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Humanitarian Intervention

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Humanitarian Intervention is military intervention that is carried out in pursuit of humanitarian rather than strategic objectives. This term is controversial and therefore often debated, as it is an evaluative and subjective term. The common use of the term itself is the desire to come in help to other people, however according to some other opinions, it is the outcome of the intervention that defines it. Firstly, it is essential to define what is meant by the word abandoned in this context. As HI has been happening throughout history, abandoned would imply an on-going lack or diminishing numbers of interventions. In humanitarianism, the most relevant key concept is human rights, which is illustrated as rights to which people are entitled by the virtue of being human. Human rights are universal, meaning they apply to everyone regardless of their gender, culture or religion. In this essay I will mention key terms including violence, conflict and justice, as these are at the heart of humanitarian intervention. Power, which is not meant to be of much importance when discussing humanitarianism, is in reality, crucial. And this leads on to my first point. As interdependence is rising in today’s world, power is too. This implies that countries, usually not democratic, have more state sovereignty on their people and therefore are likely to have an army, which makes it increasingly difficult for other countries to intervene.

Unfortunately nowadays the effectiveness of HI is underestimated when a conflict comes, as “universal rights” and state sovereignty come face to face, state sovereignty usually wins the confrontation. Economic power also affects the number of interventions. The Chinese government, for example, violates human rights in some parts of the countries, especially near the borders of Tibet, and no military intervention from other countries is planned because of China’s well known world’s strongest economy. The UN is also responsible for this. An intervention in Syria was cancelled due to Russia, part of the UN Security Council, who used their veto, and that resulted in an aggrandized number of deaths. As the UN tries to be as democratic as possible with non-permanent numbers, it is also likely that decisions are slower to make, which limits, once again, the possible interventions, which would be beneficial to huge amounts of people. On the other hand, countries must keep in mind that humanitarian intervention is still a responsibility, and therefore could occur at any point in time. The topic is not abandoned because the UN in 2005 established a law named R2p, which is still taken very seriously by many countries such as the US, the UK and France, permanent members of the Security Council.

It is repeatedly asked whether it is fair for members of another nation by, to make sacrifices such as sending soldiers to where the issue is occurring. Yes it is dramatic, but the obligation of helping countries in such situations is so powerful that it becomes less dramatic. It is a sacrifice though, which is the reason why there is always indecision and uncertainty when governments of the helping countries discuss the solutions. Thus there is less cases happening, and many are unsuccessful, which is why some people consider HI “abandoned”. It is seen that cases of humanitarian intervention, military or not are much less common in the media and therefore the topic is less discussed. Due to intervention being harder nowadays, an example of a non-intervention case is the on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine, in which the US has never really intervened apart from lending some weapons to Israel, that is clearly not a humanitarian intervention. The arguments for non-action were that intervening in this conflict lead to sacrificing US soldiers, against national interest, and the cost of intervention is also very large.

Another reason for not intervening is that it might worsen the war, which has been going on for a century. Thereupon there is non-intervention, but there is also case where intervention has occurred and unfortunately failed. The efficiency of humanitarian intervention is normative because of people having different views on the output and the unlikeliness of every one being pleased by the new regime therefore it is very hard to affirm the real results of the intervention. In 2011, a group of countries intervened during the Libyan civil war, which lead to the abolition of Muammar Gadhafi’s regime. The Operation Unified Protector by NATO was partly successful because they achieved to kill the dictator on 20th October, but partly ineffective because the standards of living in Libya have not increased and the state is facing a lack of government’s ruling. This case study supports the statement that HI could be an abandoned project as it is not always favourable to everyone. Despite the fact that there is some failures, some beneficial interventions still occur. More cases for intervention emerge due to globalization, which implies that states have closer links to each other and therefore the responsibility to help becomes stronger.

As countries generally develop through time, people are more educated and communication is more open, which is a factor that governments cannot control. Thus people are here and now more educated and therefore have the confidence to protest when they feel that their human rights are abused in their nation. Protesting causes conflicts, that may become violent and therefore humanitarian intervention is needed. After the Cold War it was thought that the US would return to isolationism, however in the 1990s and still today, the US have a major say in global affairs and are a huge military force which is predominantly helpful for intervention. This thought might have influenced the term ‘abandoned’ when discussing HI, but the fact that this was proven wrong shows that nations are still involved and prompt for humanitarian intervention. Kosovo, March 24th to June 10th 1999 is an example of a successful intervention. The operation, held by NATO was to stop the Albanese genocide by the Serbian forced in Kosovo, according to the US accusing the Serbian president Milosevic to be a “New Hitler”. They aimed for a vote on independence. The operation Allied Force was a success as the Yugoslav government agreed to withdraw its forces from Kosovo and the bombing was suspended.

This embodies how helpful HI can be and how important it is for the global development that nations help each other during crucial times and end great wrongs. Currently the number of violent conflicts both within and between nations is said to decrease according to news reports, but this still matters because it is linked to human rights such as the right to education. The reason for a smaller need of military intervention is the increase in diplomacy, which is defined as the conduct by government officials of negotiations and relationship between other nations. Liberalists say it is impossible for outsiders to impose human rights as states are established by the informed consent of their citizens. Thus it is likely to be easier to effect change through debates and votes which are held in non-violent conditions. Diplomacy is therefore another reason why some opinions affirm that HI is an abandoned project. With a realist point of view, the issue with diplomacy, which emphasizes again the importance of forceful humanitarian intervention, is that countries mainly act for their own interest and not necessarily for the good of the people in the country facing difficulties.

States have mixed motives such as grabbing territory, gaining geo-strategic advantage or seizing control of precious natural resources. Hitler’s intervention in Czechoslovakia was presented to help everyone living there, regardless of their nationality, but it actually turned out to only protect the Germans living in Czechoslovakia, which is only a national interest. This shows how controversial this topic is, and therefore, in my opinion, still holds a major place in today’s political debates. After the Holocaust, states established laws prohibiting genocide and recognizing basic human rights therefore we must ensure that this mentality is continued, through the help of humanitarian intervention and if necessary, military interventions which are the last option. The UN commission on the r2p says it embraces not just ‘the responsibility to react’, but also the ‘responsibility to prevent’ and the ‘responsibility to rebuild’.

To bring these laws back in debates makes the HI topic clearer and more palatable. It is difficult to make a definite conclusion on the effectiveness of humanitarian intervention because all resources are opinion based, therefore are not fully reliable. Overall, after having balanced all evidences, I believe that Humanitarian Intervention is not an abandoned project as it is key to the spread of universal human rights, and therefore should not be misinterpreted or forgotten. What makes a humanitarian intervention truly ‘humanitarian’ is not justified which is why is it hard to have a set opinion. I do however believe that state sovereignty should be respected to a certain limit, which is defined clearly by the UN r2p commission and should be taken into account by more countries throughout time.

Sources Used:

Sovereignty, rights and justice by Chris Brown
Global Politics by Andrew Heywood
Terror and consent by Philip Bobbit

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