Editorials, GS-2, International Relations, Uncategorized

The right to intervene

The Hindu


  • Humanitarian intervention has often been used as a pretext for regime change.


Intervention on “Humanitarian grounds”

  • If the West decided that a conflict demanded intervention, then the full force of Western power would be brought to bear on those whom the West determined to be the “bad guys”. This was the gist of humanitarian interventionism.
  • Yugoslavia faced the barrage of “humanitarian intervention”, the new term of art for Western bombardment in the service of protecting civilians.
  • The idea of humanitarian intervention was reduced to a fig leaf for Western interests.


Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

  • Under Kofi Annan’s watch, the U.N. endorsed the new idea of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2005.
  • This new doctrine asked that sovereign states respect the human rights of their citizens.
  • When these rights are violated, then sovereignty dissolves.
  • An outside actor endorsed by the U.N. can then come in to protect the citizens.
  • Once more, no precise definition existed for who gets to define the nature of a conflict and who gets to intervene.
  • A critic of R2P called it as “redecorated colonialism” and said that “a more accurate name for R2P would be the right to intervene”.


Use of R2P by insurgents

  • An uprising against the Libyan government in February 2011 provided the opportunity to test R2P.
  • During the Yugoslavian war, the Kosovo Liberation Army had made it clear that they used their fighters in strategic ways so as to provoke a response from the Yugoslavian army; massacres of civilians, they felt, would be the best way to bring in Western air power on their side and turn any conflict to their advantage.
  • The rebels in Libya (and later in Syria) had much the same strategic assessment.
  • If they could elicit state violence, then they might be able to assert their right to international protection.
  • But it has its own limitation, it can only work if the adversary of the rebels was an enemy of the West, as it did not worked for the Palestinians.


Critics of Humanitarian intervention

  • What appeared as a successful intervention in Libya was seen in the BRICS states — as a dangerous precedent.
  • The BRICS countries now saw that protection of civilians actually meant regime change whose aftermath was horrendous.
  • Critics of humanitarian intervention are not callous about the horrors of war and genocide. Sovereignty cannot be a shield for massacre of civilians.
  • Yet, at the same time, proponents of intervention watch disasters unfold and then wait till the last minute when a military operation becomes necessary.
  • They do not want to acknowledge the long-term reforms needed to prevent the escalation of conflict into genocidal territory.
  • The critics worry that humanitarian intervention of the Western variety ignores causes and produces terrible outcomes.



  • R2P did not address the protection of civilians from the multiple horsemen of the 21st century apocalypse — illiteracy, illness, poverty, joblessness and social toxicity.
  • These are the authors of crisis. Bombs cannot defeat them.
  • An antidote to mass atrocities might come from global financial reform, the redistribution of wealth and U.N. Security Council reform. Violence, he argued, is an outcome of grotesque inequality.

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