The last century has seen the good, the bad and the ugly in global policy on humanitarian crises. At the onset of the twentieth century, state sovereignty played a principal role in international politics, such that little attention was paid to state-sponsored mass atrocities. The devastating Holocaust changed the standards of that global climate and catalyzed the establishment of human rights as a pillar of the new, post-war world order. In the wake of World War II, the international community vowed to prevent an atrocity like of the systematic genocide of Jews from ever recurring, and the United Nations Charter of 1945 laid the foundation for international peace and security by pledging to promote human rights. Two years later, the international community went even further with the mandate of the Genocide Convention, requiring that all signatories “undertake to prevent and punish” the crime of genocide within states, regardless of that nation’s sovereign status. The language of the Genocide Convention weakly identified mechanisms for how to tackle the crimes committed, and so the international community opted to respond with military and humanitarian interventions. The concept of intervention derives from profitable impulses but ultimately has its pitfalls. Whether intervenors act in the interest of those who require immediate protection, or in their own self-interest by promoting international peace and security, the tension between morality and sovereignty renders the endeavor more complex. Post-World War II, the international community has acted in both altruistic and self-serving ways and more often than not has produced a form of “iatrogenic violence” along the way. Iatrogenic violence encompasses “social disruption and political violence produced by the very intervention aimed to prevent violence.” Foreign interventions have repeatedly caused or contributed to violence around the world. Whether it be to prevent the spread of Communism into Cambodia, to control post-independence conflicts in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina, or to remove the high-risk leader of Libya, the international community has repeatedly launched interventions, and repeatedly put the civilians of those states in more danger than they might have been in without the operation. Humanitarian intervention has noble intentions but is ultimately still intervention, which always carries a risk of producing unintended, undesirable outcomes.
Background of humanitarian intervention.
When confronted with circumstances in which our “moral sense and human sensibilities are being massively assaulted,” the international community generally responds with humanitarian intervention. On the surface, the goal of humanitarian intervention is unambiguous: stop grave violations of human rights, even if the situations do not pose direct threats to the intervening parties’ strategic interests. In any case, acting in purely unselfish, disinterested ways can have political consequences that can make the intervenors anything but detached from their effects. Democratization has been a common goal of intervention by western states because contrasting regimes can be unconducive to negotiations. Many global powers, such as the United States, find it very much in their national interest to foster an international environment that is compatible with their values. They might push for the growth of principles such as human rights and free markets, which are the essence of democracies. Regardless of the goals an intervenor might have, they are ultimately driven to act because a state is unwilling or unable to provide protection for its citizenry.
Humanitarian intervention involves the use of coercive action in a sovereign state, with or without the consent of its government, “for the purpose of preventing or putting to a halt gross and massive violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.” The broad definition encompasses both military and non-military operations that are engaged in on the basis of UN authorization or by the decision of coalitions of concerned states or regional organizations. Non-forcible campaigns can include humanitarian aid and international sanctions aimed at alleviating mass human suffering within sovereign borders. They can also encompass the creation of safe zones, safe transportation passages through the region, peace mediation, and the disarming of combatants. Frequently, armed campaigns may be necessary to achieve the latter four activities. The concept of “armed humanitarian intervention” involves, as clearly stated, the use of military action to end human-rights violations being perpetrated by the state against which the force is directed. The threat or use of violence for humanitarian purposes makes the idea of armed humanitarian intervention a bit of an oxymoron. In breaking down the concept, the idea of state sovereignty arises. State sovereignty is the principle of international law that gives each nation exclusive jurisdiction over its territory and the power to make autonomous choices within its borders. The very definition of “intervention” entails the crossing of internationally recognized borders and involvement in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, thereby drawing a fine line between an “armed humanitarian intervention” and an “invasion.” Even though intervention pursues altruistic goals, it is still a violation of a state’s right to act as it pleases within its borders. With the post-WWII global order, the security interests of a state have been decoupled from the safety of its citizens, weakening the traditional conviction of state sovereignty. The international community has redefined sovereignty as “a responsibility on the part of the state to protect its citizens.” Consequently, when a sovereign state cannot protect its people, its leaders are expected to solicit and welcome international humanitarian aid.
Intervening in the affairs of another state is like “releasing a wheel at the top of a hill: you have no idea how it will bounce or where it will end up.” The operations have the power to harm both the intervening party and those whom the intervention is intended to help. Military interventions pose several costs, risks, and consequences for the intervening body. First and foremost, the operations take considerable tolls on resources. Whether it be training troops, allocating equipment and supplies, or providing troops, a great deal of strain is put on the military capabilities of those who engage, and might even deter parties from acting in the first place. The decision of when and where to intervene is a precarious one that has plagued international policymakers for decades and has led to an ad hoc range of operations. During the 1990s, for example, the world was plagued by intrastate and civil conflicts that left millions of people subjected to humanitarian crises. At this time, the international community as a whole adopted a less broad standard for intervention, and individual intervening bodies developed their own selective standards for deciding as well. The United States’ military forces, for instance, limited itself to those rare instances of “genocide,” “crimes against humanity,” or “war crimes” when determining when to intervene. Through relying heavily on particular standards, the circumstances in which the use of international military force would be considered was sharply confined. An advantage of restricting the criteria was that it sent the message that global policymakers would be highly selective and regulated in their choices regarding the use of military force in humanitarian interventions. On the flip side, such standards would be too limiting in practice. Case in point: the 1990s saw massive inconsistencies in the international community’s choices regarding when and where to intervene. The inconsistent rationale not only produced the ad hoc manner of intervention, but it created costs for the policymakers both at home and abroad. Inconsistency by intervening bodies undermined domestic confidence and support in policymakers’ decision making, and it cultivated a sense of unpredictability that eroded the confidence of possible allies, as well as the “deterrent threat of intervention.” Nonetheless, if and when those bodies choose to intervene, their mission can face tremendous ridicule and backlash should they not be successful. Two main questions arise in contemplating the outcome: did the peacekeepers actually go where they were most needed, and did they manage to reduce violence in the areas where they were present? In deciding whether or not to intervene in future cases, officials should consider what has gone, and therefore what could go wrong in the process.
Cases in which intervention backfired.
Regardless of the fact that it was not engaged on the basis of humanitarianism, the 1969 United States’ involvement in Cambodia corroborated the idea that intervention as a whole can enable and advance grim consequences. In the global context of the Cold War and the Vietnam crisis, Cambodia found itself in the midst of the fray. The power struggle in Vietnam coupled with the western fight against Communist practices drew United States’ forces into the region and put them on the side of the South Vietnamese. With the Cold War intensifying, the U.S. sent in more and more troops to target the Viet Cong, or Vietnamese Communists, and other enemies of the North. By the mid-1960s, the conflict in Vietnam had spilled over into neighboring nations, and parts of eastern Cambodia served as havens for the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. In 1969, US President Richard Nixon was elected under a pledge to end the Vietnam War. In reality, his administration’s decisions expanded the war into Cambodia. With the goal of preventing “the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy from threatening free nations and free institutions throughout the world,” the United States began a series of air raids against enemy Vietnamese bases in the state. In March 1969, Nixon ordered American B-52s to begin a series of bombings in Cambodia, aptly named Operations “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Dinner,” “Dessert,” and “Supper.” During the raid, over 30,000 American troops and nearly 45,000 South Vietnamese forces surged into Cambodia. President Nixon insisted that the “incursion” had everything to do with the U.S. war against Vietnam and protecting American servicemen from “massive attacks” by Communists, and nothing to do with the Cambodians themselves. If anything, American policymakers argued, Cambodian citizens would be spared from the repressive characteristics of the system by preventing Communism from taking hold. In the midst of the invasion, United States forces welcomed a coup of the reigning tyrant Prince Sihanouk by the pro-American and devoted anti-Communist, Lon Nol. This concession proved to be a failure of US policy because the fate of many Cambodian lives rested in the hands of a corrupt, repressive, and incompetent “would-be loser.” The American-sponsored dictator continuously made moves to increase his own power, while diminishing the basic rights and freedoms of ordinary Cambodians. In an effort to end the “sterile game of outmoded liberal democracy,” Lon Nol declared himself the president, the prime minister, the defense minister, and the marshal of the armed forces. Cambodian civilians came to resent Lon Nol and the US for supporting such a tyrant. Instead of weakening the Vietnamese or the Cambodian Communists, the Nixon administration’s actions fueled discontent in the nation and made the vulnerable civilians eager support the promise of peace and anti-American sentiment of another emerging power.
The American-led ground invasion of Cambodia did immense damage in its own right, but it also, in the words of Samantha Power, “helped give rise to a monstrous regime.” During the time of the assault on Cambodians, domestic politics polarized, and a five-year civil war commenced. On the one side were the Lon Nol and the United States. They opposed the Vietnamese Communists and the small, enigmatic group of Cambodian revolutionaries, titled the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). The CPK insurgency was led by Paris-educated radicals, including Son Sen, Ieng Sary, and most notably Saloth Sar, who was later known as Pol Pot. The CPK insurgents took on the moniker of Khmer Rouge (KR) and engaged in a campaign for power over Cambodians. Initially, the former leader Sihanouk’s dictatorship drove the KR to arms, but with Lon Nol’s coup and seizure of power, the insurgents turned to fighting the new government forces and recruited their former adversary Sihanouk as a nominal leader in the coalition. In doing so, the CPK earned support from millions of Cambodians who already trusted their former Prince and were dissatisfied by Lon Nol. The KR was also able to gain popularity among Cambodians by highlighting the damage that the United States and the US-backed regime had brought throughout the bombing campaigns. Despite being backed by the U.S., the prospect of victory for Lon Nol’s unpopular regime over the favored CPK-Sihanouk union was doomed. Ultimately, the KR seized power. When they began their military campaign in 1970, the KR appeared to be “well-behaved boy scout revolutionaries,” but shortly thereafter, they set in motion a scheme to reset Cambodia to “Day Zero” and transform the nation into a Communist utopia overnight. The insurgents began deporting civilians, especially intellectuals and minority groups, from their ancestral villages to new communal settlements and burned their old homes to prevent them from returning. The bloody KR approach to social transformation included the immediate genocide of their own people, with over two million Cambodians executed by brutally primitive methods that followed the KR’s “anti-technology stance.” When the KR’s slaughter ended in 1979, over twenty percent of the Cambodian population was dead. The Khmer Rouge’s rise to power was inextricable from the American intervention.
The United States’ intervention policies in the Indochinese region were exceptionally flawed during the latter half of the twentieth century. Had the U.S. made better decisions and considered possible consequences, the course of events in Cambodia might have looked quite different. American forces dismissed warnings of imminent mass violence in the nation. Prior to the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, the Cambodian Communists were well enough understood to be a threat, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) cautioned policymakers that signs of the brewing “KR-induced bloodbath” were present. In backtracking even further, perhaps the U.S. should have heeded the warnings from Cambodian officials about intervening in the first place. Prince Sirik Matak, a member of the royal family and once an ally of Lon Nol, cautioned U.S. officials not to back the unpopular Lon Nol regime. “If the United States continues to support such a regime,” he noted, “you help the Communists.” Instead of attending to the signs of imminent conflict, the U.S. remained steadfast in its stance on fighting Communism. The American foreign policy at this time embodied “atrocities and complicity, cloaked in the language of democracy and human rights,” and instead of learning its lessons in Cambodia and greater Southeast Asia, the U.S. has continually repeated its mistakes in other regions of the world. For example, the 2003 invasion of Iraq destroyed the Middle-Eastern society and helped create conditions for the rise of ISIS in a similar fashion that the bombing campaign paved the way for the KR’s ascent to power. In the grand scheme of interventions, the United States’ is not the only culprit of failure. The rest of the international community has repeatedly used intervention to achieve humanitarian goals but caused more iatrogenic violence and harm along the way.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
The international intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina was not only inadequate, but its mandate was ultimately flawed in that it served the goals of the perpetrators of human rights violations. In the mid-1980s, unrest plagued the Balkan region. Growing nationalism within the seven states of the greater Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia fostered discontent between Serbians of Bosnia and Croatia, and their Croatian, Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) and Albanian neighbors. In light of the outbreak of fighting in the country and the threat it posed to international security, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 713. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the resolution implemented an embargo on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to the Republic of Yugoslavia. This period of political turmoil and conflicts resulted in the breakup of Yugoslavia and the transition of seven former states into new, independent countries in the early 1990s. In April of 1992, the Balkan state of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from the Republic of Yugoslavia, only to be immersed in a civil war. The struggle for conflict emerged from tensions between the different ethnic groups in the region. In a 1991 census, Bosnia’s population of four million was approximately 44 percent Bosniak, 31 percent Serb, and 17 percent Croation. The three ethnicities each made up a party in the coalition government of Bosnia led by the Bosniak Alija Izetbegovic. Prior to independence, tensions inside the state-led Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his Serbian Democratic Party to withdraw from the coalition government and set up their own “Serbian National Assembly.” When President Izetbegovic declared Bosnia’s independence on March 3, 1992, Bosnian Serb military forces, with the backing of Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševi? and his Serb-dominated army, immediately began firing on the capital city of Sarajevo. The troops set about violently expelling Bosniak civilians from the region in a cruel fashion that was later identified as ethnic cleansing. During this period, most of the non-Serb men either “fled, were put into detention centers, or were indiscriminately killed.” The majority of women, children and elderly tried to escape, and those who remained were either forcibly removed from the areas or lived under repressive conditions. Within six weeks, the coordinated offensive gave Serb forces control of roughly two-thirds of Bosnian territory. Several peace proposals between the Croation-Bosniak alliance – the primary victims – and the Bosnian Serbs – the central perpetrators – failed because the Serbs refused to relinquish any of the territories. Considering the growing unrest hazardous to international peace and security, the UN Security Council authorized Resolution 743. The mandate extended the features of Resolution 713, including the arms embargo, and established a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia known as the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The goal of UNPROFOR was to resolve political unrest in the region and provide aid to civilians in the areas with the most human suffering.
Involvement by the international community in the Bosnian conflict began with a political statement by NATO in February 1992, in which the organization called on all parties to comply with ceasefire arrangements to allow for the safe deployment of UN peacekeepers. In July of that year, the United States launched operation “Provide Promise” to deliver supplies to the region and monitor restrictions authorized by the UN Security Council’s resolutions regarding the conflict. Initially, UNPROFOR consisted of around 13,000 troops, 100 military observers, and 530 police personnel, making it the second largest UN peacekeeping operation in history. The force aimed to create an environment that would foster the peace and security necessary for negotiating an overall resolution of the crisis. In doing so, UNPROFOR declared through UNSC resolutions various “safe areas” throughout the nation where those in danger could seek protection from UN peacekeepers. One of the more recognizable zones was that of Srebrenica. The small and poor provincial town of Srebrenica was home to approximately 8,000 residents, nearly three-quarters of whom were Muslim. In the April of 1992, the municipality fell under the control of the Bosnian Serb forces in their quest for territory, but regional defense units regained power just a few weeks later. Attacks by the Bosnian Serbs continued, while UN access to the zone and humanitarian aid decreased. With residents of the town on the verge of starvation and the humanitarian crisis dismal, the Bosnian Serb forces declared that if Srebrenica became a “demilitarized zone,” they would end the shelling of the enclave. On April 16, 1993, the UN Security Council authorized Resolution 819, which established the town of Srebrenica to be a safe area that must be “free from any armed attack or any other hostile act” by all parties in the conflict. UN troops were only allowed into the area after most weapons were surrendered to peacekeepers. Srebrenica’s defense forces retained their light weapons, of which Bosnian Serbs expressed disapproval and later used to justify their final assault on the enclave by alleging that the arms were being used against them. In July 1995, the abysmal attack on the UN-declared “safe area” was perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs and culminated in the murder of thousands of men and boys. The offensive was planned well beforehand, and the abuses committed by the Bosnian Serb forces were systematic and well-organized, but the situation was also wildly mishandled by the UNPROFOR peacekeeping mission. During July 7th and 8th, tensions rose between the Bosnian Army and the Dutch UN forces stationed in the safe area because the Dutch troops refused several requests from the Bosnian government to engage in arms on its behalf. Meanwhile, during the course of the attacks, Bosnian troops guarding Srebrenica repeatedly attempted to retake the weapons they relinquished to the UN, but the Dutch troops denied them access to the collection sites. The hostility continued as Bosnian Army soldiers threatened to kill Dutch troops should they abandon their posts. Sure enough, when Bosnian Serb militants overran a UN observation post on July 8, Dutch troops retreated, prompting a Bosnian soldier to shoot and kill a UN peacekeeper. The Dutch forces present in the enclave were, under their mandate, unable to use force to hold the enclave and failed to protect refugees present in and around the area. Bosnian Serb troops proceeded to overrun the safe zone, and over the course of three days separated the Muslim men and boys from the women who had sought safety and shelter in the area, led them into fields and warehouses in surrounding villages, and massacred them.
In the case of Srebrenica, the international community failed to prepare or react adequately to signs of an impending assault on the safe zone. For example, Bosnian Serbs hampered peacekeeping effectiveness prior to their offensive. The troops interfered with UN troop rotations into Srebrenica by allowing two rounds of Dutch troops to leave but refusing their replacements entry. The unit was further reduced from an already insufficient force of about 400 soldiers to about 300. The day before the offensive began, another large rotation of Dutch troops stationed in the enclave were scheduled to leave, but they hesitantly remained in Srebrenica as signs of the impending attack became more apparent. Two days before the offensive, Bosnian Serb forces allowed a convoy carrying 100,000 of diesel fuel into the enclave. The sudden influx of fuel should have raised suspicion among UN forces because Bosnian Serb troops had previously refused to allow any fuel whatsoever into the enclave. Without this fuel, which was later recaptured when the safe zone was overrun, the Bosnian Serbs would not have later been able to transport the tens of thousands of Muslims out of the territory. UN officials should have heeded these warning signals, but instead, they brushed off the initial incursions into the safe area. Ultimately, the UN-guarded “safe areas” were established with good intentions, but in reality, they became UN-administered ghettos. The Bosnian Muslims in the zone were not only inadequately attended to in terms of food, water, and shelter, but they were abandoned by the insufficient, lightly armed peacekeepers. By creating the “safe areas,” the UN undertook the responsibility to do just that: protect those in the zone. The UN failed to do its job in Srebrenica and contributed to the very process by which the massacre of thousands occurred.
In a similar case to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations’ intervention in Rwanda was characterized by the group’s failure to act adequately. Inter-ethnic hostility plagued Rwanda long before the events of 1994, originating from social and political divisions between the nation’s central ethnic groups – the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis. Tutsi and Hutu peoples were intermingled across the country, and each group enjoyed power by occupying positions of influence in the country at different points in the twentieth century. Tutsi dominated the nation in pre-colonial periods, but following Rwanda’s independence in 1962, the Hutus were able to gain and maintain control of the country for the next thirty years. During its reign, the Hutu group exiled much of the Tutsi population, and in 1988 the exiled Tutsis, along with opposition Hutus, established a military and political group called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The RPF’s goal was to return exiled populations to Rwanda and set up a new national government that would allow for collaboration and power-sharing between the two main ethnic groups. An ensuing armed conflict between the RPF and the majority-Hutu Rwandan Government Army (RGA) drew international attention to the issue and led to the two parties’ signing of the Arusha Accords on August 4, 1993. Shortly thereafter, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 872 which established the United Nations Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, giving the peacekeeping force the right to take measures to settle conflicts by nonmilitary means. Specifically, UNAMIR was tasked with establishing a secure environment for a transitional government and its elections, monitoring adherence to the Arusha Accords, organizing humanitarian programs and contributing to the overall security of the capital city, Kigali. Insufficient resources and lack of cooperation from those involved doomed the efforts of UNAMIR from the start, and the inability to use military force to achieve its peacekeeping mission proved disastrous. The long-existing tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis made a collaborative transitional government difficult to achieve. Furthermore, reports began to emerge of Hutu militia extremists associated with the Rwandan government taking arms and plotting violence against Tutsis. In a cable sent to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan by Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire on January 11, 1994, the peacekeeping force commander warned of the risk of genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis. Annan did not share the message with the UNSC, and little was done to follow up with the news. In the Spring of 1994, the Security Council’s extended the mandate of UNAMIR, adding the establishment and maintenance of “secure humanitarian areas,” as well as “distribution of relief supplies and humanitarian relief operations.” Despite the expansion, violence would soon erupt with the downing of the Rwandan President Habyarimana’s plane and subsequent revenge taken on the suspected perpetrators, the Tutsis. The previously mentioned Hutu extremist group, known as “Interahamwe,” would soon join the RGA in resumed fighting with the RPF, and eventually participate in the orchestrated massacre of all known Tutsis and opposition Hutus in Kigali and later the surrounding region. Ultimately, more than an estimated half million people were slaughtered as a result of the conflict.
The international community failed Rwanda. On top of not preventing the genocide, it did not stop the killing once the atrocity had begun. First and foremost, UN officials ignored evidence that a genocide was planned. By neglecting to pass on the warning from Lt. Gen. Dallaire, Secretary-General Annan sent the message that the UN was unable or unwilling to act and help those in danger of slaughter. Furthermore, once the Rwandan government launched the slaughter of minority Tutsis and opposition Hutus in response to the death of the president, the initial reaction of the UNSC was to reduce the size of UNAMIR while leaving the remaining force poorly armed and unsupported. The UN abandoned the Rwandan people when they most needed protection, and there was little determination within the UNSC, particularly from the United States and the United Kingdom, to authorize a larger, more robust peacekeeping force to help the emerging situation Rwanda. The group’s members acted to serve their own ends. After ten Belgian peacekeepers were murdered at the start of the genocide, the Council members were detracted from keeping the peacekeepers in place, and even more deterred from strengthening their mandate. Furthermore, abandonment continued with the departure of UN peacekeepers from a school where thousands of Rwandan civilians had gathered for protection, and where a massacre would soon occur. Had the international community taken a different route when responding to the impending threat, millions of lives may have been spared.
The genocide of over half a million Rwandans in 1994 is widely recognized as a deplorable failure by the international community to respond such a large humanitarian crisis. When considering the atrocity, there is the question of whether the UN’s decision was a “heart-wrenching but correct” one, or a horrific mistake that “we ought deeply to regret and vow never to repeat.” The latter argument carries more weight, largely due to the fact that several warnings to the Security Council regarding the brewing genocide were insufficiently scrutinized. Not only was Lt. Gen. Dallaire’s notice ignored, but in the weeks leading up to the genocide, the Belgian ambassador to the UN desperately tried to convince the Security Council that Rwanda was a ticking time bomb and that the peacekeeping mission was in critical need of a stronger mandate. Again, the warning was to no avail. Many other signs, such as military training of militias, hidden arms caches, plans for a coup and an assault on UN forces to drive them out, and even detailed plans for executing genocide, were documented by unofficial UNAMIR intelligence units. They indicated that the implementation of the Arusha Accords was dwindling and that mass violence was imminent. All of this information was readily available when the decision to dramatically reduce the force of UNAMIR was made in April of 1994. Therefore, UN officials’ claims that an “inefficient early-warning system” hindered a timely reaction to the violence are unsound. Furthermore, an insufficient UN mandate doomed the mission from the start, with its demise lying in the UN Security Council’s refusal to strength it once the killings began. Had UNAMIR included a more sufficient authorization of troops, much more could have been done. As the senior military officer on the ground, Lt. Gen. Dallaire declared:
UNAMIR could have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. As evidence, with the 450 men under my command during this interim, we saved and directly protected over 25,000 people and moved tens of thousands between the contact lines. What could a force of 5,000 personnel have prevented? Perhaps the most obvious answer is that they would have prevented the massacres in the southern and western parts of the country because they didn’t start until early May nearly a month after the war had started.
Dallaire’s judgment of the UN’s response capabilities can be justified by the subsequent “Operation Turquoise” in June of 1994. A force of 2,800 French troops arrived in Rwanda within hours of the UN Security Council approval of the operation, and the units were fully deployed within 24 hours. The action illustrated the rapid response capability of members of the international community in saving thousands of lives and demonstrated the potential of the global powers to quickly deploy substantial military forces to stop the course of killings across Rwanda. Had this potential been tapped into with more streamlined and efficient action by the UN, the story of Rwanda would be dramatically different. With sufficient warnings and capability to respond adequately, the ultimate failure of the international community was its unwillingness to respond. The ruthless oligarchy in Rwanda not only planned and executed genocide, but it tested the UN each step of the way only to find that whatever it did, the organization would fail to act. Lack of political will led to this failure of the Security Council, whose very responsibility is to work towards international peace and security. In the wake of Rwanda, the international community vowed to “never again” become a bystander to genocide.
Where the Rwandan genocide of 1994 was a situation that indisputably required a robust humanitarian intervention but did not receive one, the intervention in Libya was a case of unnecessity. Some have praised the 2011 United Nations intervention in Libya as a victory for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine and its conviction that the international community has the duty to protect all populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. While the UN intervention in Libya succeeded in preventing such atrocities from being committed against the nation’s citizens, it is also a vivid example of how such interventions can yield “devastating unexpected results” and backfire on both the intervenor and those it intended to help. UN Resolution 1973 was enacted in response to the domestic turmoil in Libya. In February of 2011, demonstrations in opposition of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi spread across the country as part of the greater Arab-Spring. In response to the budding protest movement, which the leader viewed as domestic terrorism, the regime conducted itself with lethal force and killed more than one hundred civilians in the first few days. The ensuing armed rebellion quickly lost momentum as the tyrant unequivocally announced his intentions to execute those who opposed him. In a televised speech, Col. Gaddafi referred to the protesters as “cockroaches,” of which he pledged to rid Libya “inch by inch, house by house, home by home, alleyway by alleyway.” The international community retaliated by authorizing the use of force “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack.” UN Resolution 1973 was a broad proposal that authorized Chapter VII measures for the protection of civilians in Libya and allowed member states to “take all necessary means” to protect Libyan civilians and prevent a massacre. Two days after the UN mandate, the United States and other NATO members began the operation. The intervention lasted approximately seven months, during which a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace and an arms embargo were imposed. NATO forces also launched a bombing campaign against Gaddafi’s forces. After seven months and an extended military campaign with ongoing Western support, the Libyan rebel forces conquered the nation and killed Gaddafi. The 2011 intervention in Libya succeeded in preventing a massacre of Libyan citizens by Col. Gaddafi and thus is an example of how the R2P doctrine can be successful. On the other hand, this intervention was an abject failure in creating peace.
Since the intervention, Libya has “devolved” into a failed state. Where the former Libyan government helped the United States and allies combat terrorism in its last decade of existence, the current lack of regime has transformed the country into a safe haven for militias affiliated with various terrorist groups – such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The intervention also inadvertently created a terrorist haven in the Northern African nation of Mali. Under Gaddafi’s regime, a portion of his army was made up of Tuaregs. The Tuaregs are a nomadic people whose traditional homeland is concentrated in northern Mali. After Gaddafi was defeated, his Tuareg forces returned to their region of origin – armed with powerful weapons from their service to the deposed Libyan leader. Eager to establish a permanent homeland in Mali, the heavily equipped Tuaregs quickly defeated the lightly armed Malian forces. An ensuing power vacuum in the nation allowed for the emergence of another actor: the Salafi – an extremist form of Islam with close ties to al Qaeda. The Salafi people sought, and continue to seek, a pure Islam state in Mali. The violent radicals have attracted many al Qaeda militants to the region as it fights for complete power, meanwhile causing “far more death and suffering than Gaddafi ever did.” In the broader realm of regional stability, it is arguable that the 2011 intervention in Libya has given al Qaeda one of its greatest triumphs since 9/11.
In the case of Libya, this is an instance where the error lay in the decision to intervene in the first place. As previously noted, Col. Gaddafi took action to quash a rebellion. In responding to the leader’s extreme behavior with armed humanitarian intervention to oust him, the international community effectively destabilized the country. Had the US and its allies refrained from intervening, Libya may have had the chance to develop under Gaddafi’s chosen successor. At the time, the leader’s relatively liberal, Western-educated son Saif al-Islam was laying the ground for his goals of promoting peaceful reform in the nation. In ousting the reigning state, the intervenors not only extinguished his ambitions, but they fueled a civil war that created chaos in the country, endangering civilians and producing a power vacuum to be filled by extremists. As bad as Libya’s human rights situation was under Gaddafi, it has worsened since NATO forces ousted him. In a 2015 peace deal, the UN-backed a promising transitional government, the Government of National Accord (GNA), in an effort to generate a viable state that would promote peace. The GNA has struggled to exert authority following the deal because authorities controlling eastern Libya refuse to recognize the GNA as Libya’s official government. Today, Libya is saturated with ruthless militias and anti-American terrorists, and is a model case for where a government is suppressing a rebellion, military intervention is extremely likely to backfire by further destabilizing the nation and fostering “violence, state failure, and terrorism.” While interventions by the international community have historically caused further bloodshed, there have been cases in which humanitarian operations transformed conflicting societies and paved the way for long-term peace.
A Case of Successful Intervention.
In the case of Sierra Leone, the United Nations’ peacekeeping force that operated from 1999 to 2005 is hailed as a success for humanitarian intervention by helping reconstruct and support a condition of peace after the nation’s devastating civil war. In 1991, a brutal civil war in the small west-African nation broke out, emanating from the “social breakdown resulting from overpopulation and environmental collapse, greed fueled by illicit exploitation of minerals, and state collapse from bad governance and endemic corruption.” The two main parties in the struggle were the reigning government under Joseph Momoh and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). With the support of Liberian warlord Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), RUF founder and commander Foday Sankoh led the rebel group into Sierra Leone and attempted to overthrow the government using guerilla warfare. Overwhelmed by a struggling economy and corrupt administration, the government of Sierra Leone was unable to put up adequate resistance, and within a month of the invasion, the RUF controlled most of the Eastern Province of the small nation. Sankoh’s forces continued to gain control of precious territory and diamond mines and further pushed the Sierra Leone army back towards the capital city of Freetown. An ensuing coup in April of 1992 – undertaken by a group of young soldiers weary of the government’s failure to deal with the rebels – sent president Momoh into exile in Guinea, and the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) was established as the ruling party of the nation. After four years, the NPRC ultimately suffered the same fate as Momoh’s regime in terms of repelling the RUF, and power was handed over to a civilian government. An election in 1996 gave power to Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, but one year later a group of soldiers known as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew President Kabbah’s government because of the leader’s decision to imprison Major Johnny Paul Koroma for attempting a coup. Once in power, the AFRC freed Maj. Koroma, established him as the new Head of State and invited the RUF to join the government. In the midst of the political chaos, over forty thousand civilians were subjected to various human rights violations – including “maiming, rape, drugging, forced labor, killing, property destructions, and so forth” – and nearly fifteen thousand Sierra Leoneans perished. Estimates of undocumented cases put the number of those maimed at 100,000, with over 20,000 killed, with more than half of the violations attributed to the RUF. Furthermore, the civil war devastated over three thousand villages and destroyed the nation’s infrastructure. The international community perceived the civil war in Sierra Leone to be a threat to the security of the region. As the political and humanitarian chaos intensified, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) launched a military and diplomatic campaign to end the civil conflict and prevent it from spreading violence throughout the region. Similar to other humanitarian interventions, the ECOWAS mission produced iatrogenic violence, and desperate appeals were made for a more robust UN intervention.
The humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone began with the deployment of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). ECOMOG was a modest ECOWAS force which, at its peak, consisted of 12,000 Nigerian troops, 600 from Ghana, 600 from Guinea, and 500 from Mali. The goal of the group was to provide civilians with security, accommodate displaced persons, and mediate peace. In March of 1998, ECOMOG forces removed the AFRC faction from power after ten months in office, and the Nigerian-led group reinstated President Kabbah’s democratically elected government. Later that year, the UN agreed to send peacekeepers to help disarm the rebels and restore order in the nation. With the help of the international community, Kabbah and RUF commander Sankoh were brought together to sign the Lomé Peace Agreement of 1999, which established a power-sharing relationship between the leaders and called for an international peacekeeping force in the small nation. The UN Security Council then authorized the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), which carried an initial force of six thousand forces and grew to over seventeen thousand. UNAMSIL’s Chapter VII mandate allowed it to “take the necessary action to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel and, within its capabilities and areas of deployment, afford protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” UNAMSIL was set to relieve the ECOMOG forces and take over the meditation of peace.
During its time in Sierra Leone, ECOMOG’s troops were incredibly flawed. When repelling the RUF invasion in early 1999, the group’s soldiers committed “summary executions” of civilians in Freetown, and with their mounting losses, many servicemen “lashed out to avenge the deaths of personal friends and colleagues.” ECOMOG ultimately became a faction itself in the war, and when its troops officially departed in April 2000, the RUF almost immediately, and possibly resentfully, began to violate the peace accord. In one instance, RUF forces kidnapped over three hundred UN troops and seized their equipment. As a result, Sankoh and other RUF officials were arrested and stripped of any positions they held in the Sierra Leonean government. UNASMIL troops conducted themselves in a similar to ECOMOG forces when they faced hardship and produced iatrogenic violence. They suffered from poor funding and inadequate resources, and at times failed to protect civilians and violated human rights themselves. A pendulum of continued fighting and new peace agreements persisted in Sierra Leone until early 2002. By that time, the blue helmets succeeded in disarming more than 75,000 ex-combatants, including hundreds of child soldiers, and destroyed a potentially deadly arsenal of more than 42,000 weapons and 1.2 million rounds of ammunition. In January 2002, President Kabbah declared the civil war to be over, and international troops began withdrawing later that year. UNAMSIL formally ended its peacekeeping mission in December 2005, and the UN authorized the peacebuilding mandate, titled the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), to remain in the nation and work to rebuild what had been destroyed. Although the international community went about creating peace in a bumbling manner, it ultimately did its job.
Despite the hardships that the peacemaking missions faced, and the iatrogenic damage they may have caused, the overall humanitarian intervention in Sierra Leone is hailed a success because of what happened after the conflict ceased. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) has argued, “The responsibility to protect implies the responsibility not just to prevent and react, but to follow through and rebuild.” In a form of “new humanitarianism” that was implemented in Sierra Leone, the international peacemakers shifted from strictly monitoring peace agreements to being guarantors and enforcers of the peace agreements through post-conflict reconstruction. By targeting the root causes of the conflict, peace mediators helped prevent the nation from reverting to conflict or being vulnerable to another dictatorship. With the establishment of UNIOSIL, the international community sought to support the Sierra Leonean efforts in peace-building, recovery and sustainable development by promoting the reintegration of displaced persons, encouraging reconciliation between the perpetrators and victims, furthering human rights, fostering good governance, reducing poverty, and stimulating economic recovery. This humanitarianism provides the international community with an opportunity to invest in and plant the seeds for “peace, democracy, and human development,” in a way that abstaining from involvement would not achieve. Post-war reconstruction solidified the military and political gains made by international intervention in Sierra Leone by preventing a relapse into civil war, and thus giving the government a chance to build a better country. Since the end of the war, Sierra Leone has made significant gains in security and democracy despite once being considered a failed state. As of 2012, the small nation jumped from sixth place – where it was in 2005 – to thirty-first place in the “failed-state index,” moving from the top to bottom of the “catastrophic alert” category for the likelihood of state collapse and shifting closer to the relatively better “warning” category. Furthermore, Sierra Leone has conducted several largely peaceful post-war multiparty elections, where changes of government have occurred with the results being widely accepted among citizens. By that same token, between 2000 and 2004, UNAMSIL and other UN agencies worked to rebuild the nation’s shattered communities by providing repatriation and reintegration aid to nearly 275,000 people, as well as implementing approximately 1,500 community development projects regarding education, health, and employment. In targeting poverty, such agencies also provided over twelve million dollars to fund programs that would allow more low-income persons access to financial services, and they increased household income by strengthening the farming and entrepreneurial skills of civilians. By providing the farmers with equipment to bolster food processing and marketing, the programs also increased food production and supply within the healing communities. Measures working towards better governance and rule of law resulted in the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone to “prosecute persons who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since 30 November 1996.” The restoration of rule of law in the country would come to help civilians heal by prosecuting those responsible for their suffering. These significant developments in welfare, justice, security, and democracy show that new humanitarianism has had positive effects in the nation.
As human beings across the globe remain at the mercy of state repression, civil wars and state failure, intervention continues to be the favored tool in the international community’s arsenal. Despite the many failures of humanitarian intervention, the call for peacekeepers continues because, as ICISS noted, “What is at stake here is not making the world safe for big powers, or trampling over the sovereign rights of small ones, but delivering practical protection for ordinary people, at risk of their lives, because their states are unwilling or unable to protect them.” Past successes of humanitarianism should be examined, and either replicated or altered when the call for peacekeepers arises in the future. The strategy of entering broken nations, creating peace and proceeding to leave when conflict stops should no longer be an option, as it was in Libya. In contemplating the 2011 operation in Libya, yes, the international community succeeded in removing the cruel leader, but it set the nation up for failure in the process. Had Libya received the same level of post-conflict attention that Sierra Leone did nearly a decade earlier, the discussion would be quite different. Perhaps the Libyan mission should have included more reconstruction programs to support a transitional government. From another angle, perhaps the Libyan mission should have never occurred. American military strategist Edward Luttwak proposes that the international community should allow conflict to proceed uninterrupted. He bases his argument on the idea that wars are an effective instrument, if not the only means, to resolve conflict and achieve peace. When humanitarianism protects the weaker party in a struggle, the stronger party is not able to decisively dominate and “absolute, clear victory for any party” is made impossible. Ergo, by conducting humanitarian interventions, the international community interrupts the “natural course” of war, thereby extending the duration of conflicts, and creating more damage than what might have unaffectedly occurred. Nonetheless, if the international community chooses to act in times of crisis, the overall methodology of humanitarian intervention must be altered such that receiving nation and its citizens are better off in the long-term than they would have been without action.