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Humanitarian Intervention as Neocolonialism

Part of the Philosophy and Politics - Critical Explorations book series (PPCE,volume 4)

Abstract

This chapter elaborates the practical challenge of implementing human rights through humanitarian intervention, that is, a military intervention without the consent of the targeted state. Its opponents view it as the contemporary form of colonialism. This claim is substantiated by retrieving the historical background of this practice in the just war theory , in order to examine whether there is a precedent of such practice, and looking at its legal basis in international law. The analysis reveals that it is not easy to found humanitarian intervention on the just war theory in general, because different authors hold different opinions, and it is the same case when considering international law . Be it before or during the human rights era, scholars do not agree that humanitarian intervention is an established practice legally founded. Even the new concept of Responsibility to Protect is not shielded from the same suspicion of furthering Western interests. That is why, for the critics, when one looks at the practice, its authors and the reasons offered, humanitarian intervention is a neocolonialism, understood as both an establishment of a local political bourgeoisie that protects the interest of former colonialists, and the repetition of the colonial project.

Keywords

  • Security Council
  • Humanitarian Intervention
  • International Criminal Court
  • Legitimate Authority
  • Perfect Duty

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

The concept of humanity is an especially useful ideological instrument of imperialist expansion, and in its ethical-humanitarian form, it is a specific vehicle of economic imperialism. Here one is reminded of a somewhat modified expression of Proudhon’s: whoever invokes humanity wants to cheat. (Carl Schmitt )

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For the history of the UDHR, see among others, Glendon (2001), Morsink (1999), Humphrey (1984, 1989), Cassin (1972).

  2. 2.

    Cristina Lafont identifies three state’s main actions with regard to human rights: to respect, to protect and to fulfill. (Lafont 2013: 30).

  3. 3.

    Barry Benjamin goes further to state that there have been resolutions that “have equalized the importance of the protection of human rights with the preservation of state sovereignty.” (Benjamin 1993: 149); see also Macklem (2008: 371), Tesón (1988: 131).

  4. 4.

    Talking about the intervention for the Kurds in Northern Iraq in 1991, Richard Lillich notes that “Resolution 688 has in fact proved to be ground-breaking in that it was the first time that the Council had characterized severe human rights depravations having minimal external effects as a threat to international peace and security” (Lillich 1995: 7).

  5. 5.

    See for instance Jeremy Sarkin (2009: 4); Jean-Pierre L. Fonteyne (1974: 206); Simon Chesterman (2001: 3).

  6. 6.

    They, however, note that “it is increasingly being argued that, where human failings in responding to so-called ‘acts of God’ result in considerably increased mortality, then a humanitarian intervention could be justified.” (Simms and Trim 2011: 3). Nonetheless, this kind of intervention is not what we are concerned with. David Rodogno also notes that “Nineteenth-century Europeans distinguished massacre from natural disaster, in that the former was understood as an organized process of destruction of civilian lives and properties.” (Rodogno 2011: 162). Chesterman broadens the scope of “the distinction between humanitarian intervention and other putative legal bases for actions that may include a humanitarian component. In addition to self-defense and Security Council authorized enforcement actions, these include claims of protection of nationals abroad (arguably a species of self-defense), consent of the target state, and authorization by treaty. It is necessary to make clear that the doctrine of humanitarian intervention as considered here concerns the threat or use of force—over the 1990s the term has sometimes been used to refer to less intrusive actions, such as the provision of food, medicine, and shelter. The term ‘humanitarian assistance’ will be used for such non-forcible actions.” (Chesterman 2001: 3). For more distinctions between humanitarian intervention and other related humanitarian actions, see (Heinze 2009: 8–10).

  7. 7.

    This chapter, however, limits the scope of humanitarian intervention only to the use of force, contrary to what Simms and Trim hold that “to confine ‘debates about humanitarian intervention to its military dimensions’ will be too often to separate ‘arbitrarily… issues that in practice overlap.” (Simms and Trim 2011: 7). Moreover, many authors rightly limit humanitarian intervention to the use of force without consent because the diplomatic and economic measures are still ‘peaceful’ means to resolve conflicts. See (Welch 2004a, b: 3; Mayall 2004: 121; Newman 2009: 4; Parekh 1997: 55; Zajadlo 2005: 658; Roberts 1993: 445; Donnelly 1993: 608; Burmester 1994: 270; Czerneck i 2003: 404; Holzgrefe 2003: 18).

  8. 8.

    This is also the definition adopted by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS ). It is stated, “The kind of intervention with which we are concerned in this report is action taken against a state or its leaders, without its or their consent, for the purposes which are claimed to be humanitarian or protective. By far the most controversial of such intervention is military.” (ICISS 2001: 8).

  9. 9.

    This link between human rights and humanitarian intervention is very characteristic of the advocates of humanitarian intervention, arguing that the violation of human rights by a state forfeits its claim to sovereignty, and consequently gives right to other states to interfere in what was supposed to be domestic jurisdiction. (Jamison 2011: 365; Oudraat 2000: 422; Gueli 2004: 141; Altman and Wellman 2008: 1; Buchanan 2003: 131; Koehane 2003: 279; Jahn 2012: 38; Tan 2006: 88–96).

  10. 10.

    Many scholars assert the same idea that state sovereignty is not an inherent and absolute value. (Petersen 1998: 83; Davenport 2011: 520; Farer 2003: 55; Mheta 2006: 264; Dacyl 1996: 194).

  11. 11.

    Patrick Macklem develops the same argument but from an international law perspective. According to him, sovereignty is distributed by international law and therefore, it is not an intrinsic value. In his own words, “international law is already present, structuring, defining, distributing, and protecting the territorial and jurisdictional dimensions of a legal zone of autonomy that it recognizes as vesting in a sovereign state.” (Macklem 2008: 384–5).

  12. 12.

    There are various moral arguments for humanitarian intervention from different schools of thoughts. For instance, Heinze looks at it from the consequentialist argument point of view, while Wheeler develops a solidarist theory of the English school. However, what is disputed is this right to humanitarian intervention. Tesón follows Ronald Dworkin in distilling international law from morality, which does not fit into the positive international law, although there are also those who think that there is a right to humanitarian intervention from the positive international law. (Abiew 1999). Others, however, strongly oppose any claim to a right of humanitarian intervention. One of them is Simon Chesterman who goes through many theories and practices of states to justify humanitarian intervention, yet concludes that “there is no ‘right’ of humanitarian intervention in either the UN Charter or customary international law.” (Chesterman 2001: 226).

  13. 13.

    Many other authors develop the same idea, especially in the volume edited by Simms and Trim (2011).

  14. 14.

    Joseph Boyle reaches the same conclusion, saying that “my application of Thomistic categories to the normative sources of political authority in the world today cannot resolve the important questions raised by the fact that a state’s or an alliance’s unilateral intervention to protect human rights may be illegal by the terms of U.N. Charter or by international law. The claim is only that in traditional just war theory the authority to undertake war lies in the sovereign, and that, in the world as it now is, a sovereign is the ruler of a sovereign state, and worldwide organizations are not sovereign states.” (Boyle 2006: 37).

  15. 15.

    Such a goal is against the humanitarian intervention objective, as Jean-Christophe Merle observes. According to him, the goal of military humanitarian intervention “cannot be defined primarily with reference to the opponent’s will, but with respect to the state of the civilian population.” (Merle 2005: 65).

  16. 16.

    Just to mention that Aquinas does not expand his just war theory to the jus in bello or post bellum.

  17. 17.

    For Swartz , “the resistance of tyranny is not only a right but a duty.” (Swartz 2010: 155).

  18. 18.

    If this is true, then Fonteyne’s view is problematic, when he asserts that “while rather vague statements, to the extent that a sovereign is entitled to intervene on the basis of religious solidarity in the internal affairs of another when the latter mistreats his own subjects beyond the limits of what seems acceptable, can be found as early as the writing of St. Thomas Aquinas.” (Fonteyne 1974: 214).

  19. 19.

    William Bain develops a sympathetic interpretation of Vitoria’s thought on the defense of the innocent, although he himself finds it puzzling. In his own words, “the reason why Vitoria adopts this position (that of considering defense of the innocent not as punishment) is somewhat less clear. He defends extrajurisdictional intervention to suppress ‘nefarious’ crimes against nature, cannibalism and human sacrifice, but he denies the legitimacy of intervention to suppress other sins against the law of nature. The answer of this puzzle is not found in a hierarchy of crimes, with serious crimes justifying intervention and lesser staying within the principle of non-interference.” (Bain 2013: 90).

  20. 20.

    One of those safeguards is to clearly distinguish the Law of Nature from a received custom. (Grotius 2005: 1025).

  21. 21.

    After affirming that kings have a right to avenge every injury beyond their jurisdiction, Grotius writes: “upon this Account it is, that Hercules is so highly extolled by the Ancients, for having freed the Earth of Antaeus, Busiris, Diomedes and such like Tyrants…” (Grotius 2005: 1021).

  22. 22.

    Fonteyne, however, adds an important nuance. Those who defended humanitarian intervention limited it to the non-civilized nations. In his words, “more common, however, was the notion that the right to intervene for humanitarian motives was to be restricted to the relationship between ‘civilized’ and ‘non-civilized’ nations.” (Fonteyne 1974: 219).

  23. 23.

    In the footsteps of his Master Brownlie, Chesterman actually contends that maybe the only case of humanitarian intervention in the nineteenth century is the Syrian case. (Chesterman 2001: 33).

  24. 24.

    Richard Lillich does the same exercise and concludes that before the United Nations Charter, “the doctrine [of humanitarian intervention] appears to have been so clearly established under customary international law that only its limits and not its existence is subject to debate.” (Lillich 1969: 210).

  25. 25.

    Intervention in Greece (1827–1830), intervention in Syria (1860–1861), intervention in the Island of Crete (1866–1868), intervention in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Bulgaria (1876–1878), intervention in Macedonia (1903–1908; 1912–1913). (Fonteyne 1974: 207–13; Abiew 1999: 48–53).

  26. 26.

    Elsewhere he talks about “Mill’s educative imperialism” different from “the paternalism of his father, James Mill, and other imperial liberals.” (Doyle 2010: 365).

  27. 27.

    Sir Adam Roberts holds the same view that “the Charter is widely seen as fundamentally non-interventionist in its approach. Taken as a whole the Charter essentially limits the rights of states to use force internationally to cases of, first, individual or collective self-defence, and second, assistance in UN-authorized or controlled military operations. Nowhere does the Charter address directly the question of humanitarian intervention, whether under UN auspices or by states acting independently.” He, however, recognizes that “the Charter does set forth a number of purposes and rules, which are germane to humanitarian intervention.” He adds, “Some of these can be in conflict with others.” (Roberts 2013: 72).

  28. 28.

    Jonathan Graubart calls this trend “pragmatic liberal interventionism.” (Graubart 2013).

  29. 29.

    Ibid.

  30. 30.

    Chesterman still maintains, though, that “the human rights articles of the Charter opened the door to a much more innovative development.” (Chesterman 2001: 137).

  31. 31.

    David Bills is not saying something different when he asserts that “Following the Nuremberg trials and the adoption of the Genocide Convention, various human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, came into being that recognized the world community’s commitment to affirming certain human rights over a state’s claims of non-interference.” (Bills 1996: 113). It is, however, important to note that every interference does not equal humanitarian intervention as understood here.

  32. 32.

    Nigel Rodley also holds the same point of view. As he puts it, “the States that might have expected to invoke it (India, in respect of Bangladesh; Vietnam, in respect of Kampuchea; Tanzania, in respect of Uganda; and the United States itself, in respect of Grenada) have been notably hesitant to do so, at least in their formal legal justifications for their actions.” (Rodley 1989: 332). Thomas Frank seems to me to offer a balanced view on this question when he writes: “the strict letter of the Charter prohibits humanitarian intervention. In the practice of individual states, regional and mutual-defense organizations, and the U.N. organs, a pattern of exceptions is emerging that conduces to the making of case-by-case judgments in which necessity and common sense have a role in tempering the law, in narrowing the gap between legality and legitimacy, between the letter of the law and its spirit, between normativity and morality.” (Frank 2006: 154).

  33. 33.

    Perhaps that is why he does not list the Kampuchea case as a humanitarian intervention, because Vietnam was not a liberal democracy . Clifford Orwin also holds that “the horror of deposing the Khmer Rouge fell instead to their former allies the Vietnamese Communists, whose motives were less humanitarian than imperial (and who were acting as a proxy for the Soviet Union against China).” (Orwin 2006: 197–8). One might ask why the same suspicion of imperialism is not valid for democratic governments.

  34. 34.

    Thomas Pogge argues against Kofi Annan and Thomas Frank that non-intervention in Rwanda was not a problem of international law, but rather of unwilling governments to intervene. In strong terms, he says, “To be sure, the genocide in Rwanda was real enough, and it was certainly morally intolerable. What is entirely fantastic about Kofi Annan’s case is his reference to states willing and able to stop the slaughter but held back by an unreasonable vote or veto in the U.N. Security Council. In the real world, there was only the coalition of the unwilling: of those who did all they could not to get involved in Rwanda, while suppressing any use of the word ‘genocide’ (in favor of ‘chaos’ and ‘civil war’ and finally ‘acts of genocide’) as long as possible. They were no saviors, willing and able, held back merely by the Charter text.” (Pogge 2006: 161).

  35. 35.

    On the evolution of the R2P, see Bellamy (2009, 111, 2008: 618–20).

  36. 36.

    In its paragraphs 138–9, it reads, “138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help states to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability. 139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapter IV and VIII of the Charter, to help to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts breaks out.” Emphasis added. Reproduced in (Cooper and Kohler 2006: 25).

  37. 37.

    For instance, Louise Arbour says, “I wish to state very clearly my view that the responsibility to protect norm is not, as some have suggested, a leap into wishful thinking. Rather, it is anchored in existing law, in institutions and in lessons learned from practice. Its vitality flows from its inherent soundness and justice, as well as from the concept’s comparative advantages over formulations of humanitarian intervention.” (Arbour 2008: 447–8).

  38. 38.

    One paragraph earlier, it had been asserted that “the responsibility to protect means not just the ‘responsibility to react,’ but the ‘responsibility to prevent’ and the ‘responsibility to rebuild’ as well.” (ICISS 2001: 17).

  39. 39.

    Gareth Evans—who was one of the two Co-chairs of the ICISS —and Edward C. Luck —who is in charge of advocating for R2P in the UN—stress this point. See (Evans 2004: 84; Luck 2010: 352).

  40. 40.

    Carlo Focarelli notes that “the responsibility to protect doctrine, although it was first presented as a larger construction, is essentially focused on the question of humanitarian intervention.” (Focarelli 2008: 209) and also (Joyner 2006–2007: 710; Garwood-Gowers 2012: 4; Chandler 2010: 129–30; Welch and Banda 2010: 214). Even one of R2P’s architects acknowledges its limits. See (Evans 2008, 2009).

  41. 41.

    Richard Luck mentions that “properly understood… RtoP, as accepted by the world’s heads of state and government, would not impinge on interdependence sovereignty and might even bolster it when the state lacks capacity or is under siege by armed groups ready to ignore their own protection responsibilities.” (Luck 2009: 15).

  42. 42.

    One might, however, ask Ayoob which kind of order is worth preserving since the kind of order that prevailed is what led to the human rights movement and its humanitarian consequence.

  43. 43.

    It is also the view of Murphy who conceives “international community” as “the United Nations, regional organisations, the general views expressed by governments, the views of only ‘disinterested governments’, or the views of such nongovernmental actors as human rights organizations or scholars.” (Murphy 1996: 9).

  44. 44.

    Ramesh Thakur , one of the Commissioners of ICISS notes that “the formal authority for maintaining peace and security is thus vested in the Security Council. But the burden of responsibility, as a result of their having the power to make the most difference, often falls on the USA and other leading powers.” (Thakur 2002: 334).

  45. 45.

    Farer also supports this view saying, “Great powers are inevitably more self-regarding, inevitably more resistant to legal constraint than the generality of weak ones.” (Farer 2003: 75–6).

  46. 46.

    According to Priyankar Upadhyaya , “weak states have apprehensions about the possible misuse of humanitarian intervention; however, this is not the issue with the powerful countries. For them the critical concern is how to ensure the effective implementation of such intervention.” (Upadhyaya 2004: 87). One might argue that the three cases of humanitarian intervention during the Cold War were discharged by non-Western states, but we have seen that they never justified their actions by humanitarian purposes.

  47. 47.

    For the American attitude toward human tragedy without intervening, see Samantha Power (2013).

  48. 48.

    Brun and Jacques Hersh raise the same questions as Ayoob does, saying, “connected to the selectivity argumentation other fundamental questions arise: why does the Western alliance under the leadership of the United States accept the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the suppression of that people’s national aspirations? Considered to be the ‘only democracy in the Middle East,’ Israel gets economic, political, and military support from the United States and the European Union without consideration of its oppressive policies and occupation being in contravention to international law! Double standard is crying out loud for those willing to listen.” (Brun and Hersh 2012: 46).

  49. 49.

    James Fearon and David Laitin call it “neotrusteeship, or more provocatively, postmodern imperialism. The terms refer to the complicated mixes of international and domestic governance structures that are evolving in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and, possibly in the long run, Iraq.” They then compare it to the classical imperialism, saying, “Similar to classical imperialism, these efforts involve a remarkable degree of control over domestic political authority and basic economic functions by foreign countries. In contrast to classical imperialism, in these new forms of rule subjects are governed by a complex hodgepodge of foreign powers, international and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and domestic institutions, rather than by a single imperial or trust power asserting monopoly rights within its domain. In contrast to classical imperialism but in line with concepts of trusteeship, the parties to these complex interventions typically seek an international legal mandate for their rule. Finally, whereas classical imperialists conceived of their empires as indefinite in time, the agents of neotrusteeship want to exit as quickly as possible, after intervening to reconstruct or reconfigure states so as to reduce threats arising from either state collapse or rogue regimes empowered by weapons of mass destruction (WMD).” (Fearon and Laitin 2004: 7).

  50. 50.

    Richard Miller notes that “the idea that interventions might be morally acceptable provokes suspicion because some past interventions by Western powers have had imperialistic purposes and have produced enormous suffering. More than a few parts of the world continue to feel the crippling effects of Western colonialism, even after they have achieved political independence.” (Miller 2000: 5).

  51. 51.

    De Jonge Oudraat also notes that “armed intervention for humanitarian purposes developed a bad reputation in the nineteenth century, when military interventions by European powers were frequently justified on humanitarian grounds.” (Oudraat 2000: 422).

  52. 52.

    In a different article, he says, “Given the high degree of stratification in the international system, such interventions, whether authorized by the Security Council or not, readily come to be viewed as instruments of depredation by the strong against the weak. They conjure up images of colonial domination under the guise of the nineteenth-century ‘standard of civilization’ doctrine. States unable to meet the new standard, defined in terms of human rights, become potential targets of intervention and tutelage if not conquest. When these standards are applied in total disregard of the social and political contexts in which human rights violations may have taken place, but at the same time selectively to suit the interests of the major powers, they leave the impression that, as in the nineteenth century, hidden agendas are at work… Therefore, the question of agency—who constructs and codifies human rights—becomes crucial. Currently, the power to determine both where human rights have been violated and what needs to be done such violations is concentrated more or less in the hands of the same agents. Although ostensibly there is an international rights regime, the most important decisions are made either by the three Western permanent members of the Security Council or by members of NATO when the former cannot have their way in that body. When so much power is concentrated in the hands of agents who until a few decades ago were among the leading imperial powers, the legitimacy of such decisions becomes very dubious. This perception is reinforced when one realizes that almost every former colonial power is a member of NATO today.” (Ayoob 2001: 226). Nathaniel Berman finds that the intervention in Kosovo is similar to the establishment of the French protectorate over Morocco. (Berman 2006: 765–8).

  53. 53.

    He is even more incisive in another paragraph, when claiming that humanitarianism is particularly Western in opposition with the non-Western world, he says, “True, humanitarianism is a distinctly Western development. With rare exceptions, humanitarian intervention is an encounter between Western or Westernized nations and non-Western ones, between lands where liberal democracy and technology have triumphed and lands where they have not. It is a cardinal instance of what political scientist Pierre Hassner calls the dialectic between ‘the bourgeois and the barbarian’: ‘an encounter between two kinds of societies’ of which the one characteristically shrinks from violence while the other takes its dominion for granted.” (Orwin 2006: 203).

  54. 54.

    . The Kenyan historian, however, advocates for local colonialism, arguing that “the ‘white man’s burden ’ would, in the sense, become humanity’s shared burden.” (Mazrui 1994: 18).

  55. 55.

    Gareth Evans highlights the problems connected with R2P concerning its possible misuse and its association with “neo-imperialism or neo-colonialism.” (Evans 2008: 288). He also raises the issue of double standard (Evans 2006: 711), while Alex Bellamy underlies different neocolonial challenges to R2P. (Bellamy 2006: 147–8).

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Ingiyimbere, F. (2017). Humanitarian Intervention as Neocolonialism. In: Domesticating Human Rights. Philosophy and Politics - Critical Explorations, vol 4. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-57621-3_3

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