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Debate: Humanitarian intervention

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Should the international community interfere in domestic affairs at times of humanitarian crises?

Background and context

Abuse: Can the humanitarian intervention avoid being abused?


  • Abuse of humanitarian intervention does not disqualify it. While it is certainly true that the language of humanitarian intervention can be significantly abused, this does not disqualify the legitimate use of humanitarian intervention all together. It is analogous to banning driving because some people abuse the privilege and drive recklessly. The solution, therefore, is setting clear rules and processes for humanitarian intervention.


  • Rhetoric of humanitarian intervention has been abused historically. For example, Japan's attack on Manchuria, Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, and Hitler's occupation of parts of Czechoslovakia were all proclaimed to be humanitarian intervention and were accompanied by high-minded rhetoric. There are plenty more examples but these are the most telling.
  • The concept of humanitarian intervention has, almost (if not completely) exclusively, been used as a veil for self-interest I challenge anyone to give examples to the contrary. There have been 3 interventions that have qualified as humanitarian, but all of them were claimed to be purely self-interested. These were Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978, India's invasion of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971 and Tanzania's invasion of Uganda in 1978. It is possible that the UN could conduct a humanitarian intervention but to achieve this it would be necessary to abolish the security council, since it caters to the self-interest of the big powers. And that is hardly going to happen. Humanitarian intervention is a nice ideal but in the real world it is simply a cover for self-interest and almost exclusively ends in disaster.

History: Have humanitarian interventions proven successful historically?


  • UN has successfully intervened for humanitarian reasons many times. There are dozens of examples of the UN intervening successfully and legitimately in the internal affairs of states that are violating the humanitarian rights of its citizens or foreign citizens, or which cannot adequately uphold humanitarian rights.


  • US humanitarian interventions have proven to be atrocities The United States proclaimed themselves to be the guardians of humanitarian intervention in the 90's even though they conducted no humanitarian interventions, but they did commit many awful atrocities. The first US intervention of the 90's was in Iraq. This was supposedly in response to the invasion of Kuwait but since there were still diplomatic routes open to ending the occupation this is a ridiculous assertion. Also, the US didn't care about territorial integrity when they invaded Panama in 1989, with very similar circumstances and death toll to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The intervention had numerous violations of human rights and international law, such as the use of depleted uranium shells and the bombing of civilian targets such as houses and water treatment facilities. The bombing was responsible for the deaths of about 200,000 people. But the US continued to intervene in Iraq and maintained sanctions under the pretense of forcing Saddam out of power. But these sanctions caused suffering on an enormous scale. Food and medicine was blocked and children starved to death and died from curable diseases and there was no clean up of depleted uranium which resulted in unparalleled cancer and leukemia epidemics. The sanctions were responsible for the deaths of about 1.5 million people by 1998, most of them children, according to US judge Ramsey Clark. They were also described as genocidal by Dennis Halliday, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq who resigned in protest of the sanctions. This was added to many other grievous abuses. These include the terrorist attack on the Al-Shifra pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, killing tens of thousands of people and destroying more than half the pharmaceuticals to the poor country with aids, tuberculosis and cholera epidemics; the double intervention in Somalia, killing 6 to 10 thousand people, mainly women and children; and support for Turkish atrocities against the Kurds, Colombian atrocities against it's own people and Indonesian genocide in East Timor, all quite arguably the worst crimes of the 1990's along with the genocide in Bosnia and the US led sanctions on Iraq.

NATO in Kosovo: Was NATO's humanitarian intervention in NATO justified?


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  • NATO bombing of Serbia, intervention in Kosovo worsened situation. For example the Nato bombing of Serbia to "protect" Kosovo is one of the most cited examples of humanitarian intervention. But the bombing, as well as killing many innocent Serbians, also greatly escalated the murdering of Kosovar Albanians by the Serb police - a response anticipated by NATO Commander General Wesley Clark and US Secretary Of State, madeline Albright. Far from solving the problem of ethnic cleansing against the Kosovar Albanians, the bombing merely exacerbated it. The Belgrade Centre For Human Rights wrote that “the airstrike erases the results of 10 years of hard work by NGOs etc. and the democratic opposition to promote non-violent conflict resolution etc.” So this "humanitarian intervention" not only killed innocent Serbians and exacerbated the crimes against the Kosovar Albanians but it destroyed the hope for a peaceful overthrow of Milosevic.

Do we need humanitarian intervention to stop the most urgent crises?



  • The most urgent crisis in the world is starvation and we do not need humanitarian intervention to end that. According to the UN, "The Right To Food: Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/25”, 36 million people die of starvation every year. That's the equivalent deaths of the Nazi holocaust against jews every 2 months. This is despite the fact that the world currently produces enough food to adequately feed everybody and according to the Food And Agricultural Organization Of The United Nations' 2008 report the world could produce twice as much food. According to UNICEF, it would cost $40 billion a year to ensure universal access to basic education for all, basic health care, reproductive health care for all women, adequate food and clean water and safe sewers. This would surely end starvation. The world military budget is approximately $1.1 trillion. So with approximately 1/30th of the world military budget starvation could be ended. Other steps that move toward ending world hunger include stopping businesses and governments of rich countries exploiting poor countries for their resources and their labour and paying them grossly unfair amounts for it, thrusting them further into poverty. This, along with the environment and nuclear weapons, is the most urgent crisis on earth and none of them require a humanitarian intervention. Instead of focusing our resources on intervention we should focus them on stopping these crises.

See also

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