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Analysis of International Relations 101: Introduction to Humanitarian Interventions


In the realm of International Relations, where conflict, displacement, and natural disasters shape our ever-changing landscape, a nuanced understanding of humanitarian action is paramount. In the series "Analysis of International Relations 101," the reader will embark on a journey to unravel the multifaceted dimensions of humanitarianism.

From delving into introductory notions and concepts to dissecting ethical considerations and legal frameworks, this series offers a nuanced understanding of humanitarian interventions. Each article examines key aspects such as the historical evolution of interventions, the role of anthropology in shaping humanitarian practices, and the diverse typologies of approaches to intervention, including sovereigntist, pacifist, and human rights-based perspectives.

Furthermore, readers will grapple with the ethical dilemmas inherent in humanitarian interventions, exploring questions of impartiality, consent, and the unintended consequences of aid. The legal frameworks underpinning interventions, as well as the roles of international organizations like the United Nations and NATO, are scrutinized to evaluate their effectiveness and challenges in coordinating and implementing humanitarian efforts.

Historical case studies, including pivotal moments in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo, provide valuable insights into the successes, failures, and lessons learned from past interventions, shedding light on their impact on international relations. Moreover, readers will confront present and future trends and challenges in humanitarian interventions, from the implications of new technologies to the complexities of climate change and the rise of non-state actors.

Ultimately, this series aims to equip readers with the analytical skills necessary to navigate the complexities of humanitarian interventions within the broader context of international relations. As we explore the intricacies of global humanitarian action, may these insights inspire thoughtful reflection on the importance of compassion, solidarity, justice, and collective action in the face of adversity.

This 101 series is divided into eight articles, including:

1. Introduction to Humanitarian Interventions

2. Theoretical Perspectives on Humanitarian Interventions

3. Approaches to Humanitarian Interventions

4. Legal Frameworks for Humanitarian Interventions

5. Ethical Considerations in Humanitarian Interventions

6. Anthropology and Intercultural Aspects of Humanitarian Action

7. Historical Case Studies of Humanitarian Interventions

8. Present and Future Trends and Challenges in Humanitarian Interventions

Analysis of International Relations 101: Introduction to Humanitarian Interventions

Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. All these countries were victims of tragedies that shook humanitarians to the core. In contemporary times, humanitarian crises are increasingly perceived as commonplace occurrences. Some skeptics go as far as considering them as chances for aid organizations to expand, while others see winners as well as losers in a new international political economy of war (Weiss, 1999). As the sun sets over the Gaza Strip, the echoes of conflict reverberate through history, emphasizing once again the complex dynamics at play in humanitarian interventions, with the plight of the Palestinian people serving as a stark reminder of these challenges.

I. Unraveling the Basics 

Defining Humanitarian Interventions 


There are a considerable number of definitions that describe humanitarian interventions. J. L. Holzgrefe used “the threat or use of force across state borders by a state (or group of states) aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals other than its citizens, without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied” (Holzgrefe & Keohane, 2003). Thomas Weiss chooses to use a somewhat similar definition in meaning, though less elaborate: “coercive action by one or more states involving the use of armed force in another state without the consent of its authorities, and to prevent widespread suffering or death among inhabitants” (Weiss, 1999).

According to Simms and Trim (2011), most definitions have in common three key definitional aspects. Humanitarian intervention is: 

  1. Carried out in, or intended to affect events within, a foreign state or states—it is an intervention (Simms & Trim, 2011); 

  2. Aimed at the government of the target state(s), or imposed on and only accepted reluctantly by it/them—it is thus coercive, albeit not necessarily involving the use of force (Simms & Trim, 2011); 

  3. Intended, at least nominally (and at least to some extent actually), to avert, halt, and/or prevent the recurrence of large-scale mortality, mass atrocities, egregious human rights abuses, or other widespread suffering caused by the action or deliberate inaction of the de facto authorities in the target state(s) (Simms & Trim, 2011). 

Figure 1: Photograph showing Blue UN Helmets belonging to soldiers of the Nigerian army before deployment to Mali in 2013 (Sotunde, 2013).

Alex Bellamy (2006) once noted that humanitarian interventions are "one of the most complex and hotly contested issues in contemporary world politics." There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the concept of "humanitarian intervention." Simms and Trim (2011) highlight the lack of clarity surrounding the term "humanitarian intervention" both theoretically and practically, attributing it to a variety of factors. Scholars and practitioners across disciplines such as ethics, philosophy, politics, international relations, and law offer differing perspectives on intervention, leading to conceptual confusion. Moreover, in practical terms, distinguishing between various forms of intervention, including coercive diplomacy, armed involvement in civil conflicts, and peacekeeping endeavors, presents a challenge. This lack of clarity contributes to ambiguity in defining humanitarian intervention since a range of activities, motives, and outcomes can be perceived as forms of intervention, making it difficult to accurately discern empirical phenomena (Simms & Trim, 2011). 

Another issue arises from the evolution of the term over time, especially when applying modern definitions to historical contexts. Although contemporary notions of humanitarianism emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, emphasizing human welfare and actions guided by altruism rather than strategic interests, historical usage of the term differs. Hence, there is a necessity for a nuanced, historically informed approach to comprehending interventions labeled as humanitarian or linked to human rights, even if they were not explicitly termed as such in the past (Simms & Trim, 2011). The authors argue for a broader understanding of humanitarian intervention, including responses to events such as natural disasters, not only for human-to-human-inflicted events. In this sense, Simms and Trim (2011) note that while interventions often target specific atrocities, their goals can encompass broader humanitarian issues such as ending tyranny, combating slavery, and facilitating effective disaster relief and humanitarian aid delivery.

Figure 2: Photograph showing UN armoured personnel carriers, manned by Zambian soldiers serving with the international peacekeeping force (Price, 2011).

Defining Sovereignty

Sovereignty stands as a cornerstone principle in international relations, shaping the discourse surrounding humanitarian interventions. According to Hehir (2013), the concept of sovereignty is multifaceted, encompassing various dimensions such as international legal sovereignty, Westphalian sovereignty, domestic sovereignty, and interdependence sovereignty. International legal sovereignty refers to the recognition of state practices by other entities, while Westphalian sovereignty denotes internal political authority free from external interference (Hehir, 2013). Meanwhile, domestic sovereignty concerns the organization of political power within a state, and interdependence sovereignty relates to a state's ability to regulate cross-border flows (Hehir, 2013).

The evolving nature of sovereignty has brought about challenges, particularly regarding the tension between human rights and state sovereignty. The emergence of globalization, international cooperation through institutions, and the emphasis on human rights have redefined the traditional understanding of sovereignty (Hehir, 2013). This tension becomes apparent in debates surrounding humanitarian interventions. Minimalist conceptions of the state posit that its primary role is to provide security from external aggression and foster economic prosperity (Hehir, 2013). In contrast, more expansive views argue that states must also ensure the provision of positive goods such as education and healthcare to their citizens (Hehir, 2013). The controversy arises when a state fails to fulfill these responsibilities, prompting questions about the obligations of other states and the legitimacy of intervening in the affairs of sovereign nations. The principle of sovereign inviolability, which upholds a state's right to non-intervention, complicates matters further (Hehir, 2013). Hehir (2013) elucidates the paradox wherein states may lack certain forms of sovereignty yet still be recognized as sovereign entities. For instance, Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991 but remains legally a state. Conversely, states like Andorra and Liechtenstein possess multiple forms of sovereignty but lack Westphalian sovereignty due to external interference (Hehir, 2013).

Figure 3: Photograph showing a French Rafale Marine aircraft of Squadron 11F preparing to land aboard the USS Carl Vinson (Wagner, 2015).

Humanitarian Intervention vs. Humanitarian Action 

Fridrichová (2014) argues that the criteria for distinguishing humanitarian intervention from other types of intervention or warfare include: 

  • Absence of Consent: Humanitarian intervention occurs without the consent of the government in the affected country. This distinguishes it from interventions where the government welcomes or requests. The crossing of national borders without consent naturally disrupts the international system.

  • Use of Force: Humanitarian intervention involves the use of force or the credible threat of force. This criterion is based on the UN Charter, which prohibits even the threat of force. While the actual use of force is evident, the inclusion of the threat of force complicates the methodological assessment of such situations. 

  • Humanitarian Justifications: The primary justifications for humanitarian intervention are humanitarian. The intervention is undertaken to aid the inhabitants of a foreign country facing crises such as ethnic cleansing or genocide. Intent is a crucial factor distinguishing humanitarian intervention from other types, as it emphasizes the prioritization of humanitarian reasons above all others. 

Simms and Trim (2011) elaborate on the distinction between humanitarian intervention and broader humanitarian action, noting that the former involves one state or non-state actor imposing its will on another state or group within it. This imposition becomes controversial and potentially illegitimate when action is forced upon a government or occurs against its will (Simms & Trim, 2011). For example, various historical deployments, such as those of US Marines to Lebanon, British paratroopers to Jordan in 1958, French troops to Gabon in 1964, and French and Belgian troops to Zaire in 1978, were not considered interventions as they were approved or requested by the respective governments (Simms & Trim, 2011). Conversely, the UN action in Bosnia qualifies as an intervention as it occurred without the consent of all involved parties and intervened in a civil war situation (Simms & Trim, 2011).

Intervention extends beyond military action to encompass political, economic, and diplomatic measures (Simms & Trim, 2011). Even diplomatic interference may be viewed as illegitimate if sovereignty is strictly respected (Simms & Trim, 2011). Economic power can be used to compel action, as seen through the implementation of economic sanctions, while diplomatic initiatives and threats can also exert significant influence on outcomes (Simms & Trim, 2011). Moreover, historical instances illustrate how military force often follows diplomatic efforts, highlighting the interconnected nature of various intervention strategies (Simms & Trim, 2011). Examples include overt conflicts like the India-Pakistan war in 1971, dispatching forces to stop atrocities in Greece during the 1820s, deploying troops for peacekeeping in Lebanon and Syria in 1860-1, and providing military aid for aid distribution during the same conflict (Simms & Trim, 2011). Other examples encompass targeted actions against specific actors, limited displays of force such as diplomatic threats, and providing military aid to oppressed groups (Simms & Trim, 2011). These examples underscore the diverse strategies employed in humanitarian intervention to address crises and promote stability (Simms & Trim, 2011).

Figure 4: Photograph showcasing YRIA - U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire their M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (Laning, 2017).

Intervention Criteria


The criteria for humanitarian intervention, as delineated by Fridrichová (2014), encompass various dimensions, including the principles outlined by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) and R2P (responsibility to protect). An upcoming article from the present 101 series will delve into these elements in greater detail. However, it is essential to introduce them briefly now, so that readers can gain a foundational understanding of the key factors shaping decisions around humanitarian action. 


Fridrichová (2014) notes that the ICISS report employs the framework of just war theory to assess the fairness of humanitarian intervention. This framework emphasizes several key criteria: 

  • Rightful Authority: This criterion underscores the importance of legitimate authorization for intervention. According to Fridrichová (2014), the UN Security Council (SC) is typically regarded as the primary authority for authorizing intervention. However, challenges arise due to the veto power of certain SC members, prompting discussions about alternative authorizing bodies, such as coalitions of willing states.

  • Just Cause: Just cause refers to the justification for intervention, typically involving large-scale loss of life, ethnic cleansing, or other atrocities. Fridrichová (2014) highlights ongoing debates regarding the threshold for intervention, particularly in cases where the severity of the crisis may not be immediately apparent. 

  • Right Intention: This principle emphasizes that the primary objective of humanitarian intervention should be the alleviation of civilian suffering. It requires a careful examination of the motives behind intervention efforts to ensure they are genuinely humanitarian. 

  • Last Resort: Humanitarian intervention should only be considered after all other preventive measures have been exhausted. This criterion underscores the importance of exploring non-military options, such as diplomatic and economic measures, before resorting to military action. 

  • Proportional Means: Military intervention must adhere to the principles of international humanitarian law, ensuring that the means employed are proportional to the severity of the crisis and reflect the limited nature of the intervention. 

  • Reasonable Prospects: Intervention should only proceed if there is a realistic chance of success in protecting civilian populations. This criterion requires careful assessment of the potential impact of intervention and consideration of the broader consequences.   

In addition to these criteria, Fridrichová (2014) highlights the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which emphasizes the responsibility of states to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. R2P also emphasizes the responsibility of the international community to assist and, if necessary, react to situations of mass atrocities (Fridrichová, 2014). However, it is acknowledged that instances of pure humanitarian intervention, where humanitarian motives are the sole or primary justification, are rare, with interventions often driven by mixed motives (Fridrichová, 2014). In this sense, states' decisions to intervene are typically influenced by various factors, and saving lives, particularly the lives of foreigners, may not always weigh heavily in domestic decision-making processes (Fridrichová, 2014). 

Figure 5: Photograph of Burning NIS oil refinery in Novi Sad during 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia (Scientific Inquirer, 2023).

Neutrality and Non-Intervention

The intersection of neutrality and non-intervention in humanitarian intervention has long been a subject of contention within international politics. Bellamy and Wheeler (2008) highlight the tension between humanitarian principles and traditional notions of sovereignty and non-intervention. They argue that while states are expected to protect their citizens, what happens when states themselves become perpetrators of violence against their populace, invoking sovereignty as a shield (Bellamy & Wheeler, 2008)? This dilemma has fueled debates over whether intervention in such cases is justified. During the Cold War, the primacy of sovereignty often overshadowed concerns for human rights, but attitudes began to shift in the 1990s, albeit with varying degrees of acceptance (Bellamy & Wheeler, 2008). One pivotal development in this regard was the emergence of the responsibility to protect (RtoP) principle, emphasizing that states bear the primary responsibility for safeguarding their populations from atrocities (Bellamy & Wheeler, 2008). However, the implementation of RtoP remains contentious, as evidenced by the debates surrounding interventions in Libya, Syria, and other conflicts. Moreover, skepticism persists, particularly among states in the Global South, regarding humanitarian intervention as a pretext for powerful nations to meddle in the affairs of weaker states (Bellamy & Wheeler, 2008). 

Weiss (1999) further complicates the discourse by examining the evolving landscape of humanitarian action. Traditional principles of neutrality and impartiality, once uncontroversial, have come under strain due to evolving conflict dynamics. Humanitarian actors face challenges in maintaining neutrality when confronted with widespread violations of international humanitarian law, including direct attacks on civilians and relief personnel (Weiss, 1999). Moreover, the protracted nature of many conflicts has blurred the lines between humanitarian and political agendas (Weiss, 1999). Weiss (1999) delineates between "classicist" humanitarians, who advocate for the complete separation of humanitarian action from politics, and "political humanitarians," who recognize the inherent political dimensions of humanitarian interventions. In contemporary conflicts, neutrality and impartiality often prove impractical, if not impossible, as aid agencies navigate complex political landscapes where even the provision of aid can inadvertently favor one side over another. The convergence of politics and humanitarianism underscores the need for a nuanced approach. Humanitarians cannot afford to be blind to political realities, nor can they divorce themselves from the political fray without compromising their effectiveness (Weiss, 1999). Likewise, politicians must weigh the humanitarian costs of their actions or inaction alongside political considerations (Weiss, 1999). Ultimately, the challenge lies in managing the intersection of politics and humanitarian action to promote human solidarity and alleviate suffering effectively. Striking this balance requires a nuanced understanding of the intricate dynamics at play and a willingness to engage in principled yet pragmatic approaches to intervention and assistance.

Figure 6: Photograph of the bullet-ridden guardhouse at Camp Kigali where 10 Belgian peacekeepers lost their lives (Ernhede, n.d.).

II. Tracing the Arc of History: The Evolution of Humanitarian Interventions

The historical context of humanitarian interventions is marked by a mosaic of triumphs and tribulations, where the lines between altruism and self-interest blur with each passing epoch. From the corridors of ancient empires to the modern-day halls of the United Nations, the evolution of humanitarian interventions reflects the shifting sands of geopolitics and ethical paradigms. Key milestones, such as the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863 and the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, serve as watershed moments in shaping the discourse surrounding humanitarian action. Yet, it is the tumultuous events of the 20th and 21st centuries that truly underscore the complexities of humanitarian interventions. From the genocide in Rwanda to the civil war in Syria, each crisis has catalyzed debates over the efficacy and legitimacy of external interventions, laying bare the inherent tensions between state sovereignty and humanitarian imperatives. 

Early Conceptions and Legal Foundations

The origins of humanitarian intervention can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when early international legal scholars such as Hugo Grotius began discussing the concept. However, it was not until the nineteenth century that humanitarian intervention began to gain more practical significance. During this time, the emergence of the Westphalian system laid the groundwork for discussions surrounding sovereignty and permissible action in international affairs (Fridrichová, 2014).

The principle of non-intervention in the affairs of sovereign states was enshrined in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which marked the end of the Thirty Years' War in Europe. This principle formed the cornerstone of the Westphalian system, emphasizing state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs as fundamental norms of international relations. However, even during this period, there were debates among international legal scholars about the circumstances under which intervention might be justified, particularly in cases of gross human rights abuses (Fridrichová, 2014).

Figure 7: The Swearing of the Oath of Ratification of the Treaty of Münster (Terborch, 1648).

Pre-World War II Period

Before World War II, the concept of humanitarian intervention existed within a broader context where war was often considered a legitimate tool of foreign policy (Fridrichová, 2014). Instances of intervention for humanitarian purposes were sporadic and often motivated by strategic interests rather than purely altruistic motives (Fridrichová, 2014). However, the atrocities committed during World War II, including the Holocaust and other mass human rights violations, prompted renewed international attention to the issue of protecting vulnerable populations from state-sponsored violence (Fridrichová, 2014).

Post-World War II Era and The United Nations

The aftermath of World War II saw the United Nations' establishment and the UN Charter's adoption in 1945. The principles enshrined in the UN Charter, including the prohibition of the use of force or threat of force in international relations, represented a significant development in international law (Fridrichová, 2014). Article 2(4) of the UN Charter explicitly prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, with limited exceptions such as self-defense or actions authorized by the UN Security Council (Fridrichová, 2014). The UN Charter fundamentally shaped the legal framework governing humanitarian intervention, emphasizing the importance of multilateralism and collective security in addressing international conflicts (Fridrichová, 2014). However, during the Cold War, the geopolitical climate was characterized by superpower rivalry, making multilateral interventions challenging (Fridrichová, 2014). The East-West divide often led to deadlock within the UN Security Council, limiting the effectiveness of collective action in response to humanitarian crises (Fridrichová, 2014).

Figure 8: Photograph of Syrian liaison officer Lt. Colonel Souad Kemal greeting UNTSO chief of staff Major-General Carl C. von Horn in 1959 (UN Photo/JG, n.d.).

Emergence of Global Civil Society

The end of the Cold War marked a turning point in the discourse on humanitarian intervention, coinciding with the emergence of "global civil society" as a significant actor in international affairs (Hehir, 2008). Humanitarian NGOs and advocacy groups began exerting influence on Western foreign policy, advocating for interventions based on democratic values and human rights (Hehir, 2008). During the 1990s, global civil society played a prominent role in shaping international responses to humanitarian crises, particularly in cases such as Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and Human Rights Watch brought attention to human rights violations and pushed for international intervention to protect civilian populations (Hehir, 2008).

Kosovo Crisis and the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine

The Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s reignited debates about humanitarian intervention and laid the groundwork for the development of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine (Fridrichová, 2014). The R2P doctrine, outlined in the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) report, emphasizes the responsibility of states to protect their citizens and the international community's responsibility to intervene when states fail to do so (Fridrichová, 2014). The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, conducted without UN Security Council authorization, raised questions about the legality and legitimacy of humanitarian intervention without explicit UN approval (Fridrichová, 2014). While proponents argued that the intervention was necessary to prevent further atrocities against ethnic Albanians, critics raised concerns about the precedent it set for bypassing established norms of international law (Fridrichová, 2014).

Figure 9: An Albanian woman spins wool outside Tirana's airbase (Open Canada, 1999).

Contemporary Challenges and Debates

In the post-Cold War era, humanitarian intervention continues to be a topic of debate, with scholars and policymakers grappling with questions about when and how external actors should intervene in humanitarian crises (Hehir, 2008). Issues of authority, legitimacy, and efficacy remain central to contemporary discussions, as external interventions often intersect with questions of state sovereignty and international law (Hehir, 2008). The invasion of Iraq in 2003, justified by some as a humanitarian intervention to remove a brutal dictator and promote democracy and human rights, sparked intense controversy and divided the international community. Critics argued that the intervention lacked legitimacy and violated international law, as it was not authorized by the UN Security Council and was based on flawed intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction (Hehir, 2008). The Iraq War underscored the challenges of balancing humanitarian objectives with respect for sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention. It also highlighted the importance of transparency, accountability, and adherence to international legal norms in justifying and conducting interventions (Hehir, 2008).

Libya and the Arab Spring

The Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy uprisings that swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, presented another significant test for the principle of humanitarian intervention. The uprising in Libya, initially a peaceful protest against the authoritarian regime of Muammar Gaddafi, quickly escalated into a violent conflict between government forces and opposition groups (Bellamy, 2008). In response to Gaddafi's brutal crackdown on protesters and the threat of mass atrocities, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, authorizing member states to take "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Libya (Bellamy, 2008). This paved the way for NATO airstrikes and military intervention to enforce a no-fly zone and protect civilian populations. The intervention in Libya was hailed by some as a successful application of the R2P doctrine, preventing a potential humanitarian catastrophe and facilitating the ousting of a dictator (Bellamy, 2008). However, it also raised concerns about the unintended consequences of military intervention, including the destabilization of the country, the proliferation of weapons, and the rise of extremist groups (Bellamy, 2008).

Figure 10: Photograph of protesters gathering in Tahrir Square (Macdiarmid, 2011).

Syrian Civil War and the Limits of Intervention

The Syrian civil war, which began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad, presented one of the most challenging humanitarian crises of the 21st century. The conflict quickly escalated into a protracted and complex war involving multiple actors, including the Syrian government, rebel groups, jihadist militants, and regional and international powers (Weiss, 2011). Despite widespread atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians and the targeting of hospitals and schools, the international community has been largely paralyzed in its response to the Syrian conflict (Weiss, 2011). Efforts to secure UN Security Council authorization for intervention have been repeatedly blocked by Russia and China, who have supported the Assad regime. The Syrian conflict highlights the limitations of international law and the challenges of achieving consensus on intervention in the face of geopolitical rivalries and competing interests (Weiss, 2011). It has also raised questions about the effectiveness of traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution and the need for new approaches to address complex humanitarian crises.

Moving Forward?

The history of humanitarian intervention is marked by a tension between the imperative to protect vulnerable populations from mass atrocities and the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. While the concept of humanitarian intervention has evolved significantly over time, debates about its legitimacy, legality, and effectiveness continue to shape international responses to humanitarian crises. The emergence of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and the increased role of global civil society have contributed to a greater awareness of the moral imperative to intervene in cases of grave human rights violations. However, challenges remain in translating this moral imperative into effective action, particularly in cases where geopolitical considerations and great power rivalries complicate international decision-making. Moving forward, the international community must continue to grapple with questions about the appropriate use of force in response to humanitarian crises, the need for multilateral cooperation and consensus-building, and the importance of accountability and transparency in intervention efforts. Only by addressing these challenges can the promise of "never again" be fulfilled and the principles of human rights and human dignity be upheld in the face of grave atrocities.

Figure 11: Photograph of disarmament efforts in Liberia (UN Photo/Staton Winter, n.d.).


Humanitarian interventions represent a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that intersects with issues of state sovereignty, international law, and human rights. While both successes and failures mark the history of humanitarian interventions, the imperative to protect vulnerable populations from mass atrocities remains a fundamental principle of international relations. However, achieving this goal requires navigating the inherent tensions between humanitarian imperatives and political interests, as well as addressing the challenges and controversies surrounding the practice of intervention. Moving forward, the international community must continue to grapple with questions about the appropriate use of force in response to humanitarian crises, the need for multilateral cooperation and consensus-building, and the importance of accountability and transparency in intervention efforts. While the concept of humanitarian intervention remains fraught with challenges and controversies, the imperative to protect vulnerable populations from mass atrocities must remain a central concern of international efforts to promote peace, security, and human rights. Striking the right balance between humanitarian imperatives and political interests will require a nuanced and pragmatic approach that takes into account the complexities of each crisis and the broader geopolitical context in which interventions occur.

The forthcoming article in the 101 series will comprehensively address the theoretical perspectives on humanitarian interventions, offering an in-depth examination of several prominent paradigms in international relations theory. Realism, with its focus on power dynamics and state interests, will be scrutinized for its insights into how hegemonic actors navigate humanitarian crises to advance strategic objectives. Marxism and critical theory will be explored for their critiques of humanitarian interventions as manifestations of capitalist exploitation and imperialist dominance, highlighting the underlying economic and political motivations behind interventions. Liberalism's emphasis on international norms, institutions, and cooperation will be analyzed for its role in shaping discourses around humanitarianism and justifying interventions based on principles of human rights and democracy. The English School's focus on international society and the balance between order and justice will be examined concerning debates about the legitimacy and legality of interventions within the framework of global governance. Cosmopolitanism will be explored for its emphasis on universal ethical principles and the moral imperative to intervene in cases of grave human rights violations, transcending national boundaries in the pursuit of justice and solidarity. Post-structuralism will offer insights into the discursive construction of humanitarian crises and interventions, interrogating the power dynamics and representations that shape perceptions of conflict and intervention. By engaging with these diverse theoretical perspectives, the article aims to provide readers with a nuanced understanding of the underlying ideologies, assumptions, and critiques that inform debates about humanitarian interventions in contemporary international relations.

Bibliographical References

Bellamy, A. J. (2006). Just wars: from Cicero to Iraq.


Bellamy, A. J., & Wheeler, N. J. (2008). Humanitarian intervention in world politics. The globalization of world politics, 5, 479-496.


Fridrichová, K. (2014). Humanitarian intervention. In Examining Armed Conflict: Theoretical Reflections on Selected Aspects (pp. 69-86). Masarykova univerzita nakladatelství.


Hehir, A. (2008). Humanitarian intervention: past, present and future. Political Studies Review, 6(3), 327-339.


Hehir, A. (2013). Humanitarian intervention: an introduction. Bloomsbury Publishing.


Holzgrefe, J. L., & Keohane, R. O. (Eds.). (2003). Humanitarian intervention: ethical, legal and political dilemmas. Cambridge University Press.


Simms, B., & Trim, D. J. (Eds.). (2011). Humanitarian intervention: a history. Cambridge University Press.


Weiss, T. G. (1999). Principles, politics, and humanitarian action. Ethics & International Affairs, 13, 1-22.

Visual Sources

Cover Image: Cole, T. (1836). Destruction [Painting]. The New Humanitarian.

Figure 1: Sotunde, A. (2013). Helmets belonging to soldiers of the Nigerian army before deployment to Mali in 2013 [Photograph]. The Guardian. Retrieved from The Guardian

Figure 2: Price, S. (2011). Photograph showing UN armoured personnel carriers, manned by Zambian soldiers serving with the international peacekeeping force, patrolling the streets of Abyei, South Sudan, in 2011 [Photograph]. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Figure 3: Wagner, J. P. (2015). [Photograph showing a French Rafale Marine aircraft of Squadron 11F preparing to land aboard the USS Carl Vinson] [Photograph]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from

Figure 4: Laning, Z. (2017, May 25). YRIA - U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire their M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, Mar. 24, 2017 [Photograph]. DOD. Retrieved from

Figure 5: Scientific Inquirer. (2023, September 13). Photograph of Burning NIS oil refinery in Novi Sad during 1999. NATO bombing of Yugoslavia [Photograph]. Scientific Inquirer. Retrieved from

Figure 6: Ernhede, C. (n.d.). The bullet-ridden guardhouse at Camp Kigali where 10 Belgian peacekeepers lost their lives [Photograph]. Brussels Times. Retrieved from

Figure 7: Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Peace of Westphalia [Image]. Britannica. Retrieved March 15, 2024, from

Figure 8: UN Photo/JG. (n.d.). [Photograph of Syrian liaison officer Lt. Colonel Souad Kemal greeting UNTSO chief of staff Major-General Carl C. von Horn in 1959]. Retrieved from United Nations website.

Figure 9: Open Canada. (1999, May 12). An Albanian woman spins wool outside Tirana's airbase [Photograph]. Valour Canada. Retrieved from

Figure 10: Macdiarmid, P. (2011, February 1). Protesters gather in Tahrir Square [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Figure 11: UN Photo/Staton Winter. (n.d.). [Photograph of disarmament efforts in Liberia]. Retrieved from United Nations website:


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