The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention

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The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention
By Rajan Menon
Oxford University Press, 2016
256 pp.
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In this contrarian book, Menon argues that the entire “project” of humanitarian intervention is deeply problematic. His critique is realist. Despite lots of talk about international norms and human rights, power and interests still drive world politics, he asserts. The United States and European countries waited three years before intervening in the Bosnian war, and they finally did so in part because NATO's credibility was on the line. And Western powers chose not to intervene at all as humanitarian disasters unfolded in Rwanda and Darfur, because they did not see their national interests at stake. Menon thinks that the idea of humanitarian intervention is best seen as an artifact of the United States’ post–Cold War unipolar moment, when Russia was in political free fall and China was only beginning its economic ascent. He claims that, in reality, no international community exists that could provide legitimacy to humanitarian interventions and argues that such interventions rarely work anyway; they often create chaos rather than stability. Despite his searching critique, Menon is nonetheless unwilling to argue that the world should simply turn a blind eye to genocide and mass killings. So he is left asking the same question that leads many liberals to support humanitarian intervention: How should the world respond in the face of mass killing and large-scale human suffering?

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