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Does humanitarian intervention work?
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Intervention can lead to extended conflict

If we look at the example set by Iraq, which was often framed as an intervention, it becomes clear that military involvement can come at a greater cost than inaction. The collateral damage and prolonged war caused by the Iraq War spells the dangers of intervening.
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The Argument

When Prime Minister Tony Blair entrenched Britain in the coalition forces that invaded Iraq in 2003, he did so under the justification of human rights. The day before the invasion, he made a historic speech to parliament indicating that Sadaam Hussein's past atrocities, coupled with the belief that he was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, necessitated action.[1] More than 8 years later, British forces withdrew from Iraq with The Lancet estimating as many as 650,000 deaths caused as a result of the war.[2] It becomes clear when looking at the human toll of the conflict that more lives were lost than saved. In addition to the massive economic cost to all nations involved, the war has ruined generations of Iraqi prosperity. The question becomes clear: what humanitarianism was actually achieved? To put this in perspective, the past atrocities that Blair referenced in his speech had an estimated death toll of 50,000.[3] While Saddam's past acts of genocide were abhorrent, it begins to pale in comparison to the near-decade of military conflict that country saw following the 2003 invasion. There is a case to be made for humanitarian intervention, but the example set by Iraq makes clear that the outcomes can sometimes be worse than inaction.

Counter arguments

We cannot frame future humanitarian interventions (HI) around the failures of Iraq. Not only were there conflicting narratives in Iraq, but it was not purely a HI. Intervention is a relatively novel concept in global politics and we cannot expect it to always have identical outcomes. We must continue to uphold a doctrine of humanitarianism, and attempt to figure out a methodology in how to protect individuals and groups from human rights abuses abroad. The most important lesson from Iraq may be that we cannot presume to have a crystal ball. The invasion was preventative in nature, under the presumption that Saddam Hussein's past human rights violations would be repeated with new weapons of mass destruction. However, he did not actually have these weapons. Perhaps we should opt for a more reactive policy in HI, rather than trying to predict atrocities before they happen.


[P1] The Iraq War was justified with humanitarian concerns. [P2] The civilian death toll of the Iraq War was substantially higher than past human rights abuses and genocides. [C] The separation between intentions and outcomes during interventions can sometimes be greater than the costs of inaction.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] We now have the sobering quality of hindsight, but there was no way to know the intervention in Iraq would be so deadly. [Rejecting P2] Intentions matter and there is a moral obligation to act.


This page was last edited on Thursday, 3 Sep 2020 at 05:35 UTC

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