POLM084 Conflict, Security and Development in World Politics,Essay 1:
Is humanitarian intervention a form of neo-imperialism?
The notion of “humanitarian intervention” is based upon the issue of a states’ failure to protect its own citizens/civilians, when a state fails to protect its population from forms of extreme violence, genocide, civil unrest or war; that states’ sovereignty is lost and other states may intervene (with military forces) to protect and alleviate human lively-hood from further suffering. Not only is the term itself slightly contradictory wherein to resolve conflict and bring about peace a state can intervene with military force, but it also has a deep-rooted epistemological issue of breach of state sovereignty and state interest. Humanitarian intervention has over the last couple of decades put into question the legitimacy and effectiveness of intervention in other states but has also served as an altruistic disguise for the liberal world to proliferate its values, creating today a new form of liberal imperialism and global governance.This will be the focus of this essay in which will be discussed the current upsurge of western humanitarian interventionism across the world. Contrarily to those who believe and preach that humanitarian intervention is a moral and altruistic obligation, I argue that the increased militarization of world politics has made humanitarian intervention routine across the global south and is being used as a function of a neo-imperialist posture driven by a western will to domination and desire to restructure the world in line with the ideological preference of liberalism as the dominant ideological formation of contemporary imperialism. First, to understand how humanitarian intervention has become the disguise for liberal world governance must be considered its history and its evolution over the last few decades. After discussing the evolution of humanitarian intervention shall be discussed the practise and effectiveness of humanitarian intervention on the ground, illustrated with cases such as Somalia, Libya and Kosovo, to compare the reality of this practise in comparison to its moral background. Finally, I’ll interrogate how humanitarian intervention is being served as a tool for western/liberal powers to gain geo-political dominance on certain regions and the propagation of liberal imperialism.
Although humanitarian intervention has proliferated since the 1990’s, it is not a new concept. The concept of humanitarian intervention was first coined by the jurist Hugo Grotius in his De Jure Belli ac Pacis in 1625, where he stated that “a state may exercise a right of intervention when a tyrant inflicts upon his subjects inhuman suffering”. Moreover, true forms of humanitarian intervention and creation of International communities for human relief date back to the mid nineteenth century, such as the European intervention by France, Britain and Russia in the Ottoman Empire to protect Greek Christians in 1827 and the creation of the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded in 1863. These events provided the foundations for the principle of classical humanitarian intervention, based the following four developments: “the crystallization of the idea of humanitarian action; the institutionalization of that same idea with the creation of what has become the most well-known international organization in human crises responses; the codification of the idea of humanitarian action in humanitarian law with the definition of the Hague Law (1899 and 1907) and the 1949 Geneva Conventions (Geneva Law); and finally, the will of a sovereign authority to place humanitarian imperative above national interests and security”. Classical Humanitarianism is characterized by the protection of the livelihood and dignity of individuals whom are not part of an armed conflict, it’s aim is to protect all individuals such as civilians, refugees and internally displaced people. The underlying principle of classical humanitarian action is that of impartiality and neutrality whereby it commits to provide assistance without any distinction of religion, ethnicity or race; individuals equally deserve immediate relief when their basic needs are compromised. Indeed, classical humanitarianism is one of impartiality and neutrality and it not linked to any form of political ideology.
Humanitarian action continued to follow this vison until the 1990’s. The end of the Cold War brought about many challenges for the international community, the emergence of a “new world order” and the changing nature of the geo-political climate created more complex and extreme forms of violence, conflict, civil war and situations in which the livelihood, subsistence and dignity of individuals were being withdrawn. The development of these new challenges prompted the international community to reform its mandate on humanitarian intervention in an attempt to alleviate human suffering and distress across the globe. Thus, due to the changing internal climate of conflict and the emergence of “complex humanitarian emergencies” was created and reformed a new form of humanitarian intervention which detached itself from its traditional and classical views of impartiality and neutrality. The emergence of “new humanitarianism” proposed a more integrated approach to intervention, which took into consideration the multidimensional nature of conflict and humanitarian action. New humanitarianism takes into account broader and long-term objectives of humanitarian action, putting security, development and peace at the fore front of intervention. Therefore, no longer did humanitarian intervention seek to solely protect the immediate needs of individuals in distress but started to incorporate future development mandates to states. Interventions across the global south were now to take place to reinforce “local services and structures, empowerment, participation and enhancement of the population capacities, human rights promotion and protection (including gender issues) and contribution to peacebuilding”. The linking of humanitarian intervention to conflict resolution and post conflict development incorporates “new humanitarianism” into the security-development nexus.
However, this emergence of new humanitarianism with a stronger focus on interventionism and erosion on classical principles has brought about much debate around the effectiveness objectives of major international actors (mainly western states and the United Nations) involved in humanitarian action. To understand why there is such debate surrounding the effectiveness and objectives of humanitarian intervention since the end of the Cold War requires further investigation into its practise.
Secondly, to investigate the successes and failures of the practise of humanitarian intervention since the 1990’s needs to be considered the realities of intervention on the ground. “New humanitarianism” evolved in a time of new moral optimism whereabouts the international community had a strong will to proliferate peace, security and human rights. However, what was reflected in interventions/non-intervention on the ground was a faraway reality to what was being portrayed. The illusion of a more peaceful and secure world painted at the end of the cold war was very short lived. The outbreak of the ex-Yugoslavia war in 1991 showed the incompetence of the international community to respond correctly and effectively in times of crisis on a humanitarian basis. Shortly after the war broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992, western powers did little to intervene, no military intervention was sent out and containment was the strategy adopted by the UN and the liberal democracies which uphold it. Instead of concretising their rhetoric of a “new world order” and legitimizing the promotion of human rights and maintenance of peace and security, the UN showed its true colours. The reality of the situation was that the outbreak of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina did not align with their strategic interests and thus intervention did not happen, concluding in mass suffering of individuals across Yugoslavia. Much of this stance can be reflected in the events in Somalia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994 which truly extinguished much of the hope for good practice of humanitarian intervention and the end to gross violations of human rights.
The case of Somalia in 1992 illustrates perfectly the new challenges that the international community faced. These “new wars” as Kaldor’s explains propose new challenges on how war and violence were perceived, in the case of Somalia there was a complete absence of government or political structure which meant that humanitarian intervention was difficult to provide. As Barnett says the lack of governmental structure in Somalia meant that aid workers increasingly had to deal with warlords and militants in order to provide and distribute aid relief to the population in need. Although there was no lack on humanitarian aid sent to Somalia, some scholars perceive UN and American intervention in this state as a “relatively risk free” and “a short-term operation”, which was to serve as a shiny beacon of successful humanitarian intervention after the catastrophes of Bosnia. Unfortunately, the events that preceded the 5th of June 1992, the killing of peace keeping troops put forward a clear change in the humanitarian mission in Somalia and the end of “peaceful intervention” in the region. Subsequently, UN military troops were deployed to the region and shortly after the US decided to get involved politically and militarily which was the first-time intervention had happened without any political or strategic interest. This all resulted in heavily mediatized and publicized American deaths on television screen across the world. The consequences of the military intervention in Somalia brought end to humanitarian intervention in state which didn’t affects national interest. As Shawcross states “US peacekeepers must never again become party to a conflict; their protection must be the overriding priority of US policy”. These events shed a dark shadow humanitarian intervention for years after.The effects of humanitarian intervention in Bosnia and Somalia reflected the future unwillingness of Western states to intervene further in other states for fear of (western) casualties in the pursuit of humanitarian aims that were not in their state prerogative or interest. The consequences of non-intervention most tragically represented itself in Rwanda in 1994. The tragic loss of life that manifested itself during the Genocide in Rwanda was all of a back lash of the past humanitarian intervention in the early 1990’s, as Wheeler says “as a consequence of disaster and failure in one African country, the Security Council would become a bystander to genocide in another”. The loss of near to a million Rwandans in 1994 with no doubts shows the lack of effectiveness of humanitarian intervention, with western states preferably defending their own strategic interests than to alleviate human suffering in foreign states. Despite much criticism surrounding humanitarian intervention in the early 1990’s, international actors did not abandon intervention or their efforts to protect civilians. By reviewing their earlier failures, major intervening powers and the UN updated their intervention strategies and undertook a new set of norms to alleviate human suffering and distress. The turn of a new leaf for humanitarian intervention took place in 1995, after the Bosnian Serb forces executed near to 8,000 prisoners in Srebrenica. After this tragedy, the US swiftly put aside it’s “non-interventionist stance” and led a “forceful diplomatic and military effort to end the war”. With support from reluctant European states and UN peacekeeping commanders the Operation Deliberate Force was put into place. Soon after, Serbian heads of states were brought to the negotiating table and the Dayton agreement ended the war.
Outside the Balkans, the international community continued to adapt its approach to conflicts with similar success. In 1999, after a referendum on EastTimor s secession from Indonesia led to Indonesian atrocities against Timorese civilians, the un quickly authorized an 11,000-strong Australian-led military force to end the violence. The intervention eventually produced an independent EastTimor at peace with Indonesia. Later missions in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’lvoire used a similar model of deploying a regional military force in coordination with the un and, on occasion, European powers