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The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.

The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention

by Rajan Menon

Reviewed by Richard M. Meinhart, Professor of Defense and Joint Processes, US Army War College

Rajan Menon, who has published extensively on many related topics, provides a realistic approach to the reasons nation-states become involved in humanitarian interventions with military campaigns focused on ending mass atrocities. Mass atrocities may be spurred by a variety of reasons to include ethnic conflict or cleansing, wars of succession or revolutions, and genocide or race hatred. Menon proposes that states primarily become involved in these warlike humanitarian interventions if it is in the state's national interests. Others, using a more liberalist approach, have articulated that many campaigns were focused on ensuring universal human rights across the globe, which have expanded with the ending of the Cold War and the need for a "Responsibility to Protect (R2P)." There are real tensions between these two approaches with the author exploring these tensions in multiple ways by clearly examining the "why" behind many armed humanitarian interventions of the last four decades. The book's smooth introduction, followed by eight succinct chapters with appropriate titles, and almost 50 pages of expansive source notes provide well-supported insights.

The book's first chapter, "The Animating Ideal," examines tensions between a realist and liberalist approach by exploring the intellectual foundation of humanitarian intervention. Menon discusses the boundaries of sympathy towards the oppressed and duty to help others, as well as how universal human rights and an enlightenment mind-set have gained traction. This mind-set has the potential to cloud the judgment of interventionists, who may not consider challenges or counterarguments to their approach. The second chapter, "Altruism's Limits," focuses on challenges and limits to this approach by a reticent public that does not want to spend their nation's blood and treasure in warlike humanitarian intervention operations. Menon provides many examples of deaths related to a state's inability to provide foreign aid to address poverty in certain areas and, most importantly, to not addressing or minimizing the response to mass atrocities in Rwanda, Darfur, and Syria.

From this impressive examination of the tensions between these two approaches, Menon grounds readers in a more academic perspective, providing historical examples of issues impacting humanitarian intervention in the third chapter, "Sovereignty, Legitimacy, and Intervention," followed by "The Legal Debate," which highlights states' rights versus human rights, unilateral intervention by states or regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the challenges with aligning law and morality. He shows how states have used these concepts to justify to the global community their reasons for engaging in, or conversely, for blocking the involvement of other states in interventions. Examples from both chapters support the author's insights and include Pakistan and Bengali, Vietnam and Cambodia, Tanzania and Uganda, NATO and Kosovo, and the United States in Panama and Grenada. Menon concludes with the thought that "power and interest, not law, will prove decisive" when states decide to become involved in humanitarian interventions.

The approaches and tensions on when to intervene are covered in the fifth chapter, "Human Rights and Intervention," which begins with historical examples from the 1800s. Menon seamlessly transitions to the complicated journey of the United Nation's (UN's) R2P debate and the 2005 World Summit to gain a global consensus on humanitarian intervention. Comments from the leaders of many of the nations at the summit illustrate the extent of global divisions as the original R2P proposal was diluted to provide more vague UN guidance for engaging in humanitarian interventions.

The sixth chapter, "The Primacy of Pragmatism," clearly cements the author's realistic approach to humanitarian intervention. He states: "When friendly states commit atrocities, the great powers are wont to look away, offer political cover, or even provide materiel assistance." Examples he provides to support this pragmatic approach include: the West's support for three decades of the brutal Indonesian dictator Suharto following his take over in a 1965 coup, the United States overlooking Turkey's war against the Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s, the United States and European nations ignoring Bahrain's oppression to quash a 2011 popular uprising with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council states' assistance, and the way different states have approached the ongoing Syrian conflict. The lack of humanitarian considerations in these and other examples was compared with the UN Resolution and R2P-worthy actions in 2011 by NATO and Arab states; both parties wanted to oust Gadhafi due to his internal Libyan violence.

The book's seventh chapter, "War and Post War," smoothly provides a needed historical perspective to a leader's overconfidence in quickly achieving their objectives when becoming involved with wars and humanitarian campaigns. Many humanitarian campaigns can create even more dire conditions within a region, especially when a dictator is removed. Examples include: the killing and turmoil associated with the former Yugoslavia region and NATO's Kosovo and Bosnia campaigns, and NATO's and the Arab nation's risk aversion strategy in ousting Gadhafi and the anarchy and international rivalries that spilled over in neighboring states. The final chapter, "The International Community," examines the influence, or better said the lack of effective influence, of global organizations. Starting with an international relations philosophy for how the global community has become more connective, Menon examines international organizations such as the UN High Commission for Refugees, the International Criminal Court, the World Food Program, and the International Court of Justice. He provides examples of how these organizations desire to address humanitarian challenges, but lack the power, resources, and needed support of key nations.

The author's conclusion succinctly describes how his realistic perspective differs from humanitarian interventionists anchored by normative values, and why his approach is important. He provides final reasons "that I speak of the conceit of human intervention." The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention is well worth the read whether you agree or disagree with the author's perspective, for it provides multiple perspectives from theory and practice on past and ongoing humanitarian interventions. Perhaps, for future complex and uncertain humanitarian interventions, leaders may want to integrate relevant principles from both realist and liberalist approaches when making decisions if, when, and how to intervene.
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Author:Meinhart, Richard M.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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