Humanitarian Intervention or a Pretext for Invasion?


Recently, we often hear about the “humanitarian interventions” which are often done to put an end to the violations of human rights or to protect people fighting against dictatorial regimes in such countries. Nevertheless, the cases of putting troops in any country is being officially  explained in such way. However, it is not always that initiatives pursuing such good intentions have a positive effect: it is enough to remember the US-Britain-initiated intervention of coalition forces in Iraq, as a result of which, according to many sources, more than 165 civilians have been killed, not counting the fact, that after that incidents the civil war began in the country, state infrastructures were disturbed and Iraq appeared in a deeper crisis. In the case of the USA, discontentment appeared in the country, also because of the huge costs that the war demanded: on the Iraq war, the US has spent $ 2 trillion. The case of Iraq is not the only one: in recent years, in succession to each other, crisis began in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other Arabic countries. However, there have also been successful interventions, such as the overthrow of the dictatorial regime of Idi Amin in Uganda by Tanzanian armed forces, which had destroyed more than 300.000 citizens of his country. In some cases, when there has indeed been a need to intervene and help the UN and other powerful countries haven’t done anything and many crimes have been made in front of their eyes, such as in Rwanda and Somali. And what the humanitarian intervention actually is? What are its goals and motivations? The purpose of this analysis is to understand the nature and objectives of humanitarian intervention, to consider some examples and to draw conclusions, in which case may the interference be considered as “humanitarian” and “justified”.

What is the humanitarian intervention?

There is no legal definition for humanitarian intervention, and different authors describe this phenomenon in different ways. W. McKinley defines intervention as an intentional act of a state, grouping of states or international agency, which aims to influence the internal politics of another country. He emphasizes that it is done without the agreement of the target state.

Operations stipulated by the UN Charter

Well-known principles and goals of the United Nations are the protection of human rights, the right of people’s self-determination, non-use of force in international relations and also non-interference and non-intervention in the internal affairs of the States (Article 2/7). However, along with the mentioned principle, we often hear the “humanitarian intervention”concept, which is controversial and raises a number of questions. Firstly, we must understand, under what circumstances the general institute – regulating international relations and constituting international norms – intends humanitarian intervention and what operations it allows in such cases. The 7th point of the Article 2 of the UN Charter stipulates that nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter, but it also notes that this principle does not prevent the use of force on the bases of chapter 7 of the Charter. Now let us find out what the provisions of that chapter anticipates. It is noted in the chapter entitled “Actions in respect of threatened peace, violation and aggression” that the Security Council (hereinafter SC) decides to submit recommendations or to make a judgment in breach of any threat to the peace or act of aggression against the peace on what measures should be taken to maintain or restore international peace and security. The SC can decide what kind of measures should be applied, except for the armed force, to carry out its decisions and to demand UN members to apply these measures. These may include full or partial interruption of  economic relations, rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio and other forms of communication, and break off diplomatic relations. Articles 39-51 provide that in case of inadequacy of those measures, the SC can initiate such activities by air, sea or land forces, which may be necessary to maintain or to restore international peace and security. While Article 48 defines the actions required for the implementation of Security Council resolutions initiated by all UN members or a part thereof, as the Security Council may determine. This a rather vague formulation, because it is not specified in which cases actions may be provided by a part of the members. It is also not clear for us which countries can form that part. In the second paragraph of the same article it is noted that those decisions must be carried out by UN member states directly, or through the appropriate international institutions of which they are members. And what do we understand by saying an appropriate institution?

We should consider the legality of all of this by an example of a practical case. Since it is not possible to cover all cases of intervention, let us discuss the most sensational of them – NATO’s intervention in Kosovo: As a result of which, the region was given to Albanians declaring and recognizing its independence, and the Iraq war.

NATO’s humanitarian intervention in Kosovo

To investigate the results, a short historical overview on Kosovo’s events is needed. In 1989 the leader of the Ethnic Albanians, initiated a peaceful demonstration in Kosovo province to the President of Serbia Slobodan Miloshevic, to express complaint against the decision to eliminate the constitutional autonomy of Kosovo. Miloshevic and the Serbian minority of Kosovo did not tolerate the fact that Muslim Albanians demographically dominated in a territory considered “holy” by Serbs. In 1996 Kosovo Liberation Army was formed (KLA), and over the next two years, sporadic attacks started against Serbian police and politicians. Afterwards the Serbian police and the armed forces of Yugoslavia try to establish control over the region, and their atrocities cause a wave of refugees, which draws international attention. Kevin Newton believes that Kosovo’s events are the first cases of ethnic cleansing. He mentions the deportation of 250 thousand Kosovo Albanians and leaving 30 thousand residents homeless. This is, in our opinion, a biased attitude, since it ignores the crimes of the KLA, and generally throughout the works of European authors that biased attitude dominates, which we consider a way to justify the implemented intervention by Western European countries and the United States.

Initially the UN Security Council dealt with the issue of crisis, but it failed to reach a consensus on military reaction. Resolution № 1199 (1998) submitted a number of claims to Yugoslavia and discussed further actions in case of default of specific requirements and undertook additional measures for restoration and maintenance of peace. But the situation gets worse, and on March 1998 the North Atlantic Council has a meeting in the level of Foreign Ministers and develops its principles of actions, which is to support the settlement of conflict, participating in the actions undertaken by the international community and to create stability in neighboring countries, particularly in Albania and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In March-June of 1999 NATO Yugoslavia started the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

The issue of Kosovo has caused a tension between NATO and Moscow. Western politicians criticized Russia for supporting NATO and demanded to apply sanctions against him. In 1999, when it became obvious that the deployment of foreign troops in Kosovo was inevitable, at the request of the Serb leadership and at the command of NATO invitation the Russian government agreed to send a troop, to act in the multinational forces, but it would be deployed in Kosovo, in areas with compact residence of Serbs, for their protection. F. Tesone believes that NATO did not have any material or strategic interests in Kosovo, and that its motives of operations were only humanitarian, quoting former Czech President V. Havel’s words, who had said that “if any war may be called moral, then this is that very war.” Tesone qualifies NATO’s actions positively and states that they have not been mainly condemned by any international organization or non-governmental organization dealing with human rights, and that many people were only worried about the fact that NATO did not succeed in getting SC’s authorization According to him, the Kosovo case was the first step in the formation of customary law of humanitarian intervention. But there are also opposing views, that Ethnic cleansings have been started by Belgrade after NATO’s bombing, so the opinions and estimates of the opposite grouping should also be considered, in this case they are Russian authors.

Not only in the Russian press, but generally it is much spoken about the fact that NATO’s actions were illegal because they were not authorized by the Security Council. The results of those actions, however, were established and approved in the same year by the UN Security Council. As a Russian website proves, RF was against the idea of intervention in Kosovo and provided humanitarian and economic assistance to Serbia. As we see, all countries are pursuing “humanitarian goals” and manipulating them, but the question is, who is willing to help and why? It is obvious that geopolitical interests are not of minor importance in all this, and the settlement in any country pursuing humanitarian intentions is the best way of justification of the deed.

Speaking about the NATO’s intervention, Michael Colon identifies three reasons: the deprivаtion of Moscow of its last ally in Europe, creating an entry barrier to the Mediterranean for Russia and its humiliation in the international platform.

After the cases taken place in the Rwanda and Yugoslavia in 2000, in his report the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan puts forward a question on how to react to human rights violations in Rwanda and Srebrenica, which are contrary to all the precepts of humanity, if humanitarian intervention is actually an unacceptable encroachment towards state sovereignty. The phrase “Responsibility to protect” was first used by the International Commission in the report of Intervention and State Sovereignty in response to K. Annan rhetorical question. The report states that sovereignty not only gives the right to the state to control its own affairs, but also responsibility to protect people living within its borders. The report suggested that if the state failed to protect its people due to lack of ability or desire, the responsibility would be transferred to the international community. Again we see a vague statement, that would allow the stronger one to act in its own discretion  and to interpret the international law as it wishes.

The Iraq war 2003

Since the cases of Kosovo were directly connected with the end of the Cold War, which had caused a number of frozen conflicts escalation, another example can be viewed already in the post- Cold War period, a rather remarkable one of which is the Iraq war. In 2002 for the first time US Secretary State Colin Powell in his speech, performed at UN General Assembly, announced the possible change of the regime in Iraq, in which he referred to”serious threat” (weapons of mass destruction) by S. Hussein In his message addressed to the public, President Bush used the term “axis of evil”, where Iraq was also mentioned along with Iran and North Korea. The US Senate approved the bill on increasing military expenditure in October of the same year, which reached unprecedented heights, and Bush signed a congressional resolution to authorize the use of force against Hussein. As of March 20, 2003, American and British troops began military operations against Iraq without UN authorization, during which major Iraqi cities, Kirkuk and Mosul, as well as the capital city of Baghdad were occupied. Military operations lasted until May and got the name “Freedom of Iraq”. According to unofficial data, 1 million civilians have been killed in Iraq. The last fact gives rise to concerns whether Iraq intervention can be called humanitarian, since even after that intervention, clashes began between the population on religious grounds, which caused a lot of bloodshed and death of innocent citizens.

Ben McKay mentions three main arguments for Iraq war: because of possession of weapons of mass destruction, threat availability by Saddam Hussein, doubt, that the Iraq regime is linked to terrorist groups, particularly to al-Qaeda, and a belief that Iraq war was justified because it saved the population of Iraq from exploitation and violation of human rights by Hussein. The last argument expresses the idea that the Iraq war is a real example of humanitarian intervention, which aimed to protect Iraqi citizens’ rights. But what kind of protection of rights can we talk about, if the bloodshed continued after the intervention, and also the existence of mass destruction of weapons and the ties to terrorist groups was not proven. Years later the same Colin Puele during one of the interviews admits that some of the information was wrong.

Historian V. Petrosyan mentions that the Iraq war was the first practical application of the new US national policy (the national security policy is known as “the Bush doctrine”). The principle of preemption and the idea of nation-building were the bases of that concept. According to the scientist preemption is the previously-made forceful action and the acquisition arising from it.” A question arises as to what right does the US have to try to build a nation or state in a country miles away. No matter from how many high podiums American leaders declare about humanitarian objectives, of combating terrorism and other “great ideas”, it is clear to all of us: if there were no Iraq oil resources, the fact of being near to Iran and generally being in the Middle East, The United States would hardly risk its soldiers’ lives and invest financial resources in that war.

Scientific and professional opinions

Now let us examine the views of scientists referring to the legality of interventions. In the work “On whose behalf ?” L. Pinzhon and V. Obenlande commemorate cynical claims of European governments in the period of colonization about “white man’s mission” and liabilities of civilization, and believe that discussion of moral values is still in the political discourse of superpowers, and that today’s humanitarian intervention is the continuation of the ancient tradition. They, very accurately, mention Hitler, who also tried to justify his military achievements under the pretexts of “the right of self-determination” of German minority living in Austria and Czechoslovakia. The authors distinguish between three phases of conflict: squabble, international armed conflict, war. They believe that human rights violation is a casus belli for the states performing intervention, and that NATO leaders could calm the conflict, before it became a full-scale war. S. Coady finds that the phenomenon “of taking care” of the use of military force is not a new one, and it is not only characteristic for the following period of the end of the Cold War. He talks about the annexation of the Philippines in 1899, when the US president W. Mkkinlin had stated that they could not return the island to their commercial opponents Germany or France, and especially Spain, because it would be a compromising  step and sign of cowardice. They could not also allow the population of the Philippines to be self-governed so there was nothing left but “taking care of them and making them Christian”. The author notes an interesting fact that those same leaders demonstrated reluctance in use of force during the massacres in Rwanda, in the crisis of Bosnia and in the cases of Chechnya. One of the conclusions of Coady is also that the SC is not an effective mechanism for justice, because the powerful states, whose interests are opposed to it, can use veto against the decision.

Yan Hurd believes that humanitarian intervention contradicts the UN Charter, but its application in practice of the states has made it legal in certain circumstances. The author proves that the humanitarian intervention is on the borderline of legality and illegality, where each practical example can be equally considered corresponding or discordant to international law.


In any case, intervention, carried out by a group or a single state, requires resources, influence and it’s a strong expression of strongness, a small country, small in all standards (area, population, economy, etc.), once would hardly perform humanitarian intervention alone, for example African state, because even though we speak of the protection of human rights, if the government does not have any specific interests and goals in the country where human rights are violated, it would hardly take the mission of making humanitarian intervention on itself, as it requires finance and human sacrifices. The exception can be participation of squads in the formation of any alliance, to acquire prestige and to cooperate as, for example, participation of Armenia in NATO’s peacekeeping missions. But the phenomenon of the invasion or interference alone, in our view, is the monopoly of the big states or superpowers, with help of which, they try to reaffirm their influence in the world, once again to prove their strength and power, to earn peacemaker’s fame, prestige, as well as to get footholds in specific countries controlling resources and occupying world-strategic beneficial position.


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Author: Tsovinar Hayrapetyan: © All rights are reserved.

Translated by Arusyak Sargsyan