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Humanitarian military interventions in developing countries and the role of self interest : an ethical critique.

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This study was an ethical investigation of humanitarian military interventions in developing countries. The main argument which is proffered in the study is that the issue of humanitarian military intervention is extremely controversial from an array of perspectives. Some of the controversies that have been identified in this study are as follows; that humanitarian military interventions which are mostly undertaken in developing countries by developed countries have worsened the political and security situation far much more than before the intervention, that humanitarian military interventions do violate international law especially on those instances when they are undertaken without the authorisation from the multilateral bodies such as the United Nations (UN) and its organ – the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), without authorisation from the UNSC the humanitarian military interventions do violate International law, whether humanitarian military interventions are acceptable or not, especially in the light that such interventions in most cases do violate nation-state sovereignty just to mention a few. For conceptualization purposes, the study set the scene by providing a conceptual definition of humanitarianism with the aim of delineating the meaning of this term from its use in other disciplines. It was asserted that when humanitarian is suffixed with military intervention the implication is that of the military intervening in particular socio-political context with the aim of alleviating human suffering. After providing this conceptual definition, the study went to provide a brief historical account of humanitarian military interventions from ancient times up to modern times. Within the modern era, the study provided examples in which it was shown that most of the literature on humanitarian military interventions which have been undertaken to date have been entangled in controversies showing that these interventions have often worsened the security situation of the intervened country far much more than what it was before intervention. The study went on to argue that the humanitarian military interventions that have been undertaken by powerful countries have been undertaken with the aim of protecting geo-strategic interests in those intervened countries. These geo-strategic interests included political influence, extraction of natural resources such as petroleum and minerals which are indispensable to the flourishing of the economies of powerful countries. In this regard interventions that have been undertaken in the Middle East, North and West Africa by powerful countries were based on the need to preserve traditional areas of influence for marketing and extraction of raw materials by powerful countries. As an example, it was argued that the current Syrian civil war has resulted in USA and Russia fighting a proxy war for geo-strategic influence in the Middle East. This proxy war has caused an unprecedented refugee pool since the end of World War 2. Multilateral efforts to transform humanitarian military interventions from the pursuit of geo-strategic interests by powerful countries have come in the form of the introduction of the UN doctrine of Responsibility to Protect. The presumption behind this doctrine is that as a sovereign, each nation-state has the responsibility to protect its citizens instead of relying entirely on humanitarian military intervention from powerful countries. The study has gone on to demonstrate through examples such as Ivory Coast, Libya and Syria that this doctrine has been undermined by powerful countries when powerful countries accused leaders of these respective countries of failing to protect their citizens. These accusations are mostly used as a pretext of overthrowing sovereign governments. Another attempt at curbing the excesses that go hand-in-glove with humanitarian military interventions is based on the attempt at emphasising the primacy of nation-state sovereignty. The study has shown that whilst those who do not believe in humanitarian military interventions appeal to nation-state sovereignty as an absolute binding norm that should regulate international relations under international law, some scholars argue against this absolutist position by maintaining that nation-state sovereignty should be respected on the condition that the given state is able to protect its citizens from gross human rights abuses and genocide. Despite these efforts to subvert humanitarian military interventions by the powerful on developing countries, the study went on to argue that the pursuit of national interests by the powerful countries poses ethical problems on the justifiability of humanitarian military interventions. An action can only be ethical when it helps to promote the wellbeing of the other. An action that promotes the wellbeing of the other is usually regarded as altruistic. The study argued that since humanitarian military interventions are not based on altruistic motives, these interventions do not have anything to do with morality but the pursuit of national interests. Whilst the prevalence of national interests dominates humanitarian military interventions in a way that undermines the existence of ethics in international relations, the study made the following recommendations among others; • That the conduct of HMI should be regulated by the use of regional organisations and non-interested parties with the UN acting as the supreme regulator. Coupled with this should be the production of an agreed upon HMI template to regulate the conduct of the intervening countries and their service personnel in order to limit or curtail abuses of HMI. • The creation of an international HMI fund that will be accessed and used in HMI. • Special training on the conduct of HMI to military as well as civilian personnel. This recommendation was influenced by the fact that in the conduct of HMI is different from conventional warfare. • That the pursuit of national self-interest within the community of nations should be done only through the authorisation of the UN if it is to promote the interest of the whole nation state. • The establishment of rules and regulations that would also allow for the prosecution of personnel that perpetrate war crimes and human rights violations while conducting HMI.


Doctor of Philosophy in Ethics. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 2017.