Conclusion: Realizing Legitimate Humanitarian Intervention
Conclusion: Realizing Legitimate Humanitarian Intervention
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter considers how we can achieve legitimate humanitarian intervention in the future. The challenges are threefold. First, there are too many occasions when humanitarian intervention should be undertaken, but is not. How, then, can the general willingness of potential interveners to undertake humanitarian intervention be increased? Second, too often the most legitimate agent fails to act. How can we improve the likelihood of the most legitimate agent intervening? Third, there need to be significant reforms to the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention. How can these reforms be realized? In response to these challenges, the chapter first re‐emphasizes our duties to meet these challenges. Second, it offers some proposals for amending states' perceptions of their national interest. Third, it emphasizes that humanitarian intervention is an important, but limited, part of the responsibility to protect.
My aim in this book has been to consider a central issue in the ethics and politics of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect: when the world is faced with a serious humanitarian crisis, which international actor, if any, should undertake humanitarian intervention to help those suffering? Drawing on the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach, I have argued that an intervener that possesses an adequate degree of legitimacy possesses the right to intervene—which may, in practice, mean that many interveners can permissibly intervene—and that the most legitimate agent has the duty to intervene—which may, in practice, mean that NATO or a hybrid force is morally obliged to do so. I have also argued that the current agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention are inadequate. In particular, interveners are often unwilling to step forward and, when they do intervene, humanitarian intervention is typically far from being fully legitimate. For this reason, Chapter 8 considered various proposals for improving the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention and defended two reforms in particular: in the long term, the development of a cosmopolitan UN force in the hands of cosmopolitan democratic institutions and, more immediately, the strengthening and reform of regional organizations.
Since Chapter 7 provided a detailed summary of the normative arguments from the previous chapters, I will not recap the main points here. Instead, I want to finish by considering how we can achieve legitimate humanitarian intervention in the future. The challenges are threefold. First, as we have seen, there are too many occasions when humanitarian intervention should be undertaken, but is not. The result is that many serious humanitarian crises continue unabated. How, then, can the general willingness of potential interveners to undertake humanitarian intervention be increased? Second, too often the most legitimate agent, such as NATO, fails to act. How can we, then, improve the likelihood of the most legitimate agent intervening? Third, there need to be significant reforms to the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention. How can these reforms be realized?
(p.246) In response to these challenges, I first re‐emphasize our duties to meet these challenges. Second, I offer some proposals for amending states' perceptions of their national interest. Third, I emphasize that humanitarian intervention is an important, but limited, part of the responsibility to protect.
9.1 The Duty to Reform
Before considering more practical proposals for achieving legitimate humanitarian intervention, it is worth reiterating the duties that fall on us to strive towards this goal. In Chapter 1, I defended the General Duty Approach, which asserts that there is a general, unassigned duty to undertake humanitarian intervention in certain circumstances. This duty needs to be assigned to be effectively claimable. I have argued that it should be assigned to the most legitimate agent which, according to the Moderate Instrumentalist Approach, will often be the intervener that is most likely to be effective. In practice, this may be NATO or a hybrid force—much depends on the particular circumstances. But once we know the details of the case, it should be made clear to the intervener most likely to be legitimate that it has the duty to undertake humanitarian intervention. If it fails in this duty, then it is morally culpable. However, this lack of action would not justify the non‐intervention of other interveners. The duty to intervene will fall then on the next most legitimate intervener and so on.
In Chapter 1, I suggested that the general, unassigned duty to intervene largely stems from the more fundamental duty to prevent human suffering, which asserts that there is a duty to do what we can to prevent, to halt, and to decrease substantial human suffering, such as that found in genocide and large‐scale violations of basic human rights. If we take this duty seriously, it falls on most international actors to work towards improving the capacity to undertake legitimate humanitarian intervention. As Tan argues, ‘all members are obliged to do what is necessary to establish and support the cooperative arrangement required to carry out the duty to protect’ (2006a: 104). To prevent human suffering legitimately and frequently, we need to create a cosmopolitan UN force and place it in the hands of cosmopolitan democratic institutions. Again as Tan argues, the duty to intervene ‘can generate the duty to create a global humanitarian defence force if the creation of this force is required to ensure that the response to humanitarian emergencies is acceptably efficient’ (2006a: 105). Thus, there is a duty to create a large‐scale cosmopolitan UN force with accompanying democratic institutions and to enhance regional organizations' capabilities to intervene because these are (p.247) central to ensuring that substantial human suffering is tackled. So, although only the most legitimate intervener has the duty to intervene, it falls on all of us to act on the duty to reform the current agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention.
9.2 Will and Interest
It is important not to be too pessimistic about the likelihood of these duties being fulfilled, that is, of the chances of achieving legitimate humanitarian intervention by increasing the willingness to intervene and realizing the two main reforms suggested in Chapter 8. There has already been a significant increase in the number of humanitarian interventions since the end of the Cold War. In addition, the agreement to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect at the World Summit was something of a watershed moment for humanitarian intervention. It marked the universal acceptance of the permissibility of humanitarian intervention in certain circumstances. In particular, it asserts the permissibility of Security Council‐authorized intervention (in certain circumstances) and, in doing so, rejects absolute non‐interventionism. It also acknowledges that a state's sovereignty is conditional on the treatment of its population. These are important milestones in the history of humanitarian intervention, the responsibility to protect, and state sovereignty more generally.
Moreover, support for humanitarian intervention has generally been maintained over the past decade, despite the fear that the War on Terror and the 2003 war on Iraq would undermine the support for military action in the name of humanitarianism. The US‐ and UK‐led operation in Iraq, in particular, threatened to damage the credibility of humanitarian intervention irrevocably, since one of the justifications offered by George Bush and Tony Blair was essentially humanitarian: to end the violation of human rights by the Ba'athist regime and to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. That this war used force indiscriminately, involved the abuse of civilians, and has led, in effect, to civil war, could have created an unrelenting cynicism and rejection of any international action for apparently humanitarian purposes. The risk of world public opinion and elites being against any future international action with a purported humanitarian justification was increased further by the degree of worldwide attention on—and condemnation of—the war. Indeed, the War on Terror and the 2003 war on Iraq led Weiss to conclude that ‘the sun of humanitarian intervention has set for now’ (2004: 149).
(p.248) However, there have still been a number of humanitarian interventions since the launch of the War on Terror. More specifically, although there has been a decline in the number of the classical forms of humanitarian interventions of the 1990s (such as NATO's intervention in Kosovo), there has been an expansion in robust UN and regional peace operations—the grey area between traditional peacekeeping and classical humanitarian intervention discussed in Chapter 1. Examples include intervention in Côte d'Ivoire by France, the UN, and ECOWAS, MONUC and the EU's Operation Artemis in DR Congo. In fact, as discussed in Chapter 7, it is a boom time for UN peace operations. In addition, there continue to be calls for humanitarian intervention to be undertaken in a number of other places where the mass violation of basic human rights currently goes unchecked (such as for the deployment of a UN force to Somalia).
Moreover, the fact that there have been a number of proposals for reform, such as for the creation of the African Standby Force, demonstrates that there is a certain degree of will in the international community to reform the current mechanisms of humanitarian intervention. Furthermore, the fact that there have been a number of actual reforms, such as improvements made to the UN and the development of EU battlegroups, demonstrates that this will is sometimes sufficiently strong to achieve reform. To be sure, as detailed in Chapter 7, there are still too many humanitarian crises that currently go unchecked and, when humanitarian intervention does occur, it often has significant flaws. Much still needs to be done to improve the current levels of willingness and the capabilities of potential interveners. Nevertheless, my point is that the improvements that there have been and the continued, if occasional, willingness to intervene—despite the War on Terror and the war in Iraq—show that attempting to improve further current humanitarian interveners is not unduly idealistic. Of course, we need to increase significantly the will to reform and the will to undertake humanitarian intervention if we are to achieve legitimate humanitarian intervention on a much more frequent basis.
Central to improving the will to reform the mechanisms and agents of humanitarian intervention is improving the will to undertake humanitarian intervention. If international actors are keener to intervene to tackle egregious violations of human rights, then they will be more likely to push for reforms to the current mechanisms and agents of humanitarian intervention that will enable them to do so more effectively and, ultimately, legitimately. On the other hand, one way to improve the international community's will to intervene is to improve the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian (p.249) intervention. Most of the reforms discussed in Chapter 8, if put in place, would help, to some extent, to overcome the reluctance to undertake intervention. In particular, one of the benefits of increasing the ability of regional organizations to undertake humanitarian intervention is that this would take advantage of their greater willingness to intervene, which is currently limited by their lack of capacity (Hirsh 2000: 6).1
One way of improving the will to undertake humanitarian intervention and to reform the current mechanisms and agents of intervention is to encourage a subtle adjustment in states' perceptions of their national interest. In this context, Kofi Annan has called for a new, broader definition of the national interest in which states recognize that the collective interest is identical with their national interest (Abbott 2005: 7). To that extent, humanitarian intervention carried out effectively by states (or other agents) can have massive potential benefits for that intervener, such as increased international status, greater standing in regional organizations, and the opening up of new foreign markets. More generally, most of us have an interest in a just global order. A more narrow understanding of the national interest misses such benefits.
Furthermore, Chris Brown (2005: 227) argues that we need to get away from treating humanitarianism as a separate category of state behaviour. This is the product of a Realist mindset, he argues, since it takes states to be rational egoists who act in the pursuit of their material interest, with anything that varies from this requiring explanation. The danger with this mindset is that it will be reinforcing. That is to say, it will lead to a lack of humanitarian intervention, with states regarding standing by in the face of a humanitarian crisis as the behaviour expected of them, unless there is a material interest clearly involved. Brown (2005: 228) proposes instead that we adopt a more ideational notion of interests, which would remove the need for a separate category of humanitarian action. On this more ideational view, tackling humanitarian crises may be, in fact, in the national interest because, as Evans asserts, ‘[e]very country has an interest in being, and being seen to be, a good international citizen’ (2008b: 229).
But even on narrow understandings of self‐interest, humanitarian intervention can be justified. There has been a growing realization that the disruption caused by a humanitarian crisis far away can have significant domestic effects. For instance, failed (and failing) states often lead to large refugee flows and are increasingly being regarded as breeding grounds for international terrorism (Terriff 2004 a; Welsh 2004: 189). Evans argues that ‘states that cannot or will not stop internal atrocity crimes are the kind of states that cannot or will not stop terrorism, weapons proliferation, drug and people trafficking, the spread of health pandemics, and other global risks’ (2008b: 229). It is important, therefore, that these links between humanitarian (p.250) intervention and national interest be emphasized, thereby tapping into a potential source of political will to undertake humanitarian intervention and to implement reform.
9.3 Utilizing the Responsibility to Protect
Perhaps the greatest hope for improving the will to intervene and to implement reform, and thereby respond to the three challenges, lies with the responsibility to protect. This doctrine has received significant international attention since the original ICISS report in 2001. Changes to the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention are now often cast in terms of ‘realizing’ the responsibility to protect.2 By contrast, the lack of an effective response to serious humanitarian crises is said to constitute a ‘failure’ in the implementation of the responsibility to protect.3 In other words, this doctrine has significant rhetorical and political force and, as such, is central to improving the willingness and legitimacy of humanitarian intervention. For instance, Ban Ki‐Moon has identified operationalizing the responsibility to protect as one of his key priorities and appointed Edward Luck as his special adviser on the doctrine (Wheeler and Egerton 2009: 115). Several research and advocacy centres have also been set up, including in Accra, Brisbane, Madrid, New York, and Oslo (Wheeler and Egerton 2009: 115). State officials, NGOs, aid workers, and diplomats are increasingly using the language of the responsibility to protect in relation to conflict situations, and global worldwide public opinion (including in non‐Western states) appears to support the doctrine (Cottey 2008: 436). Casting the reforms in terms of the responsibility to protect may make their realization more likely as international actors treat acting on this responsibility as morally and politically urgent.
Yet, to make use of the will surrounding the responsibility to protect to achieve these reforms, it is important to reiterate that (a) humanitarian intervention is only one part of the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, but that (b) it is a part of the responsibility to protect. As discussed in Chapter 1, humanitarian intervention is both broader and narrower than the responsibility to protect. It is broader since certain forms of humanitarian intervention are clearly ruled out by the ICISS and World Summit versions of the responsibility to protect. For instance, on the version of the responsibility to protect endorsed at the World Summit, humanitarian intervention may fall under the responsibility to protect only when it has Security Council authorization and is in response to a state's manifest failure to tackle ethnic (p.251) cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Humanitarian intervention in other cases—without UN Security Council authorization and in response to less serious situations—could not be included under the responsibility to protect. Conversely, humanitarian intervention is narrower since the responsibility to protect involves much more than humanitarian intervention. Military intervention is only one part of the responsibility to react, which in turn is only one part of the responsibility to protect—the responsibility to prevent and the responsibility to rebuild are other central elements of the doctrine.
In fact, a limited version of the responsibility to protect, such as that agreed to at the World Summit, where military intervention is less pronounced, may receive greater support and political will, and thus (perhaps paradoxically) may best help to achieve the reforms required. Let me explain. Despite the increased acceptance of humanitarian intervention, intervention is still controversial. Many state leaders, especially those in the Global South, fear that they will be subject to humanitarian intervention. In some cases, this might be because they are involved in the abuses of their population's human rights. Others fear (perhaps erroneously) that humanitarian intervention will be used as a Trojan Horse to engage in abusive intervention.4 Other states are less concerned that they will be subject to intervention themselves, but are concerned about the potentially destabilizing effects of humanitarian intervention for their surrounding region and that a general doctrine of humanitarian intervention will weaken their state sovereignty.5 To guard against abuse and to limit the occasions of intervention, many assert that unauthorized intervention is impermissible. Likewise, China and Russia insist that there must be Council approval for any authorization (Bellamy 2006 b: 151), partly because this ensures that they can veto any intervention not to their liking.
This opposition to humanitarian intervention—and, in particular, certain forms of humanitarian intervention (i.e. unauthorized, unilateral interventions)—means that to maintain agreement around the responsibility to protect, it is necessary to limit it to a narrow doctrine, such as that endorsed at the World Summit. Indeed, within expert and policy‐making circles many use the more conservative World Summit form of the responsibility to protect for fear of undermining the international support.6 This is not simply a fop to dictators and violators of human rights. The responsibility to protect has enormous potential if it can be taken forward. As I have argued, it could prompt the reforms necessary to undertake legitimate humanitarian intervention and, ultimately, lead to less suffering worldwide. There are other reasons for trying to maintain support for the responsibility to protect. It could become a clear and established legal norm that reinforces the (p.252) conditionality of state sovereignty on the protection of human rights, could motivate states to improve their human rights records, and could lead to the development of early warning and other preventative capacities. A central aim, therefore, of the responsibility to protect is to avoid the need for military intervention. By acting on the responsibility to prevent by, for instance, developing early‐warning capacity, violent disturbances may be checked before they become serious humanitarian crises that require military intervention.
My suggestion, then, is that the responsibility to protect be treated fairly narrowly, as in the World Summit agreement, but that humanitarian intervention is still clearly demarcated as one aspect of the responsibility to protect doctrine. Indeed, to achieve the reforms and improvement in willingness necessary for legitimate humanitarian intervention, it is important to emphasize that humanitarian intervention (albeit only certain, less controversial forms of humanitarian intervention) is still part of the responsibility to protect. In fact, Nicholas Wheeler and Frazer Egerton argue that humanitarian intervention is the area where the responsibility to protect has ‘the greatest potential to save strangers, and yet faces its greatest challenges at the same time’ (2009: 116). If we ignore, overlook, or exclude forcible military intervention from the responsibility to protect, we will be adopting a head‐in‐the‐sand approach about the hard choices that will sometimes need to be made about military intervention.7 Humanitarian crises may still sometimes become serious enough to warrant intervention and this should be viewed as a potential option. And if it is seen as one, perhaps extreme option, then it is necessary that there is the capacity to undertake legitimately this option when needed. In other words, reform of the agents and mechanisms of humanitarian intervention is part of operationalizing the responsibility to protect. Clearly marking out a circumscribed role for humanitarian intervention under the responsibility to protect may make the most of the impetus for reform surrounding this doctrine. For instance, former Canadian foreign affairs minister, Lloyd Axworthy, and former ambassador of Canada to the UN, Allan Rock, (2009: 60–1), argue for the development of the United Nations Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) as part of the ‘unfinished business’ of realizing the responsibility to protect.
It is also important to reiterate that other forms of humanitarian intervention can occur outside the remit of the responsibility to protect, most notably interventions without the authorization of the Security Council, such as the NATO action in Kosovo. The fact that they are not included within the responsibility to protect doctrine should not rule them out completely. The danger is that the responsibility to protect could end up being used as a major impediment to legitimate humanitarian intervention. It could place (p.253) all the decisions to intervene in the hands of the Security Council, whose permanent five may block intervention and set the bar for intervention very high. The result could be that certain tyrannical and authoritarian leaders do what they want to their citizens as the previously more willing agents refuse to intervene for fear of violating the responsibility to protect doctrine. Defenders of the responsibility to protect assert that one of its key draws is that it offers a wide variety of different responses to serious humanitarian crises, rather than solely military intervention. If we are concerned with a broad array of measures, then humanitarian intervention that is outside the remit of the responsibility to protect should also be on the table as part of the potential responses to serious humanitarian crises.8
Conceptualizing humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect in these ways will help to draw on the appeal of the responsibility to protect doctrine. This, in turn, could improve the willingness to intervene and to reform the current agents and mechanisms of intervention. Such improvements are vital if we are to legitimately tackle and prevent serious humanitarian crises in the future.
(1) See, further, Evans (2008 b: 223–41), who argues that from his (notable) experience, there are four key elements to mobilizing political will: knowledge of the problem; concern to do something about it; suitable institutions to deliver; and effective leadership.
(3) For instance, the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, Life is Life, and the West Papua Advocacy Team cite the responsibility to protect in their attempt to persuade the US government to investigate human rights abuses in West Papua (ETAN 2009). Likewise, a joint letter by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, and the International Crisis Group (International Crisis Group 2009) to the Japanese prime minister invokes the responsibility to protect. This was as part of the effort to convince Japan to support the reporting of the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka in 2009 to the Security Council.
(4) See, for example, the statement by Hugo Chavez that the responsibility to protect doctrine is ‘very suspicious…tomorrow or sometime in the future, someone in Washington will say that the Venezuelan people need to be protected from the tyrant Chavez, who is a threat’ (in Santos 2005). Also see Bellamy (2009 a) and Focarelli (2008) for surveys of states' lingering fears of abusive humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect.(p.254)
(5) It is worth noting that this is not simply a North versus South issue: several states in the Global South supported the responsibility to protect in the negotiations around the 2005 World Summit. Useful collections of government statements by region on the responsibility to protect can be found at <http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/government_statements/c129>.
(7) See, further, Welsh's (2009) warnings of the dangers of focusing solely on conflict prevention at the expense of the ‘hard power’ measures of coercive action, which will still sometimes be required.
(8) This may seem to go against the spirit of the ICISS's (2001a) attempts to integrate humanitarian intervention as part of the responsibility to protect. As I have discussed, however, the responsibility to protect doctrine has since taken on a broader significance beyond the issue of humanitarian intervention and the agreement at the World Summit (which is favoured by many) adopts a narrower account of humanitarian intervention. This makes it necessary to leave scope for humanitarian intervention outside the remit of the doctrine.