Since its intellectual ascendancy in the 1990’s, the concept of humanitarian intervention, that is, military intervention to protect human rights, has been criticized for a number of different reasons by a number of different theorists of international relations.
The realist school of thinking holds that states should only act in their own self-interest, and that excessive and prolonged interventions overseas for “humanitarian” purposes only causes to weaken you as a state. Running as a realist in his 2000 election campaign, George W Bush alleged that President Bill Clinton was engaging in “social work” in areas such as the Balkans between 1995-1999 and Haiti, as well as the failed US troop deployment in Somalia and Rwanda, all of which were billed as humanitarian interventions. This caused imperial overstretch and a vulnerability at home to a possible attack. Additionally the various deployments cost billions of dollars, which should have been spent on decaying US infrastructure. Clinton’s troop deployment, Bush alleged, was not in the US national interest and so should not have been done. Such realist criticisms of humanitarian intervention have also been aired by 2016 presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
Another criticism of the concept of humanitarian intervention is that, in its military form, it is not cost effective. The intervention in Kosovo, is estimated to have saved 100,000 lives (a very generous estimate) the cost of the various Allied bombings was £30 billion according to a study by the BBC, both in terms of operational cost to the US and cost of rebuilding infrastructure in the region. This meant the US valued each human life saved at roughly $300,000. Vaccines, development aid and education would all have been much cheaper ways of preventing conflict, but were never considered despite being much cheaper than the military alternative. Humanitarian aid would allow the West to ensure economic rights are fulfilled, such as right to healthcare or schooling, but would also be effective at preventing conflict situations. Critical theorists allege that if those conducting humanitarian intervention really cared about the lives and wellbeing of the downtrodden in the 3rd world, they would up their aid budgets to the UN requirement of 0.7% of GDP, something the US fails to do, spending just 0.2%.
Another criticism of the concept of humanitarian intervention is that very rarely do those advocating humanitarian intervention very rarely follow up their intervention with a meaningful follow-up plan, and this often leads to unintended consequences. Though the 1999 bombing of Kosovo by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair is considered a success, Kosovo between 1999 and its declaration of independence was ignored and 17 years later the Council of Europe has labelled it a “mafia state” in the control of Albanian organized crime and Islamists. Additionally roughly 100,000 Serbians have been removed from Kosovo since the 1999 bombing, and ethnic cleansing to which there has been no humanitarian intervention. Because Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did not follow up their intervention in Kosovo with a meaningful way to build the nation, it remains a failed state. A similar fate befell Libya after the 2011 NATO intervention, with dozens of Islamist gangs trying to take control and the region now being a hotspot for terrorism and hordes of refugees. Because those advocating humanitarian intervention rarely consider the after-effects, the concept can be criticized even on the utilitarian grounds with which it is usually justified.
Donald Trump Foreign Policy Speech– 27th April 2016 New York Times
The True Cost of Humanitarian intervention Foreign Affairs Winter 2011 issue
Remember Kosovo- By Justin Raimondo.