Small Wars Journal

Humanitarian War Is an Oxymoron, So Why Do We Keep Doing It?

Humanitarian War Is an Oxymoron, So Why Do We Keep Doing It? By Nathan Trimble - Modern War Institute

Semantically, the concept of humanitarian war seems a contradiction in terms—indeed, to some, even ridiculous. The United Nations ostensibly adopted the concept of humanitarian intervention in the early 1990s due to the international expansion of human rights doctrine and an increasing focus on aid to countries with natural disasters through resolutions in the 1980s. This was a natural transition after the UN Security Council had already been involved in the internal affairs of multiple Central American and African countries, as well as Iraq—all by 1991. Humanitarian intervention had become an instrument of the larger international community to maintain peace and stability. However, with the state failure, famine, and disease of Somalia in 1992 the United Nations developed an approach more militaristic in nature. Humanitarian intervention had transitioned to humanitarian war in which the host nation had now become an occupied country and in which the emphasis of the mission was no longer placed just on providing aid, but on human security. Humanitarian war became an outgrowth of these international mediations and is distinguishably an oxymoron as the result of over-militarized international efforts of humanitarian intervention by the United Nations in countries with unstable national governments or in which a centralized system of government was lacking completely. The divergent nature of the term humanitarian war can be seen the UN’s involvement in Somalia (1992), Kosovo (1999), and Libya (2011), three cases that highlight when the United Nations strayed from humanitarian intervention…

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The title/question of this article is:

Humanitarian War Is An Oxymoron, So Why Do We Keep Doing It?

Stephen Kinzer, in a 2010 article, may have the answer:

"Founded by idealists who wanted to make the world a better place, it (the human rights movement) has in recent years become the vanguard of a new form of imperialism.

Want to depose the government of a poor country with resources? Want to bash Muslims? Want to build support for American military interventions around the world? Want to undermine governments that are raising their people up from poverty because they don't conform to the tastes of upper west side intellectuals? Use human rights as your excuse!

This has become the unspoken mantra of a movement that has lost its way." 

(The item in parenthesis above is mine.)


Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Given that the phenomenon that we are discussing here (human rights intervention) -- and also, importantly, the recent introduction of such concepts as R2P and Jus Post Bellum -- given that ALL OF THESE  phenomenon occur exactly (a) with the end of the Old Cold War and exactly (b) with the U.S./the West winning same,

Then, based on this such observation, should we not see this enormous "sea-change" -- re: previously denied interventions -- EXACTLY from the perspective of:

a.  The winner of the Old Cold War (the U.S./the West)

b.  Moving out smartly (much as we would have expected the Soviets/the communists to do if they had won the Old Cold War) to "capitalize on and consolidate potential gains?" (This, re: their/our --  exceptionally well-known -- expansionist/transformational design re: other states and societies.)

(If the Soviets/communists had won the Old Cold War, and/or the U.S./the West given that we DID win the Old Cold War, if either of these entities did not, upon winning the Old Cold War, "move out smartly;" this, to "capitalize on and consolidate gains,"

Then do we not think that, in such a circumstance, their respective citizens -- who had both sacrificed for and indeed may have died in the service of their country's respective "universalist" cause -- that these such citizens would not, literally, call out in dismay from their graves?)