Revisiting Humanitarian Intervention: Post-September 11

November 19, 2001

Report on a 11/27/01, Carnegie Council workshop.

Who is claiming the human rights mantle and for what purpose?

Many factors go into decisions of powerful international actors like the U.S. or N.A.T.O. to intervene militarily in any given situation (or, in the case of the Security Council, to give a green light to such intervention). In Afghanistan, U.S.-led intervention initially was justified in terms of self-defense rather than human rights or humanitarian concerns. In fact, in the early days and weeks of U.S. bombing, there were major concerns that war against the Taliban/al Qaeda would produce a humanitarian disaster in the region as winter approached – such concerns were dismissed as secondary to the objective of rooting out al Qaeda before it could wreak more havoc.

Human rights motives were similarly secondary: the Taliban’s rights record had been abysmal for years without prompting international military intervention. It was only when the Taliban were defeated in Kabul and elsewhere that U.S. leaders, buoyed by media images of Afghans (including many women) celebrating in the streets, emphasized the benefits of the war for Afghan citizens and society.

One participant