17. Noam Chomsky – Humanitarian Intervention


Learning outcome

Upon completion of this exercise, students should become familiar with some ways in which humanitarian action may be used by powerful nation states as a guise for political action.


Please watch the embedded video clip below and answer the following questions.


Widely-revered Professor Noam Chomsky speaks with famed Afghan activist Malalai Joya and criticises the legal, historical and moral arguments for "humanitarian intervention" and "responsibility to protect" in a public event in Boston for the United National Anti-War Coalition, in June 2013.


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Question 11 pts

At the outset of his oration, Chomsky brings up a book by Shaun Murphy, entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: The United Nations in an Evolving World Order,” in which the author posits three pre-Second World War examples of “Humanitarian Intervention.” He points to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, Hitler’s takeover of the Sudetenland and Japan’s conquest of Manchuria and North China. In what context does Noam Chomsky mention these three historical episodes?

Question 21 pts

In his monologue, Professor Chomsky states that the concept of Humanitarian Intervention became very popular (with the US government) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Why?

Question 31 pts

Professor Chomsky speaks at length about a particularly well-known and “highly documented” humanitarian crisis in which the intervention itself, which came in the form of aerial bombings conducted on the basis of preventing atrocities (ethnic cleansing) on the ground, actually sparked the atrocities it was supposedly intended to prevent. Which humanitarian crisis does Chomsky refer to in this light?

Question 41 pts

Professor Chomsky refers to an occasion on which the R2P doctrine was adopted by NATO as a means for the legitimisation of its military intervention in a particular African country. This, despite the African Union’s opposition to NATO’s intervention in the said country, as well as the regional organisation’s offering of “a series of sensible proposals for diplomacy and negotiation to try to achieve the end of the civil strife, without it leading to a humanitarian crisis.” Today, we know that NATO chose to ignore the African Union’s pleas and went ahead with the intervention (bombing). Which African country does Professor Chomsky refer to here?

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