In an increasingly globalized world, countries are all connected one way or another. The state of a government or country can now be seen and criticized easily by many groups ranging from activists and NGOs to other governments. In order to better maintain global order and stable relationships between countries, as well as to deal with common problems together, many global organizations like the UN are formed. Treaties are also signed to strengthen international law and for countries to gain sovereignty.
The creation of the UN has led to the introduction of humanitarian intervention. It is still widely debated today on whether it can be a justifiable action, with the main argument being that the intervening governments will be easily tempted to further the interests of their country on the expense of the targeted state (Wheeler, 2000). Furthermore, with the UN security council authorizing and granting immunity from punishment, there will be a rise in the abuse human rights and lead to the worsening of existing problems in the targeted country that are ironically supposed to be resolved with the help of intervening countries.
Why is Humanitarian Intervention Controversial?
Among these ways to maintain law and order in a global society, the use of humanitarian intervention is also on the rise. The signing of the UN charter in 1945 has prohibited nations to use force on other states for self-defence purpose but allows the use of force for the purpose of “maintaining international peace and security” (Wheeler, 2000). Even though countries who used their military strength to enter other nations are “in the name of ending the violation of human rights crisis”, most are accused of hiding their ulterior motives: the pursuit of the country’s own selfish interests of power and influence.
The West especially has a huge advantage over the others not only due to the growing influence of Western liberal ideas but also because of the balance of power changing from bipolarity to unipolarity. This means that the US holds the most power and influence in the world without any alliance or organization capable of offsetting it. (Miller, n.d.).
Humanitarian intervention is also seen as failing to comply to the principles of state sovereignty, as international foreign powers began to interfere and aim to put a stop or weaken the influence of the power of a domestic government which is seen as violating human rights. This is further supported by China’s belief that under the international law and the standards of morality, the international society must respect not only the sovereignty of nation-states but also the right of developing countries to be free from foreign intervention in their domestic affairs (Koji, 2003). Therefore, each country has the responsibility of protecting human rights within its bother and no other country should interfere and force its preference on others for fear of endangering not only human rights but also the country’s social, economic and cultural aspects.
Asian Views on Humanitarian Intervention
Humanitarian intervention brings out mixed feelings in Asia, with many being negative due to many different reasons that range from historical reasons to the risk of changing the Asian way of thinking and life (Koji, 2003). The majority of Asian countries were former colonies of Western power and therefore had experienced inferiority to these foreign powers. Hence, Asian countries are mostly sensitive to humanitarian intervention as it reminds them of their historical experience and weakness against the West, especially when in today’s world, the West is considered the leader who guides the international society in terms of human rights, democracy and principles which contains many western values. Asian countries feel threatened by the growing western power as which tends to clash with Asian traditions and economic priorities (Tang, 1997).
Therefore, with many Asian countries having the common history of being colonised and dominated by the West, they will, therefore, have a harder time accepting that they have the “duty” to stop problems based on other states that do not concern them.
Views on Humanitarian Intervention after Major Events
The most infamous humanitarian intervention is NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. Not only had NATO not able provide any positive aid, but had initiated the ethnic cleansing since the bombing was NATO’s decision. Therefore, it was heavily criticised as being a serious violation of international law since it did not have the approval of the UN Security Council (NATO, 1999), questioning whether this is a matter of power politics rather than a moral question.
Since the end of the cold war, the United States has been an active contributor to humanitarian intervention, claiming it as a way of promoting peace (Koji, 2003). Unfortunately, it has been causing the opposite effect.
When the R2P was first introduced, it was supported by many countries for having the potential of helping the world achieve peace. After many “humanitarian interventions missions” however, R2P is gradually changed into a commitment which contains mostly empty promises. The faith that the West is able to resolve conflicts and build peace also fell. The 2011 Libyan intervention, for example, aimed to take out the Libyan dictator Gaddafi in order to protect the Libyan citizens. Despite being called a “successful mission”, Libya falls into a state of civil war and complete chaos years after the mission ended (Robins-Early, 2015). The intervention is therefore heavily criticised for causing the negative long-term effect of destabilizing the country. This also shows that humanitarian intervention has been only focusing on stopping the conflict and have not thought of any follow-up to fully ensure that the country is stable enough to not receive any more foreign help.
The US’ Bush administration-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 further shows how the West does not have the ability to provide logical intervention strategies which have successfully protect civilians. Instead, it has probably blemished the use of humanitarian intervention severely which also extends to the Western-influence principles.
The ongoing war between Saudi Arabia-led alliance and the Houthis, an Iran-supported Islamic force in Yemen is the most recent example of a crisis further worsened by the US humanitarian intervention under the Trump administration (Leaders, 2017). The war itself has already caused civilians to suffer from poverty and for the country’s economy to be damaged. The US, being Saudi Arabia’s ally, has been intervening in selling weapons, with the claim to be to better arm the alliance. It can, however, could also be seen as the US intervening for self-interest by using this war to showcase the power and to boost the economy. On the other hand, both Saudi Arabia and Iran is making use of Yemen for the fight of power. In the end, Yemen will suffer and be destroyed by these international “aids”.
Humanitarian intervention is undeniably still a controversial subject. Even though there are many reasons where it cannot be justified with the widely disapproved compromise of basic human rights, there are however some exceptions where it can be approved as a right under the international law. That is only the case when these 2 conditions are met; the country must have committed a huge violation of human rights and there are no prompt or alternative solutions available and hence force must be used in order to bring a positive humanitarian outcome (Ogawa, n.d).
The failures caused by the use of the R2P has also made the international community hesitant in continuing to follow Western beliefs and leadership. Changing history is impossible, but admitting failures is essential in order to learn and not repeat them. In the end, it is still best to only use foreign military force as the last resort and instead find the root cause of the human rights violations problem in order to come up with preventive measures and solutions in order to effectively and possibly permanently solve the problem. In other word, rather than just focusing on the use of military intervention as the main form of humanitarian intervention other measures such as diplomatic pressure and persuasion can be considered instead.