Humanitarian Intervention

Categories: HumanMilitaryWar

By way of analogy, one should think of the world as a large neighborhood where people live and go about their business. Naturally, whenever one would ask for help, they would approach their neighbor for it and it is up to the latter to render that help or not if it is within their capacity to provide that help. The issue here now is what if help is not asked for and yet a neighbor sees trouble. Would he let them be or get involved to address the issue? Viewing it from a bigger picture, the world stage also faces this kind of problem.

There are states that also face a similar situation.

The challenge now is, should other states intervene even if they are not “invited? ” This is the dilemma facing members of the international community today and even the United Nations, supposedly the first line of defense and the court of last resort of states that are in danger of becoming failed states or where political instability is too much for national governments to handle on their own or they became repressive towards their own people that the latter have nowhere else to turn to.

There are some states that want to intervene in the affairs of other states precisely for this reason, which is primarily to help, nothing more.

But this would present a dilemma. Which is more important or carries more weight, (international) human rights, or (national) sovereignty? Is there a distinction between “humanitarian intervention” and imperialism? What could be well-meaning intervention to help the poor and oppressed people of a particular country could be viewed as an invasion or an encroachment or violation of sovereignty and thereby earn the condemnation of the rest of the international community.

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The issue now is if the intervention undertaken is legitimate.

Legitimacy of actions is not definite and is subjective, depending on how one views it. The Following are cases of humanitarian interventions conducted in the past and how did the international community react to it: East Pakistan (Bangladesh) – 1971: When British India became independent from Britain in 1947, it had adverse consequences, independence also led to the partition of India which saw the creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. Pakistan, in turn, was divided into West Pakistan, where the seat of government is situated and East Pakistan, located along India’s eastern border.

These two states are separated by India. Furthermore, despite carrying the same name “Pakistan,” these two states are culturally different despite being Muslim, those in the east speak Bengali, a language that is related to that of the Indians. The east Pakistanis did not feel any cultural affinity with those from the west and they feel marginalized. Because of this “cold” treatment from the west, they began batting for autonomy led by the Awami League of Sheik Mujibur Rahman. The leaders in the west saw it as an act of secession and moved swiftly to suppress it through military intervention.

What happened next was a virtual civil war as the East Pakistanis, or Bengalis resisted the West Pakistanis, seeing them more as invaders and the latter responded with severe repression that saw countless atrocities being committed. The matter was brought up the United Nations (UN) where the actions of Pakistan was condemned yet no severe action was taken as the UN Security Council was divided with the United States and China backing up Pakistan and the Soviet Union on India’s side. The partiality of the superpowers prevented any punitive measures taken against Pakistan.

India had been covertly supporting Bengali resistance served as the latter’s staging area for attacks against Pakistani occupiers. This led Pakistan to believe India joined the battle and the Third India-Pakistan War broke out. Eventually, Indian forces prevailed. India’s victory also assured the independence of East Pakistan which was renamed Bangladesh (Wheeler, 2000, pp. 63-64). Somalia (1992-1993): UN involvement in this East African nation stemmed from the famine that has nearly devastated Somalia.

This was further exacerbated by the increasing anarchy brought about by the lack of a central government and with competing warlords vying for control as civil war broke out in 1991. The UN organized a peacekeeping mission called United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) calling for the establishment of a security force of 50 UN troops in Somalia to monitor the ceasefire. Despite the UN’s efforts, the ceasefire was ignored by the warlords, especially Mohammed Farid Aidid. Fighting continued and further intensified, jeopardizing UN relief efforts as they were targeted for attacks as well.

The harassment of UN personnel prompted the intervention of the United States in what became Operation Restore Hope to ensure the continuation of the relief efforts and what makes American presence different was that it was authorized to utilize “all necessary means” to ensure the protection of the relief efforts which it initially did, conducting proactive military operations against militias until October on 1993, following the “Blackhawk Down” incident in October of 1993, the Clinton Administration, in a knee-jerk reaction to the casualties incurred (18 US soldiers killed and one captured), ordered the pull out of US forces from Somalia (Wheeler, 2000, pp. 172-176).

The absence of American military muscle also led to the pull out of UN forces from the region as well and Somalia is still what it was 10 years ago where lawlessness still prevailed and this was further evidenced by the proliferation of pirates along the Indian Ocean which used Somalia as the base of operations owing to the lawlessness there. Rwanda (1993-1994): In the case of Rwanda, ethic conflict broke out between the Hutus and Tutsis. The UN intervened through the creation of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) on October of 1993 to oversee the peace efforts in the region.

The biggest contributing countries along with Belgium were Ghana, Tunisia, Bangladesh, and Canada. In the latter part of 1993, both Hutus and Tutsis appeared to be honoring the Arusha Accords, and reaffirmed such commitment to creating a new, broad-based transitional government by the end of the year. However, things went sour following the downing of the aircraft carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntarayima of Burundi. It inflamed hatred and a killing spree ensured. Among the first targets of the genocide were Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian members of UNAMIR after handing over their weapons to Rwandan government troops.

In a knee-jerk reaction similar to what the Clinton Administration did following the international embarrassment the United States suffered in Somalia in 1993, Belgium pulled out its troops from UNAMIR and other contingents followed suit. UNAMIR was left with 270 soldiers supported by less than 200 local authorities. The UNAMIR did the best it could with what forces remained. As individuals and as a group, members of the UNAMIR forces did manage to save the lives of thousands of Tutsis in and around Kigali and the few areas of UN control. Despite their best efforts, to the eyes of the world, they appeared to be apathetic or indifferent, standing idly by as Hutus were murdering Tutsis on a larger scale.

The French deployed troops following the outbreak of the genocide yet it was for the purpose of evacuating their embassy as well as several members of the late president’s cabinet (Wheeler, 2000, p. 219). The genocide eventually abated with the arrival of a multi-national force from several African states. Yugoslavia (1995-Present): Following the collapse of the communist regime in Yugoslavia, age-old ethnic hatreds reemerged as pre-World War I states began to come back into existence as the nation Josip Broz Tito once ruled disintegrated. This was very apparent in the hatred towards the local Muslim population, particularly by the (Bosnian) Serbs.

There were eight UN PKO’s in the former Yugoslavia and they were made up of over 20 member states. Despite signing a truce, the civil war resumed and it was the Bosnian Muslims, and later the Kosovars who bore the brunt of Serb brutality which was presided over by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian leader Radovan Karadic. They invoked nationalism to inflame the passions of the Serbs who then proceeded to conduct “ethnic cleansing” which was underscored by the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 which was supposed to be a UN “safe area” and this happened after Serb forces drove a UN peacekeeping contingent out when the latter could not defend themselves against a larger Serb force and had to pull out.

In retaliation, there were some peacekeepers even held hostage by the Bosnian Muslims and used as human shields to force the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into attacking the Serbs. Seeing the ineffectiveness of the UN PKO, NATO began to intervene to add more political muscle starting with air strikes to bring the Serbs back to the negotiating table and eventually deploying troops to enforce the peace in the troubled region as a “stabilization force” and took it upon themselves to go after Serbian war criminals (Wheeler, 2000, p. 16). Analysis: Upon close analysis, all these situation involved humanitarian intervention which called for the deployment of a military force to make humanitarian relief efforts possible. Among the given cases, it would be nearly impossible to determine which is the least justified.

If there needs to be one, it would have to be India’s intervention in Pakistan’s civil war which became its war against Pakistan as well. It would be least justified if it is seen from a legal perspective. India was interfering in what seemed to be an internal dispute between Pakistan. Beyond the legal however, one has to take into consideration that India is flanked on both side by East (Bangladesh) and West Pakistan and strategically she would be in peril considering that her relationship with Pakistan is anything but cordial and as such would rather the face one opponent instead of two. Secondly, the Bengalis were closer to them than the Pakistanis despite being Muslim. Somalia, as well as Rwanda’ would turn out the ones that badly need humanitarian intervention.

Given the utter lawlessness and chaos that has visited the country, it appears that the Somalis and Rwandans could not seem to address their problems and this thereby necessitates humanitarian intervention given the fact its people are suffering from famine and genocide respectively. Aid could not get through to them since there is virtually no government there to bring order and it is the warlords who are in charge and they care about is power. After seeing the UN as weak in enforcing its will, the United States, under the first Bush Administration, took the lead in bringing order back into Somalia but unfortunately the Clinton Administration took a different approach especially after the “Blackhawk Down” incident. Instead of following through to bring Aidid to justice, they decided to pull out.

The same thing can be said in Rwanda as well, especially after the murder of the Belgian peacekeepers. Putting them together, the west appeared to be somewhat unwilling to make sacrifices to help address the problems of the Somalis and Rwandans, especially after the deaths of their people. It is as though they felt Africans were not worth saving or dying for and this has sent a wrong message – the west is unwilling to sacrifice for Africans and this also contains racist undertones and has placed a sense of embarrassment to the west for their apparent apathy or “cowardice” towards Africa. Yugoslavia proved to be the application of the lessons learned from Somalia and Rwanda as the Serbs went on an “ethnic cleansing” spree, killing Muslims.

When news of the atrocities became known throughout the world, they took a stand and finally acted upon it with the deployment of NATO forces to enforce the peace but at the same time, operate with rules of engagement that would enable them to defend themselves appropriately while carrying out this vital mission. Wheeler’s point is that moral considerations should be taken into account. It can be inferred in his work that human life is the most precious thing on the planet and these are wasted or sacrificed needlessly by their own people and government for the sake of power or out of spite. Governments are supposed to look out for their citizens and if they cannot do this, who can the people turn to? This is a symptom of a failed state and it should be the moral responsibility of the international community to help restore order. The problem with laws, both national and international is that it is not perfect.

Just because things are put into law does not mean it is perfect and explicit. Laws are inherently implicit as loopholes will be found and used to get around it and this is what prevents humanitarian interventions from taking place or condemn those who do intervene. Nevertheless, Wheeler presents a valid point in emphasizing the moral factor which he feels, as well as most of the world probably feels as well that as a (global) community, “neighbors” should look out for each other as well because what may seem an internal matter might someday move to their doorstep someday. This has to be addressed the soonest to preserve the peace and order in the community.

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Humanitarian Intervention. (2016, Sep 24). Retrieved from

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