New humanitarian standard for warfare?

Flickr, Jayel Aheram

Except for euphemistically calling warfare “intervention,” I think this article in The Atlantic about our current military efforts in Libya “The New Standard for Humanitarian Intervention” is a good read. Says the author Robert Pape:

We may be witnessing an historic shift in international norms.

Gandhi and Che, two kinds of freedom fighters
Flickr, Runs with Scissors

Pape’s article answers a question I raised a few weeks ago in my post asking “What determines the humanitarian military response?”

I will refer Pape’s article to my brother who, over the weekend, was challenging me on this — about Obama deciding to wage “intervention” against Libya without congressional approval, about the geopolitical wisdom of using warfare as a means to stop or resolve conflict and so on.

And it’s not just me and my brother. The chattering class (of which I am a card-carrying member) has been all over this issue as well, with some pundits who had been criticizing President Obama for not taking action in the Middle East now criticizing for him taking this action.

I recently looked at the reasons why I believe it is in our national interest to take aggressive “humanitarian military action” in Libya, as did Nick Kristof, who argues it is the better of several bad choices. For more than a month now, I’ve been citing stories about Ivory Coast that raise the question of why there has been so little international response to that crisis so similar in nature to Libya.

Pape goes beyond these specific cases and issues to look at what the rapid military intervention in Libya may mean for the future of foreign policy, and if it signals a more “humanitarian” approach by the international community — a lower threshold of intolerance for brutality. Says Pape:

Crises short of genocide, such as the Libyan conflict, justify a military response when it can save thousands of lives with reasonable prospects of virtually no or only very low casualties to international allies.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.

  • Terry

    Good subject for Americans to ponder since we know virtually nothing about the complex contexts of foreign countries and appear to have zero interest in learning more. I think you and Kenny and the few dozen other people in America who are noticing are right to challenge assumptions and proclaimed solutions. I think I understand that diplomacy is supposed to address some of these explosive issues before they descend into the nightmares we hear about but since many policies don’t “follow the money” when doing so can cause problems with our agenda and that of other dominant countries, it always seems like a one-way street to disaster. Nobody has a crystal ball and every nation has a driving self interest, but I would like to think that humans should be able to see what’s coming at least some of the time. “Mural dyslexia”, the inability to see the writing on the wall. What blinds us to anticipating problems and then finding the resolve to work on solutions? the other great one–neither of which I invented–“To the blind all things are sudden.”