Security Studies Program Seminar
Strategies of Humanitarian Intervention
United States Institute of Peace
19 September 2007
Questions: What explains humanitarian military intervention (HMI)?
- Humanitarian military intervention is defined as the use of military assets in a conflict zone to deliver aid or protect the local population from violence. This excludes Iraq-type episodes and natural disaster response, since the focus is on human induced short-term interventions. The objective of HMI is to assist the citizens of another country subject to the hostile actions of a local actor.
Why does this matter?
- Humanitarian crises are ongoing in Darfur, and what we find conditions our future intervention.
- HMI has implications beyond the practice itself.
- It challenges state sovereignty because it is based on the “responsibility to protect,” i.e. sovereignty is based on the states' protection of its own citizens, so failure to protect opens the door for outsiders to intervene.
- It also goes against the convention that states ought to use their military forces to protect their national interests. It further challenges the organizations and institutions tasked with intervening to expand beyond their traditional purposes.
- Lastly, it challenges the conventional understanding of the importance of morality in international relations.
Darfur is the premier example of the problems of HMI today.
- Bush Administration calls the conflict a genocide. This is perhaps the first time that the U.S. has identified an ongoing genocide as such. The legal definition of genocide depends on the intentions of the aggressor, making this conclusion difficult to come by, and limiting the scope of possible other interventions.
- Despite the broad public outcry, we remain uncertain of what the US or the international community should do to end the conflict. People say something must be done, but what specific steps are uncertain. Do they mean safe zones, regime change, protecting DPs, or something else?
Because of the stakes of HMI, we need to ask: “Can it be justified?” and “Does it work?
- The justness of the intervention follows in large part from current understandings of just war theory. The concept of what war is just has evolved significantly over time, but two conditions appear most critical today: (1) a significant humanitarian issue, and (2) a reasonable chance of a “successful” outcome.
Have past HMIs been successful?
- “Success” here means the saving of lives in the short-term (i.e. how many people would have died if the crisis continued without the intervention). This study does not look at the longer-term implications of intervention, since the direct impact of intervention is much more difficult to measure. To study the direct human effects of intervention, we can examine 6 HMIs with 18 discrete military operations:
- Northern Iraq
- East Timor
- For each of these cases, we can examine the causes of death and the circumstances and develop a careful estimate of how many lives were saved based on particular elements of the intervention.
- We find that 13 operations saved lives, while 5 failed to do so; still, because more people died than were saved, it is clear there are grounds for improvement.
- What, then, explains the variation in outcomes?
- The success or failure of an intervention depends on the intervener, not by the characteristics of the crisis. The intervener can decide how to address a particular crisis, and what resources will be used to that end.
- Key variables - needs of the population, timing of intervention, political interests, and the strategies of the intervener (which involve specifying resources and risk acceptance)
- Fundamentally, HMI is a political activity for the intervener. The moral implications of the intervention are certainly involved, but the intervener's political constraints dictate how they proceed.
- From this, we can create a typology of intervention
- Strategy is how political means are developed from political ends
- Depending on the political and humanitarian considerations, we can construct a 2x2 matrix of the different objectives and possible strategies
Focus on Victims
Focus on Perpetrators
Objective: assist aid delivery
Strategy: avoidance of conflict
Objective: protect aid operations
Strategies: deterrence, defense
Objective: save victims
Strategies: deterrence, defense, compellence
Objective: defeat perpetrator
Strategies: compellence, offense
4. Note that there are multiple choices of strategies for certain categories, but the aims and concerns of the intervener limit these choices.
Ultimately, four factors explain success or failure across the cases:
- Matching the political purposes with the military means employed. In Kosovo, the bombing was meant to help protect the Kosovar Albanians but we never prepared for what the Serb military might do in response.
- Matching the strategies of intervention with the needs of the local population.
- Political estimates of the strategic requirement of intervention, e.g. the use of deterrence when compellence is needed, the resource and risk requirements therein
- Finally, “facts on the ground” – what is clear in theory is not always clear in practice; mission creep can take place and novel strategies adopted by the aggressors.
- HMI can be justified, but only rarely
- Type of intervention and strategies pursued determine success or failure
- HMI is political, so success is more likely when political interests are at stake
- With a coherent strategy, HMI often succeeds in part but not in full
- One question sought to go further in understanding how the estimates of people saved were collected. Epidemiological methods were used to create a baseline and estimate how many fewer people died when the intervention happened. These methods appear to be most reliable in the case of disease rather than in violence. Violence is more difficult to estimate since it is likely to vary much more than disease.
- Another questioner sought to probe the rationale behind the right to protect. The liberal ideas underlying the right to protect are in contrast to the communitarian ideas behind the prohibition on genocide, so these ideas may at some level be in conflict. The focus on genocide may be in part a matter of convenience, given the existing force of the anti-genocide regime.
- The final question probed the possibility of examining intervention without considering the ultimate political results. While some interventions did end the war, calculating their total benefit would likely prove even more difficult than in the cases specified, so the benefits of these war ending interventions remains uncertain.
Rapporteur: Andrew Radin
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Fall 2007