Alex J Bellamy
University of Queensland
This new volume adds to a growing literature critiquing Western armed intervention. Drawing on a range of examples, including Libya, Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, it argues that with only a few exceptions, humanitarian intervention tends to make situations worse. It identifies three principal reasons: the selfish nature of Western military action, the West’s unilateral approach to intervention, and the ‘militarism’ and ‘power-centricity’ of Western approaches to protection. To remedy the problem, the book calls for a supplanting of Western-inspired cosmopolitanism by ‘neo-cosmopolitanism’, an approach that calls for the global democratizing of language and practice, the inclusion of ‘feminine experience’ (p 189), and an approach that focuses less on changing the behaviour of others (such as those that commit atrocities) and more on ‘mutual restraint’. Much hinges on the selection and interpretation of cases. The study only examines unilateral Western intervention (which perhaps explains why it finds so much unilateralism) and excludes other types of operations authorised to use force to protect civilians. The inclusion of anti-terrorism interventions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq also affects the findings. Eight of the twelve interventions included in the study were motivated not by humanitarian concerns but by the global war on terror. Finally, the book’s own data do not entirely support its overall conclusions. Civilian casualties in Libya (p 61) declined immediately after the intervention. That they increased again two years after the withdrawal of foreign forces tells us more about post-war engagement than the intervention itself. Despite these weaknesses, this is an interesting and engaging book that will inspire debate.