'Humanitarian' Intervention: Evolving Theory and Praxis

Author:Sara Siebert
Position:BA (Hons) (Dalhousie), Senior Sophister Law, Trinity College, Dublin
Pages:59-80
'HUMANITARIAN'
INTERVENTION:
EVOLVING
THEORY
AND
PRAXIS
SARA
SIEBERT*
Humanitarian
intervention
is
not
only
an
activity;
it
is
also
a
concept.
Indeed,
the
humanitarian
idea
occupies
an
important
place
in the
current
debate
about
the
changing
nature
of
crisis
management, conflict
resolution,
and
international
military action to enforce
human
rights.
The
trend
towards
increased
international
efforts to
respond
to complex
humanitarian
emergencies'
means
that
the
provision
of
humanitarian
aid is
no
longer
seen
as
isolated from
military
involvement.
This
is
after
all
the
era
in which
political
leaders
increasingly
cite
humanitarian
reasons
for
military
intervention.
Indeed, from
the
colonial assault
on Africa
2
to
NATO's
intervention
in
Kosovo,
the
twentieth
century
was
replete
with
interventions ostensibly
justified
on
humanitarian
grounds.
In
retrospect
it
seems
perhaps that
while
'great
powers'
may
have claimed
that
military
intervention
served
a
humanitarian
goal
the
overwhelming reality
is
that
4
the
most important
purpose
was
rarely
(if
ever)
the
humanitarian
one.
Certainly,
every
intervention
serves
a
complex
of
interests and
it
is
thus
BA
(Hons)
(Dalhousie),
Senior
Sophister
Law,
Trinity College,
Dublin.
This
term
is
used to characterise
myriad
crises
including
civil
conflict, mass population
movement,
deterioration
of
the
authority
and
effectiveness
of
the state,
a
decline
in food
security,
and
massive
dislocation
of
the
economic
system.
Natsios,
U.S.
Foreign
Policy and
the
Four
Horsemen
of
the
Apocalypse:
Humanitarian
Relief
in
Complex
Emergencies
(Praeger
with
the
Center
for
Strategic and
International
Studies,
1996),
at
7.
2
Mamdani
writes:
[D]idn't
colonial powers entering Africa
toward the end
of
the
nineteenth
century
claim
to
be
stamping
out
slavery?
In
other
words, hasn't
every
imperial intervention
claimed
to be
humanitarian?
"Humanitarian
Intervention:
A
Forum"
The
Nation
<http://www.thenation.com>
(last
visited
31
October
2002).
3
In
handling
the
crisis
in
Kosovo
in
1999
NATO
forces
were
engaged
simultaneously
in
a
war
and
in
humanitarian
assistance.
"While NATO warplanes
struck
targets
in
Yugoslavia,
the
same
military
alliance
committed massive
resources to
sustaining
refugees arriving
in
Macedonia and Albania."
Studer,
'"The
ICRC
and
Civil-Military
Relations
in
Armed
Conflict"
(2001)
83
IRRC
367,
at
375.
4
See
for
example
Kurth,
"Humanitarian Intervention:
Lessons
from the
Past
Decade"
(2001)
45
Orbis
659.
© Sara
Siebert and
Dublin
University
Law
Society
Trinity
College
Law
Review
perhaps axiomatic
to
state
that
humanitarian
concerns
are
but
one
of
a
number
of
factors that
influence state
decision-making.
The
particular significance
of
current
international military
interventions, however,
is
the
increased
usage
of
the
term 'humanitarian'-
and
increased attention
paid
to
related
considerations-in
Security
Council
resolutions
dealing
with
conflict
and
threats
to
international
peace
and
security.
5
Consequently, military
involvement
in
relief
operations
has
undergone
a
considerable
transformation.
6
The mixing
of
humanitarian
and
military
roles
raises
new
challenges
for
governmental
and
non-
governmental
organisations
alike.
As
such,
the
subject
of
military-
humanitarian
responses to complex
humanitarian
emergencies
has
been
the
focus
of
much
debate
and
discussion.
It has
been
argued that
because
the
international discourse
of
'humanitarian intervention'
seemingly
co-opts
and
transforms
the
essential
humanitarian
idea
the
lines
between
relief
activities
and
military
action
are
increasingly
blurred.
A
substantial
case-
study literature
has
evolved
in
this
area,
but
greater
clarity
of
definition
and
use
of
terminology
is
desirable.
While
humanitarian
action
in
itself
is
not
necessarily
problematic
the
concept
of
'humanitarian
intervention'
remains
highly
contested.
As
such
discussion
on
the nature
of
international
responses
(state
and
non-state)
to
humanitarian
crises
require
a
shared
understanding
of
the
terms
that
frame
the
debate.
And,
it
is
therefore
necessary
to
explore
the
conceptual
and
theoretical underpinnings
and
justifications
for
humanitarian intervention
so
as
to
untangle
and
lay
bare
some
of
the
over-employed
but often least
understood
(and
agreed
upon)
concepts
and
terms
used
to
frame
the
debate
on
'humanitarian
intervention'.
The
purpose
of
this
article
is
twofold:
it
is
both
a
critique
of
the
current
usage
of
the
term
'humanitarian
intervention'
and an
attempt
to
rethink
what
humanitarian
action
might
mean
in the
context
of
a
changing
global
order.
This
critique reveals
that
the
question
of
humanitarian
action
is
in
need
of
rethinking
and
suggests
that the
conception
of
humanitarian
activity
be
recast within
a
human
rights
framework.
To
what
extent
is
it
meaningful
to
talk
in
terms
of
humanitarian
military intervention?
Is
the
concept
of
humanitarian
intervention
inherently
contradictory?
Military
intervention
in
a
complex emergency certainly
complicates
the
5
It
was
in
the
context
of
the
international
community's
response
to
Somalia
that
Security
Council Resolution
794
expanded,
for
the
first
time,
the notion
of
threat
to
peace
and
international
security
to
include
intervention
for
the
purpose
of
humanitarian
assistance.
6
For
example, contrast
the
military's
role
in
providing
mere
logistical
support
to
aid
organisations
in
Kurdistan
in
1991
and
its
role
in
leading
relief
efforts for Kosovar
refugees
in
1999.
[Vol.
6

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