This paper presents a genealogical analysis of the relationship between liberal state violence and the contemporary liberal will-to-care by way of an exploration of what is sometimes referred to as ‘humanitarian war’. I explore the historical convergence of contemporary human rights norms with military intervention in the post-Cold War context. I suggest that, far from representing a limit upon state violence in the present, human rights in fact move us closer to the ‘emancipation’ of state violence as an instrument of liberal police power. Further I take up the question of the law as it structures and shapes this emergent form of state violence more directly. Focusing on the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), I suggest that the form of power that is made possible by military humanitarian interventions, and in doctrines such as R2P in particular, is an international variant of what Michel Foucault termed the power of the ‘police’. I suggest that thinking about this power as a form of distributional authority may be helpful in holding to account both liberal interventionism and its underlying will-to-order in favour of an international politics of care.
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