At the close of the Cold War, ‘liberal democracy’ appeared to have triumphed as the ideal of governance for the globe. There was, at this time, great hope that countries around the world were moving closer to realizing this ideal; all were certainly hence to be judged by its standard.
Despite such certainty and optimism, the increasingly globalized world that replaced the polarities of the Cold War has been riddled with humanitarian crises and so-called ‘failed states’. From the Rwandan Genocide to the current conflict in Syria, humanitarian devastation is widespread and growing.
In Europe, we are reminded by activists and the media that we have a ‘humanitarian responsibility’ to work to change these realities. However, military intervention by Western countries to confront and mitigate humanitarian crises has been anything but clear-cut.
There was no intervention in the horrific massacres in Rwanda that retrospectively came to be called ‘genocide’; there has been no intervention in Sudan, even though the crisis in Darfur was explicitly designated a ‘genocide’ by international organizations; and, there is no prospect for intervention in Syria, though the humanitarian situation there worsens by the day.
By contrast, the duty of stopping a dictator from shooting his people was the fundamental ground on which Libya was invaded. And, after the rationales of links with terrorism and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ dissipated, the humanitarian imperative of ending Saddam’s dictatorship became, retrospectively, the primary legitimation for the American invasion of Iraq. In Afghanistan as well, the humanitarian rationale–‘protecting the Afghan people from the Taliban’–has flanked ‘the war on terror’ as justification for the prolongation of the war.
In this debate, we ask, can the motivation to avert or end humanitarian crisis ever justify military intervention? If so, in what situations and under what conditions? Or, does the selective history of the application of the ‘humanitarian rationale’ for military intervention prove that there is always an ulterior motive, serving other, i.e. imperial, interests? We aim to develop a working definition of what qualifies as ‘humanitarian devastation’ and to discuss and ethical and responsible means of involvement in such situations.
The event will be moderated by Dr. David Moshfegh and Dr. Amanda Dennis. The event will take place on Tuesday October 22nd at 7.15 pm in room 142 A-B (Segovia Campus)