15. Head to Head – Humanitarian Intervention or Imperialism?


Learning outcome

Upon completion of this exercise, students should become familiar with the complexities involved in implementing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine in practice.


Watch the video clip "Humanitarian intervention or imperialism?" and answer the following questions.


"Pacifism is a very good idea; unfortunately, it doesn't work," insists Bernard Kouchner, the former French foreign minister, co-founder of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and staunch advocate of humanitarian intervention. But can a military campaign ever be strictly humanitarian? Or is the defence of human rights just a facade for imperialist agendas? In an episode of Head to Head, a popular discussion programme on the international news network Al Jazeera, Mehdi Hasan challenges Kouchner on Western involvement in conflicts such as Mali, Libya, Kosovo and Rwanda, and asks whether France's recent interventions mark a return to its colonial past.

Al Jazeera makes a video clip depicting the full episode with a short commentary on its official site.

Take quiz

Question 11 pts

Bernard Kouchner speaks of the Syrian Crisis at length, even going as far as to take a stand on the question of military intervention in Syria on the basis of the R2P doctrine. He concedes that it is now too late for military action, but at the onset of the Syrian Crisis, was Bernard Kouchner in favour or against military intervention in Syria?

Question 21 pts

Kouchner speaks of some of the states that are supportive of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in Syria. He mentions “some Arab states,” and two (non-Arab) states in particular. Select the two states Kouchner identifies as buttressing the Syrian regime from the list below.

Question 31 pts

Lindsay German, from the ‘Stop the War Coalition,’ speaks against military intervention in sovereign states on the basis of the R2P doctrine, saying that, “we are always told that it is about stopping a massacre, but that’s not what it is about.” She progresses to give three country-examples of military intervention which according to her, were justified under the guise of the R2P framework but for which the intervening states had ulterior (political) motives. Select the three states Ms German mentions in this regard from the list below.

Question 41 pts

When discussing the 2011 military intervention in Libya, Head to Head presenter Mehdi Hasan argues that many of the members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) at the time, accused the military coalition of Western states that intervened in Libya, of violating UNSC Resolution 1973, which handed the coalition a mandate to intervene. Mr Kouchner retorts by saying, “that’s not completely untrue.” Why?

Question 51 pts

Head to Head presenter Mehdi Hasan quotes a high-ranking state official as having said that, “France is fighting against those in Mali who it once armed in Libya against Gaddafi.” Which of the following state officials was this quote attributed to?

Question 61 pts

Head to Head presenter Mehdi Hasan refers to one particular military intervention, justified on the basis of the R2P doctrine through the UN’s Security Council, as the “benchmark intervention.” He states that this intervention is considered to have worked, unlike those in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. Which intervention does Mehdi Hasan refer to as the “role model of interventions?”

Question 71 pts

Finally, political activist Hamza Hamouche accuses NATO of “double standards” for ignoring the human rights violations of one of its members, which he assimilates to the human rights violations committed by Serbia over the Kosovars, and which in turn were used by NATO to justify military intervention in Kosovo. Which NATO member does Hamouche refer to?

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