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Is Human Intervention an Ideological Cover for the Pursuit of Other Objectives?

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Is human intervention an ideological cover for the pursuit of other objectives?

We all know what genocide is. We also heard of Holocaust and its Anne Frank diary. Such inhumane killings should not repeat in the modern history due to its immorality, and that is why we saw humanitarian interventions in Rwanda and Somalia in 1990s. However, it is questionable of what was the real purpose. I believe that humanitarian cause is necessary but not an adequate condition for any act of intervention, which can be shown by case studies. In order, I will discuss the meaning of intervention and its presumed ideologies. I will also list out the possible diplomatic objectives hid behind these actions and their significance compared to the original motives. 

Intervention and its ideologies: Failure from core objectives

Interventions are defined as a use of threats or forces upon another nation to prevent or end violations of human rights occurred within its territory, ‘without the permission of the state within whose territory force is applied’ (Holzgrefe and Keohane, 2003: 18), implying an inevitable breach of sovereignty. We also have the non-violent resolutions such as humanitarian aids and economic sanctions, but the main focus here is on intervention involving armaments.

Interventions are rooted from its core ideology: to save people. It is a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) individuals from being deprived from basic needs, including food, shelter, health care and protection from violence (Seybolt, 2008: 38). The world is now familiarised with the idea of cosmopolitan law i.e putting focus on individuals not states only. Human rights become compulsorily obliged and many international agents emerged to reserve and protect it including United Nations, NATO, ICJ etc. Subsequently, when there is an occurrence of wrong killings in unjust armed conflicts, these players or its member states are under duty to prevent or interrupt them at all cost, including sovereignty.

It is theoretically righteous, but can practically be a self-defeat in its purpose. From its ideology, we may look at the number of people who are saved to assess the success of an intervening campaign. It gives mixed results. For instance, approximately 20,000 people were saved in Rwanda by UN troops, while 5,500 were killed by NATO in Kosovo in the name of justice (Seybolt 2008: 46). The examples also show a need of policymakers to assess carefully whether it is beneficial in terms of humanitarian call. It can be too little too late, as in the case of French efforts in an attempt to halt genocide in Rwanda; or unnecessarily offensive as for George W. Bush campaign in Northern Iraq, resulting in more deaths than lives to be saved, rendering the whole idea of humanitarian intervention wrong.

Fairly speaking, it is difficult to fairly justify any interventions provided the criteria used to do so ‘are so stringent that such justified interventions are likely to be extremely rare’. (Crovelli, 2007: 14) However, data still suggests interventions as a highly ineffective means to prevent deaths, providing only 9 out of 17 operations saved lives, 4 did not and the rest had mixed results (Seybolt, 2008: 46). What motivates a continuous use of humanitarian campaigns, if they fail their own consensus? Apart from initial ideologies, there should be other diplomatic objectives that play a catalyst role in the intervening decision. It is known as National interests, which are often shadowed.

Real purposes: Political and economic gains

History gives way to trace and bring to light hidden objectives through case studies. A clear authority would be the efforts of the US, Britain and France claiming R2P for Kurds as a reason to invade Iraq. For centuries, no concerns were shown for the Kurdish and Shiite conflict. In April 1991, Resolution 688 was introduced, which then allowed particularly the US to overthrow Saddam’s regime and claimed liberty for the Kurds.

The Operation Provide Comfort was questionable due to the fact that it caused more harm than good, but the campaign was continued, assumably for national interests. Economic benefits included another central East Asia open market with cheap oil resources were promising. Geopolitical reasons were also suspected with US obvious pro-expansion policy under Republican beliefs: the claim to have ‘a Middle-East of servant governments’ (Information Clearing House, 2004) and support for Israel in the attempt to balance out the strength of Arabs. Apart from humanitarian claim, the US tried to justify their actions by self-defence argument against terrorism. Using WMD threats as an excuse, the Bush administration tried at all cost to overthrow Saddam’s regime. The legitimacy of this claim and its subsequent invasion went crumbled after failure to find Iraqi WMDs, constructing public view on the whole operation as a mere case of ‘imperial overreach’ (Hinnebusch, 2007: 24).

It was not the first time the US was seen to have non-humanitarian purposes to intervene. Take into account the case of Rwanda (1994) and Kosovo (1999) both where American armed troops were presented but for different reasons. The US was heavily criticised to have a selective instead of equal treatment for humanitarian calls. More precisely, Bill Clinton’s administration was seen to intentionally ignore Rwanda genocide until facing rising public opposition. Only 5 years later, they responded in totally opposite way, eager to protect the Albanians against oppression coming from Serbian government in Kosovo. What caused the US discrimination in handling similar situations, if not national interests? Rwanda showed non-vital appeal to the superpower, while Kosovo was seen as ideally strategic to them in dealing with EU’s future and the NATO alliance (CPJ 1999). Although humanity was the core ideology, there were more to consider when a country decided to intervene into another’s business. And if personal gains are insignificant, intervening campaigns are very likely to be put off without questions.

Not only superpowers such as the US were motivated for personal bargains. Less developed states also did, namely Vietnam against Chinese-backed Khmers Rouges (1979). In an excuse of halting border incursions and promoting selfdetermination, Vietnam sent military troops over and successfully overthrew Pol Pot regime. Despite its achievement, the operation was met with wide condemnation with UN refusing the legitimacy of intervention through unilateralism (one single interruptor takes action instead of many agents assessing the situation). Although not invoked, Vietnamese government clearly achieved humanitarian goal. However, it was still observed as a strategic move to expand their own influences and oppress China’s.


Not always could we find clear evidence for hidden objectives. In some cases, there was nothing but only humanitarianism could explain the start of an operation. Somalia is an example. While hardly appeared beneficial to any intervening forces, armed units were constantly sent in to help by the US while UN also provided military support alongside with humanitarian aids. There was little to none of national interests presented and the campaign continued even when it generated various losses for the parties involved. The US bill for the whole mission was reported to be around $7 billion. (Valentino, 2011: 67).

Another situation is when domestic pressure dominates, putting pressure on state to act accordingly even though national gains seem to be insignificant. Bosnia-Herzegovina case reflects this aspect. From 1991 to 1995, the US government tried to delay to take action for the Serbs in Bosnia. (Washington Post 2005) However, acknowledging American people would not be satisfied with the current stand, Clinton’s administration was forced to respond. Although Bosnia survived, the cost for the Americans was remarkable, with approximately $120,000 per life saved. (Valentino, 2011: 67).

Intervention: Playground for supreme powers?

Human intervention is illegal without its core concept based on humanitarianism, according to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Most of the time, humanitarian reason is accompanied with other objectives to be adequate for a country to execute an armed intervention. Fairly speaking, countries are entitled to evaluate a cost-benefit analysis before putting efforts into approving justice at places where civil rights are provoked. Therefore, military action is to be acceptable provided that human rights should always be the major motivation.

However, to what extent an intervention is deemed to be legal is vaguely advocated. For instance, NATO utilised armed force in Kosovo without Security Council’s approval, yet facing no retribution but only media criticism. The same for the US upon failure to find any clear proof of existing WMDs in Iraq, or connections between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, Vietnam was immediately accused of wrongful engagement even when there was no statement proving the lack of humanitarian causes, which later let the US imposing economic sanctions, isolating Hanoi further in famine. Thus, it is reasonable to suspect if human interventions are also another tool for spreading democracy i.e Westernisation under the name of humanitarianism. It is criticised to be a limited game for the rich who has enough power and resources to impose ideology and control upon others.

Nevertheless, without interventions, wrongful killings would take place without any interference for justice. There should be a way to achieve an optimal method.

Obtain the Optimum: Domestic Influences

The only power that could prevent unwanted injustice, I believe, comes not from any higher international groups but from domestic voice. In other words, a legitimacy of any human interventions should not only be judged solely on its humanitarian motives, but also a sufficient amount of approval needed coming from domestic opinions. Without public agreement, it is likely that the whole operation is unjust. Therefore, to preserve the purpose of maintain high humanity level while minimising adverse impact of any armed intervention, domestic voice must be placed on equal footing with humanitarian justification.


Human intervention, whether by violence or non-violence measures, is originated from altruistic motives. While it is philanthropic in theory, reality shows distortions in action: The cost often outweighs benefits, and hidden incentives dominate the main cause. This can be done intentionally, although not always be the case due to unforeseeable circumstances or deficiency during the mission that could lead to totally opposite outcome. However, majority of practical case studies still suggest diplomatic concerns overshadowed humane thoughts. Higher awareness of public towards national policies should be achieved in order to prevent an overuse of human intervention as an ideological cover for undesirable objectives.


CPJ (1999) ‘Kosovo and Rwanda: Selective Interventionism?’, available at$646, accessed 14 November 2013.

Crovelli, M. R. (2007) Humanitarian Intervention And The State, research paper available at, accessed 14 November 2013. Hinnebusch R. (2007) The American Invasion of Iraq: Causes And Consequences, Journal of Perceptions, Spring 2007: 1-27.

Holzgrefe, J. L. and Keohane, R.O (2003), Human Intervention: Ethical, Legal, and Political Dilemmas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Information Clearing House (2004) ‘Was Iraq Invaded To Secure Israel: Another Fiction In A Game With Hidden Objectives?’, available at, accessed 14 November

Seybolt, T. B. (2008) Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions For Success And Failure, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Valentino, B.A. (2011) ‘The True Costs of Humanitarian Intervention: The Hard Truth About A Noble Notion’, Foreign Affairs, 90 (1). Washington Post (2005) ‘Was Bosnia Worth It?’, available at, accessed 14 November 2013.

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