Miliary intervention remains a controversial part of human protection. Indispensable in some circumstances, military intervention confronts significant structural challenges which means that it is used only rarely and has the propensity for causing unintended negative consequences. In this essay, we examine the place of humanitarian intervention within the human protection regime. Focusing on the case of Libya, we argue that the UN Security Council has now accepted that the use force, even against a sovereign state, is a sometimes legitimate response to mass atrocities. But the Libya experience also raised three major challenges – challenges of regime change, accountability, and selectivity – that will have be addressed if military intervention is ever to become a legitimate part of international society’s anti-atrocities arsenal. First, we show how increased international activism after the Cold War helped put downwards pressure on the incidence of mass atrocities worldwide. Second, we explain why armed intervention remained a controversial and rarely employed instrument of human protection. Third, we argue that the UN Security Council’s decision to authorise armed intervention in Libya represented a significant development in the place of armed intervention as a tool of human protection. Finally, we examine the political consequences of the intervention and argue that these will need to be addressed in order to rebuild sufficient trust to allow future considerations of the use of force for humanitarian purposes.
- humanitarian intervention
- regime change