Wednesday, 28 January 2009

What is Humanitarian Intervention and can it be justified?

I've recently been writing an essay on the morality of humanitarian interventions for my course at uni. I've decided to publish it on the blog because I think it raises quite a few interesting questions. I've basically broken it down into two parts, the first looking at humanitarian iuntervention in general, and the second looking at several case studies (although as a further case study I'd like to refer readers to my article for the Socialist on the congo which briefly discusses the failings of the intervention there I'm going to supplement these parts of the essay with a further piece on Capitalism, Socialism and Humanitarian Intervention. I hope people enjoy reading these, but I'd like people to remember that this was originally written as an essay an thus its style flows from that. Additionally when writing essays I need to justify things that i usually imply in other written pieces on the blog, so I have ignored certain issues or talked about things in a manner that doesn't bring those issues up. That is part of the reason for the additional third section.

When any major internal conflict breaks out within a country which leads to a serious deterioration of human rights, it seems that one of the stock responses of many international organisations is to call for international intervention in that country for humanitarian reasons? Yet should this be the automatic response, is such an act justifiable morally?
This essay seeks to examine that question by first by first discussing humanitarian intervention both in terms of what it is and how we can make moral judgement upon instances of it. We shall then examine a selection of case studies which will allow us to draw some lessons as to when humanitarian intervention can be justified. Finally, a conclusion will summarise the main arguments of this essay.
Before we begin the essay, it is important distinguish between two different judgements of the morality of war. As Walzer (2006:21) explains,

“War is always judged twice, first with reference to the reasons states have for fighting, secondly with reference to the means they adopt…Medieval writers made the difference a matter of propositions, distinguishing jus ad bellum, the justice of war, from jus in bello, justice in war... Jus ad bellum requires us to make judgements about aggression and self-defence; jus in bello about the observance or violation of the customary and positive rules of engagement…”

In this essay we shall mostly be concerned with the former, jus ad bellum, only touching on jus in bello where the relevant actions during the war reflect upon the jus ad bellum.
Given that Human Rights Watch is one international human rights organisation that has called for humanitarian intervention in the past, it is worth examining the definition that the head of that organisation, Kenneth Roth, gives. Roth (2004:1) states that it is “The use of military force across borders to stop mass killing…” Thus, we have the three main principles of humanitarian intervention. It is firstly an intervention of a foreign body (be it another country or a regional/international organisation). Secondly, it is an intervention using military force that moves into the affected country and therefore differentiates itself from force projected from outside a country. Thirdly it is in response to the possibility of mass killing.
Of course, simply defining what events may constitute a humanitarian intervention does not justify a particular intervention that is justified on humanitarian grounds. Indeed the article we have just quoted from goes on to criticise the Iraq war, which some of its defenders sought to justify upon humanitarian grounds. Indeed, Roth goes on further to explain what in his opinion would justify military force for humanitarian reasons,

“Only large-scale murder, we believe, can justify the death, destruction, and disorder that so often are inherent in war and its aftermath. Other forms of tyranny are deplorable and worth working intensively to end, but they do not… rise to the level that would justify the extraordinary response of military force. Only mass slaughter might permit the deliberate taking of life involved in using military force for humanitarian purposes.” (Roth, 2004:4)

However, it is important to note that humanitarian intervention will possibly not be the only objective of a power in intervening for humanitarian reasons, as Walzer (2006:101) notes “Indeed, I have not found any, but only mixed cases where the humanitarian motive is one among several. States don’t send their soldiers into other states, it seems, only to save lives.”
Roth (2004) also argues that it is irrelevant to the judgement of whether a humanitarian intervention is justified if either there are more needy place which haven’t been intervened in or the intervening power has been complicit in repressing the populace.
So the question is posed, given that states intervene for other reasons as well as possible humanitarian ones, how do we work out when such a humanitarian motive for armed intervention is morally justifiable? When can military intervention be justified for humanitarian ends? We would argue that it is only by actually achieving those ends that military intervention becomes justified.
As Trotsky (2001:49) states, “A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified.” He later adds, as regards to what means can be used (it needs to be noted that he is putting forward what he believes should be the morality of the workers movement),

“That is permissible which really leads to the liberation of humanity… Permissible and obligatory are those and only those means, we answer, which unite the revolutionary proletariat, fill their hearts with irreconcilable hostility to oppression... Precisely from this it flows that not all means are permissible. When we say the end justifies the means, then for us the conclusion follows that the great revolutionary end spurns those base means and ways which set one part of the working class against other parts, or attempt to make the masses happy without their participation; or lower the faith of the masses in themselves…”(Trotsky, 2001:50)

For humanitarian intervention, then, mimicking the arguments in the above quote, we can justify it if it not only stops mass killings from occurring but also leads to a reduction in the possibility of the said population being put in jeopardy again. An intervention which stops an immediate killing, but then led on to much worse brutality would only make the situation worse. The reader should bear this in mind when reading the examples we will later discuss.

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