19. The Moral and Strategic Failures of Humanitarian Intervention


Learning outcome

Following this exercise, students should become aware of some of the political, moral and strategic costs of humanitarian interventions.


Please watch the video below and answer the following multiple choice questions.


Joshua Foust is a fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. He is also a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS’ Need to Know. He is currently researching the role of market-oriented development strategies in post-conflict environments. Previously, he was a senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. military and worked in Afghanistan. Foust spoke at the University of Ottowa’s Centre for International Policy Studies in March 2012, about the costs and moral, as well as strategic failures of humanitarian intervention.

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Question 11 pts

Joshua Foust mentions the term Mission Creep, which refers to a gradual shift in objectives during the course of a military campaign, often resulting in an unplanned long-term commitment. He progresses to mention cases in which intervention missions that were supposedly humanitarian in nature, gradually turned into missions with strict political objectives, such as regime change. Which of the following interventions are characterised by Mission Creep according to Foust?

Question 21 pts

Foust makes reference to a study by the British Think Tank RUSI, which in light of the transformation of the Libyan campaign from a humanitarian mission to regime change, states that, “The manner in which the initial Security Council Resolution was contorted out of all recognition, from the protection of civilians to, in effect, out-right regime change itself, left a sour taste in the mouths of powers like China, Russia and India, who still hold an absolute conception of state sovereignty.” What does RUSI’s study posit as an unwelcome, probable consequence of this for the Humanitarian Sector in general?

Question 31 pts

Foust speaks of the INGO Human Rights Watch and its open advocacy for regime change - as a measure to protect civilians - in the 2011 Libyan campaign. What were, according to Foust, the consequences of this sort of advocacy?

Question 41 pts

Foust argues that NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in Libya set a bad precedent in terms of arms control and de-escalation. He says that Muammar Ghaddafi had given up his nuclear programme in 2003 and that the change in mission from the protection of civilians to effecting regime change “served to send a message to other autocratic governments that giving up nuclear weapons makes one vulnerable to foreign intervention; a message that is counterproductive to counter-proliferation and denuclearisation efforts.” He then argues that this message is “one of the biggest reasons” that a particular nation state has consistently refused to give up its nuclear weapons programme. Which state does Foust refer to in this regard?

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