitarian acts are the same everywhere is an ambiguous claim that cannot be verified because first; time and location vary in every ramification especially in considering the above concept. For instance after WW2, the fall of Germany gave rise to United States dominance of global affairs as they try to build a stable world order which was not a total success it the cold war era. Even after the cold war, the Uganda and Cambodian experience were all very different and the happen in unique cultural settings. After the cold war it was obvious that the US enjoyed a unipolar system, yet the western leader and international organisations that have the resources to stop the massacre relaxed in the conform of their house and watch genocide happen in Rwanda. Although the French intervention save lives but it was already too later. Secondly; humanitarianism upholds human nature to a high extent, in other words everything is human centred. Critics pinpoints the ever changing nature of our existence, stressing that human suffering changes from one historical epoch to another which is inevitable. The issue of human and inhuman objects springs up as a rest of this. Thus, slavery was regarded as perfectly natural in one century and identified as a scourge against humanity in the next. This illustrates that “our concept of humanitarianism is culturally specific and has its own biases” (Parekh 1997).

Andrew Mason and Nicholas J. Wheeler, to cite only one example , believes that non interventionists “ are unable to show that a proper regulated and suitably constrained practice of humanitarian intervention would be morally impermissible, or create a worse world than the one we have now, allowing humanitarian intervention in some occasions would encourage well being of human security”. (J.L. Holzgrefe and Robert O. Keohane, 2003: 22)

According to Howard Adelman, “humanitarian intervention is the use of physical force within the sovereign territory of another state by other states or the United Nations for the purpose of either the protection of, or provision of emergency aid to the suffering population”. He further stated that “humanitarian intervention is the use of physical force within the sovereign territory of another state by other states or the United Nations (UN) for the purpose of either the protection of, or provision of emergency aid to the suffering population” (Terry Nardin and Melissa S. Williams 2006:32). This definition clearly listed the agents of humanitarian intervention but the puzzle it fails to clarify is the degree of human right violation that could attract intervention, and should the UN fail to intervene, does others states have the right to intervene on the grounds of humanitarianism. Nardin and Williams also ignore the historic failure of both the others (the western states) and the UN when there capability and claim of human right/security was put to test in Rwanda and other places. The reputation and trust of those that have the resources to intervene have remained questionable considering how everyone (powerful and weak actors) all over the world watch mass killing that lasted more than 60 days. So stating that others states and the UN as the key agent of humanitarian intervention is invariably limiting the paradox in this context. For example, while the massacre spread to outside Kigali the capital of Rwanda, the international community and other states like French, United States and others where ignorant of the situation till Paul Kagame (the current president of Rwanda) intervened with his army to stop the Tutsi genocide in 1994. Though French intervened but it was also read very late because hundreds of people have been killed (bbc reporter C. Amanpour interviews Kagame 18th March 2010). And finally, is the use of force within another sovereign state a reliable means of humanitarian intervention, and will it be truly be an act of benevolence?

Considering the endless debate on this discourse, the objections of legitimacy of humanitarian intervention partially remains a paradox. Nicholas J. Wheeler posits that there are five key objection to legitimizing forceful means of humanitarian intervention (though not mutually exclusive but can be identified in the works of both liberals and realist) which cuts across many discipline, like scholars, law makers, and international lawyers. Consequently,

The notion of Humanitarian Intervention could defined as the zeal to intervene is of an altruistic nature, helping those that cannot help themselves and improving the conditions that they have been subjected to or are living in. Literarily, the interdependence of modern states demands that state(s) can intervention in another state to alleviate human suffer of different nature.

Bhikhu Parekh argues that” humanitarian is an act wholly or primarily guided by the sentiment of humanity, compassion or fellow-feeling, and in that sense disinterested” (Parekh 1997). In this context, political realism holds that states pursue their national interest and that an intention of this kind is ruled out since states are motivated solely by what they judge to be their national interest (Timothy Dunne:112-115. d same book with Nicolas J. Wheeler).

Frank and Rodley (1973:275-305) stresses that since there are no imperial means of measuring to when humanitarian intervention is permissible, states might spouse humanitarian motive as a pretext to cover the pursuit of national interest. Perhaps one can argue that humanitarian intervention is a tool the strong uses against the weak. For instance the financial aid Africa receives have complicated its problems more than how it was because many states are trapped in perpetual debt servicing thereby losing even more than what they actually borrowed.

Increasingly, one of the major challenges humanitarian intervention have face is the notion of international society which comes into play as a result of proclivity on the part of major powers, international and regional organisations to intervene in another state’s domestic affair as humanitarian intervention. The international society sees the state as the core repository of sovereign authority and is based on that that international order can be best maintained only when states respect each other’s sovereignty by adhering to the norms of non intervention in the domestic affairs of another state. These forms the fundamental basics for the rules and institutions governing international society, it also includes diplomacy, international law, and international organisations. However, this is what Robert Jackson referred to as “global covenant” which forms the foundation for the international order. Respect for this covenant is more important as a feature of contemporary membership of the international system (as in Nicholas Wheeler 1997........)

On the other hand, the prioritizing of sovereignty and non intervention and the frequent call and need for humanitarian intervention, is to protect the citizens of the targeted state from flagrant violations of their fundamental human rights by any agent within or outside the state.

When should states intervene?

This part will focus on the legality of interventions, the evaluation of their success and failures in promoting humanitarian values. In global politics it is no longer new for student and scholars to note that states (and international organisation) are the key players, however, the quest to pinpoint when state can intervene on humanitarian grounds is very debatable. But this research will strive to identify rationally reasonable scenario for states to intervene. Andrew Mason and Nicholas J. Wheeler, to cite only one example , believes that non interventionists “ are unable to show that a proper regulated and suitably constrained practice of humanitarian intervention would be morally impermissible, or create a worse world than the one we have now, allowing humanitarian intervention in some occasions would encourage well being of human security. (J.L. Holzgrefe and Robert O. Keohane, 2003: 23) This condition can only be satisfied when the intervening state sees a large scale of human rights abuses, genocide or natural disaster (massive suffering) in a foreign country, as either a general threat to the order, legitimacy, and morality of global society or, and as is usually the case, a particular threat to its own economic prosperity, political influence, and territorial integrity.

Theoretically, the solidarist international society theory holds that there is a legal right and moral duty of humanitarian intervention on every actor. On the other hand, the like Anthony Clark and Robert Beck argue that the counter restrictionist position on the legal right of individual and collective humanitarian intervention is vested on; one: the UN charter commits states to protecting fundamental human rights, and second: that there is a right of humanitarian intervention in customary international law (Arend and Beck 1993: 132-7). Restrictionist (like Franck and Rodley 1973:275-305) rejects these claims positing that there is limited or no support in state practise of a legal right of humanitarian intervention. Anthony Clark and Robert Beck further oppose the restrictionist noting that the UN primary responsibility should to maintain a peaceful and secured world other. Hence they pinpoint their argument on the promotion of human rights which they believe should go alongside the maintenance and sustenance of international peace and security. Michael Reisman and Mryes McDougal asserted in support of the above debate stating that the human rights provisions of the Charter –Article 1 (3), 55 and 56 ......provide a legal basis for unilateral (forcible) intervention if the case requires that. Their claim if it was not so, “the explicit aim of United Nations will be jeopardised (quote in Arend and Beck 1993: 133). Just as obtainable in the right to self defence, humanitarian intervention is argued to be a legitimate exception to the principle of non use of force as in Article 2 (4) of the UN charter.

The above question is as debatable as the concept itself. But the debate on what actually constitute the principles of humanitarian intervention is best explained from the pluralist perspective. Here, the pluralist international society theory pinpoints an additional problem of humanitarian intervention which is “what makes up the doctrine of humanitarian intervention”. Hedley Bull stresses that the pluralist position holds that states are most capable of reaching an accord in certain minimum principles, the most vital been reciprocal respect of sovereignty and the norm of non intervention. The study of humanitarian intervention is a very broad and hard one even among scholars of international relations since it is the archetypal case of where it might be expected that the society of states would agree to privilege individual justice over the norms of sovereignty and non intervention. Bull also argued that humanitarian intervention should not be permissible without a consensus on what the international society sees as extreme human right abuses (Hedley Bull and Vincent 1992.21: 463). Bull’s work shows how worried a lot of scholars are in the absence of a legitimized accord on the overt principles that should checkmate or govern the right of individual states or global society on humanitarian intervention, such a right would undermind global order.

UN- secretary general Kofi Annan, made a very strong statement during the UN Annual Report to the General Assembly on September 20, 1999, he stated that “To those for whom the greatest threat to the future of international order is the use of force in the absence of a security council mandate, one might say: leave Kosovo aside for a moment that, in those dark days and hours leading up to the genocide, there had been a coalition of states ready and willing to act in defence of the Tutsi population, but the council had refused or delayed giving green light”. Should a coalition then have stood idly by while the horror unfolded? This comment reveals the politics and limitation of humanitarian intervention that partially makes the realist position appear to the truth. What is means is that if there was a group of states that had intervened in either instance, maybe the horrific experiences would not be in history today, and it also shows that the interest of the UN Security Council sometimes jeopardizes the good of a large number of those they are meant to protect? Simple put had any allies ignore the UN’s green light and intervened, what would have happened? By and large, the Tutsi network would have been cracked down and the economic, political, social, cultural and psychological implication of the genocide would not be there today. Lastly, one can contend that the lack of measurability of the factors that constitute massive human right abuses and the conflicting interest among the interveners (the west and UN, especially among Security Council members) predetermines when and how other states and the global society reacts to a gives situation (Welsh, Jennifer M. 2004:19).

With these debates on the lack of accord on theory and practise of humanitarianism and the promotion of human right, one might be left with more research to do to see if a better and generally accepted principle have so far be given. This is because the practise or implementation of the existing principles have been largely ignored, leaving scholars and students of international relation, law and others to question the motive, causes of these inconsistence at the highest level of politics. Have that in mind, one is left with the question, should states intervene?