Ethics & International Affairs Volume 19.2 (Summer 2005): Intervention after Iraq: Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq [Excerpt]

Jul 13, 2005

What does the world’s engagement with the unfolding crisis in Darfur tell us about the impact of the Iraq war on the norm of humanitarian intervention? Is a global consensus about a “responsibility to protect” more or less likely? There are at least three potential answers to these questions. Some argue that the merging of strategic interests and humanitarian goods amplified by the intervention in Afghanistan makes it more likely that the world’s most powerful states will act to prevent or halt humanitarian crises. Others insist that the widespread perception that the United States and its allies “abused” humanitarian justifications to legitimate its invasion of Iraq has set back efforts to build a global consensus about humanitarian action. A third group argues that the “responsibility to protect” inhibits the potential for abuse and, as a result, consensus is likely to strengthen post-Iraq for precisely this reason. Through a detailed study of the international engagement with Darfur, I suggest that the latter two arguments have merit but need to be adjusted. I argue that the humanitarian intervention norm has changed in two subtle ways. First, while the strength of the norm itself has not changed, the credibility of the United States and U.K. as “norm carriers” has been significantly undermined. Second, while the “responsibility to protect” has been invoked to support international activism, it has also re-legitimated anti-interventionist arguments.

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