Humanitarian Intervention and Responsibility to Protect



The evolution of warfare has seen several periods in which humanitarian motives have vied with raison d’état or realpolitik in driving justifications for intervention.  Sometimes these have been spurious rationalizations – calls to “civilize” areas which happen to be geographically or economically convenient to subjugate, as in the case of most European’s African adventures. At other times there have been genuine efforts to tame or subdue the nature of war, as in Henri Dunant’s Red Cross movement after the Battle of Solferino, the Geneva Conventions of 1864, and the Hague peace movement at the end of the 19th Century, which resulted in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907.


An interesting question about all of these movements, including arguments for humanitarian intervention and the Responsibility to Protect, is the extent to which they serve established national interests, rather than international peace or human security. Be cautious of knee-jerk realism in responding to this, because realism, no less than idealism, is a constructed world view, and states in their relations with each other and their citizens have constructed many different arrangements over time.

Learning Objectives

On completion of this week’s materials, students will be able to explain humanitarian justifications for intervention in conflicts, and the principles developed by the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS)

Required Reading

  • ICISS (2001) The Responsibility to Protect
  • Heinze (2009) overview of chapters (introduction), and conclusion
  • Pattison (2010) 1.3, “A Duty or only a right?” chapter 9: conclusion

A note about the textbooks and additional reading

There is scope to expand this subject within module 2 (prevention) depending on the interests of the class.  Additional instructions will be found on Moodle.

Weekly Activities (on-line and in-class)

These will be determined by the class in consultation with the professor.

Additional reading and resources

International Committee of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant

Luttwak, E. (1999) “Give War a Chance,” Foreign Affairs, Jul/Aug, 78:4 pp. 36-44

Weizman, E. (2011) The Least of all Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza. London: Verso. Chapter 1

David Last, lastdav(at)gmail.com,  updated December 2016