Maria Prosviryakova's Blog

Six Criteria for Military Intervention: Just Cause and Right Intention

30 октября 2012



In this entry I explore second and third criteria for military intervention, namely, looking at just cause and primary motivation for intervention.


Criterion 2: Just Cause


Military intervention requires a lot of resources and enormous political will, and might be quite dangerous for the troops participating in the intervention. Military intervention can be only justified when non-intervention will result in more civilian casualties. Without a just cause, military intervention cannot be called humanitarian.


The norm of the responsibility to protect limits military intervention to particular crimes such as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. When situations arise that are candidates to invoke this norm, the decision to intervene is still taken on a case-by-case basis and is based on the political interests of decision making states. To avoid this, what is needed is a solid set of criteria that would define whether military intervention is justified and required. For example, we might consider what percent of the population must be endangered before military intervention can occur?


To illustrate, on one hand we have the Rwandan genocide with 800,000 victims and UN Member States failing to act decisively. A UN mandate was only established after the genocide ended and even then it was restricted to mainly observing, monitoring, and ensuring that both parties to the conflict take measures to ensure the safety of civilians[1]. A massive military intervention was needed to halt atrocities, but the Security Council and UN Member States were incapable of responding to the realities on the ground.[2]



While on the other hand, we have Libya with 1,000 – 3,000 casualties and with coalition forces intervening in that country within 3 days of adopting resolution 1973[3] – where the UN Security Council condemned war crimes and crimes against humanity in that country and authorized all necessary measures to protect civilians.


Even though the lessons from Rwanda are still fresh in memory and the number of victims in the Syrian civil war has already climbed to 30,000 (with the death toll soaring each month) with an additional 355,268 Syrian refugees having fled to neighboring countries, the UN continues to fail to take appropriate actions to stop crimes against humanity.[4]


Considering that all peaceful means have proven inadequate in Syria and the fact that its national authorities have manifestly failed to protect their populations, Syria, with its massive crimes against humanity should be a perfect candidate for military intervention according to the norm of the responsibility to protect. It seems that a just cause is present, yet the international community is paralyzed with inaction.



Criterion 3: Right Intention


Military intervention is not as humanitarian as it might initially seem. Humanitarian workers tend to help everybody in need, treating all parties in the conflict equally and mitigating the violence. In contrast, militaries must take sides as they have to fight against a common enemy.  UN failure in Bosnia demonstrated the importance of seeing beyond the notions of neutrality and drawing the line between aggressor and victim.


Even while trying to avert a large-scale loss of human life, militaries might still cause some civilian casualties. For example, in Libya 72 civilians were killed as a result of NATO air strikes.[5] Thus, military interventions might even add to the violence, exacerbating the problems they were intended to address.


There is only one justification for breaking into a sovereign territory with a military mandate – it must be to protect the country’s people. Thus, the primary reason for intervening should be humanitarian – stopping the massacre and in doing so setting an example to deter other regimes from violent suppression of popular dissent. But even though the humanitarian motive must always be at the forefront and should be the only guiding motive in adopting military intervention, when the violence increases on the ground and peacemakers are in great danger, countries are more likely to continue the mission if they are driven by some political interest in addition to the humanitarian cause.[6] Examples of UN operations in Somalia and in Rwanda demonstrate that with the lack of political motive when there was an increase in violence and attacks on peacekeepers the UN Member States withdrew their forces.



Once a UN Security Council resolution establishing a military mandate is adopted, it usually takes some time to gather the necessary amount of troops to conduct the operation. Governments are more willing to provide troops for UN peacemaking operations when they have some political interest at stake. An example is Libya, where French forces started the military intervention within 2 days of adopting the resolution with coalition forces joining in the attack shortly thereafter. Some political interests such as control over oil supplies may have given impetus to this military intervention. This contrasts with Rwanda, where members of the UN Security Council were reluctant to send their troops into a genocide-ridden country, especially one where they held very little or no political interest in.


Interveners guided by humanitarian intentions that also have some political motivations will have more zeal to continue till they succeed in the fight for peace on the ground, given that local fighters are motivated by their own strong political interests – such as the struggle for power, identity or resources – and are not likely to give up on their interests easily.


To be continued...


[1] U.N. Security Council, 3368th meeting.Resolution 912 (S/RES/912). 21 April 1994.

[2] U.N. Security Council. Report of the Independent Inquiry into the actions of the United Nations during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (S/1999/1257).16 December 1999.

[3] U.N. Security Council. 6498 th meeting. Resolution 1973 (S/RES/1973). 17 March 2011.

[4] U.N. Refugee Agency. Syria Regional Refugee Response. (Accessed 22 October 2012).

[5] Human Rights Watch. NATO: Investigate Civilian Deaths in Libya. 14 May 2012. (Accessed 22 October 2012).

[6] Seybolt, Taylor B. 2007 “Controversies about humanitarian military intervention”. In Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success and Failure. New York: Oxford University Press.


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