The normative principle of the protection of civilians (PoC) has repercussions for a range of practices undertaken by international institutions – from state governance, through humanitarian assistance, development aid and peacekeeping, to military intervention. Debates on the ethics of humanitarian intervention do not grasp the essential conflation of international and local governance that this agenda involves. Resonating with the ideal of internationally induced resilience, the [international] politics of PoC are neither primarily a matter of intervention nor self-governance but transnational governance through strategic partnerships between international and local actors. The ways in which these practices are embedded in global, regional and local political struggles requires critical ethical evaluation of the ways in which they make a political difference while seeking to protect individuals. In response, this paper analyses a set of cases across the spectrum of combatant, peacekeeping and humanitarian PoC and considers how these relate to debates on sovereignty and intervention in international law and ethics.