Humanitarian Interventions

Led by Ola Tunander
Jan 2008 - Dec 2008
The intervention in Afghanistan in comparison to conflicts like Rwanda, Kosovo, and Iraq    

The concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is linked to the concept ‘human security’. If we accept the concept of ‘human security’, ‘security’ cannot be reduced to ‘state security’. ‘Security’ is also about the ‘securing the people’ in a state. For example, if one state slaughters an ethnic minority in the name of ‘state security’, the international community may carry out a ‘humanitarian intervention’ to save the lives of this minority. Genocide is unacceptable to international law, and the UN can decide whether a specific mass killing is considered genocide. The UN can use military force or decide about the right of a military coalition to intervene in a country to guarantee ‘human security’. Many researchers argue that we are back to the Augustine concept of ‘just war’.

We now have some years of experience with several international interventions. In Afghanistan, there is no light in the tunnel, and the situation in Iraq is even worse. Almost ten years after the war in Kosovo, the political and humanitarian problems are far from solved. One might argue that some of these operations were not just ‘humanitarian interventions’. True, military operations were carried out to create stability, to advance geopolitical interests or as part of the ‘War on Terror’, but the arguments for these interventions were also linked to ‘human security’: to stop the Serbian atrocities, the Taliban killings and of the Saddam Hussein’s brutality. Now, a few years later, these less successful war experiences have been important for the loss of confidence in ‘just wars’. Also, the killings in Rwanda and Bosnia in the mid 1990s, which provoked the change of views in the international community and justified the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’, appear today to have been more complex. We believe that this case study and comparative study will offer important insights into the mechanism of power and how actors in favour of war and actors in favour of peace will operate side-by-side, and how conflicts are restrained by the latter and are calibrated at a certain level by the former.


Popular Article

Tunander, Ola (2007) Afghansk opiumskrig [Afghan Opium War], Aftenposten, 26 November.

Conference Paper

Tunander, Ola 2008 Humanitarian Intervention and calibration of violence: Some comments on the operation in Afghanistan, presented at China-Nordic Peace Research Conference, , 7–9 April.