Humanitarian Intervention and the National Interest

The following writing is from my first ever Political Science course at Ohio University with Dr. Banta.

In the world, there is war and there is peace. And where there is war there is usually some form of human rights violation. This is where peace comes in, in the form of humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian intervention is when the threat or use of force is used to alter the domestic affairs of another state. This can be categorized to the state’s interests, the spread of liberal institutions, and humanitarianism itself. Yet the idea that humanitarian intervention does good and is justifiable has often times been questioned. This may be due to the fact humanitarian war itself is an oxymoron. War is violent and political while humanitarianism is facilitating and apolitical. This raised a few questions. Is it a liberal democracy’s responsibility to intervene in humanitarian crises? Do the benefits of humanitarian intervention outweigh the costs? And what would some criteria be to justify a state intervening in another states crisis? These are the questions I will be addressing. In my opinion, I believe it is a democracy’s responsibility to intervene in another states crisis. I believe that the benefits do not outweigh the costs, but that doesn’t mean humanitarian intervention should not happen. Lastly, I believe that there have to be certain criteria to make humanitarian intervention appropriate.

Many people argue that it is not a states responsibility to intervene when a crisis is occurring in another state, but I wholly disagree. If you think of a crisis globally, you will realize that conflict in that state could easily spill over into other states and cause more crises, which threatens international peace. One facet of the interest of a state is to maintain the balance of power. If states do not intervene, it could result in a broken status quo. Intervening can also protect allies and resources by stopping a crisis from spilling over and requiring more assets than needed. This may lead to assumptions of a state having a personal agenda, which part of the time may be correct. But it also shows how interconnected each state is with each other and how international order can have a domino effect. Once one state topples, it is very easy for others to topple as well. Intervening can give the state benefits, but it also prevents from detrimental costs happening. Many advocates for humanitarian intervention agree with this because balance is beneficial and ethically required.

There are often human rights violations, which in itself should be stopped. Humanitarianism itself is to stop acts that “shock the conscience” of humankind. Stanley Hoffman makes a crucial point in his article ‘In Defense of Mother Teresa: Morality in Foreign Policy’ stating, “it is our moral duty to act” (Hoffmann). For example, the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo prompted a humanitarian intervention by NATO, which ended Milošević’s tyrant rule. This is just one of a handful of examples that show that it is necessary and a states responsibility to intervene in crises because it maintains international peace and human rights. This is becoming more and more necessary because there has been a rise in acceptance of human rights and an awareness of need.

One reason some people may agree with humanitarian intervention is that they assume it will always end well. While I do believe it is the right thing to do and that it should be done, it is proven that it does not end successfully some of the times. Often the results we see of humanitarian intervention are skewed by propaganda. For example, the Western perception of what happened in Libya was quite different from what actually happened. In the United States, we saw that Qaddafi was a violent ruler who was hurting innocent civilians and that NATO helped achieve peace with little fatalities. Meanwhile, what was actually occurring in Libya was Qaddafi was responding to violent rebel attacks and NATO’s intervention was more of a regime change than a mission for peace. If there was no intervention the war would’ve been shorter in length, but there would have been 1,100 causalities. Unless a normal person made it a point to dig deeper into the Libya situation, they would not have known what the true facts of the Libya intervention were.

Some other examples of interventions that did not end well are Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Mandelbaum points out that the reason for most of these not so successful missions is because of the exit strategies. Hoffmann agrees by saying, “when exit becomes strategy, there is something rotten in the realm of foreign policy” (Hoffmann). Some other negatives to humanitarian intervention are internal instability and spillover. Reasons for defeat aside, it is still important to realize that, even if the benefits do not outweigh the cost, it is still important to enact humanitarian intervention internationally. Even though there are costs to humanitarian intervention, there are also the benefits that should be considered. The first is that some of the longest and most destructive wars were ones that had no form of humanitarian intervention. This proves that if there is not some form of humanitarian intervention, a crisis can progressively turn for the worse with no sign of peace as a means to ends. Aggressors also turn away from attacking civilians so that they can rather protect themselves. Some examples of successful humanitarian interventions are Iraq and Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor. In a good ending, bombing ends the war, peace is kept, and criminals are brought to justice.

While I have stated multiple times how I believe humanitarian intervention is necessary, I believe that it has to be necessary by certain means. Firstly, an intervention in another states crisis cannot be intertwined with the politics of the intervening state. An example of this would be a regime change or the destruction of another political party. This can be tied back to Kosovo; while the humanitarian intervention did stop genocide, it was also tied inherently to politics even though NATO pressed that it was strictly apolitical. Susan Woodward mentions this situation in her article ‘Humanitarian War: A New Consensus?’ by referring to the mission saying, “Inadvertently shaping the political economy of ‘post-war’ Kosovo influences the conditions that are needed for peace and respect for human rights to hold” (Woodward). Whether the political consequences are directly related to the government, the economy, or the people themselves, this should not be a factor in a humanitarian intervention; it should be strictly apolitical.

Is it a liberal democracy’s responsibility to intervene in humanitarian crises? Yes. The evidence clearly states that we have the responsibility to protect this world’s people. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also maintains international order. Do the benefits of humanitarian intervention outweigh the costs? Sadly, most of the time the answer is no. It is important to get the right information concerning the outcomes of the humanitarian intervention. This does not mean that it should not happen though. What would some criteria be to justify a state intervening in another states crisis? The main criteria would be to not mix politics with humanitarianism. That in itself is very difficult to maintain because war is often hand in hand with a political agenda. These are my opinions concerning the questions raised on humanitarian intervention and the national interest, and I stand by them wholly.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s