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Humanitarianism and (In)Humanitarian Intervention: Purposes, Compatibility, and Implications Open Access


Other title
humanitarian intervention
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Sly, Chenoa J
Supervisor and department
Epp, Roger (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Keating, Thomas (Political Science)
Byrne, Siobhan (Political Science)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
Humanitarianism and humanitarian intervention are not conceptually or operationally compatible. By developing a history of the concept of humanitarianism, and by developing a list of the purposes of humanitarian intervention based on statements made by members of the United Nation Security Council and their guests in relation to the intervention in Libya in 2011, I will establish that they are not a part of the same tradition, and they have wildly different purposes. Humanitarianism is a part of the Dunantist tradition, and is committed to the imperative to alleviate suffering that is ongoing, not to prevent suffering. Humanitarianism is dynamic and adaptive, and sensitive to relationships of paternalism and structures of power. Humanitarian intervention, on the other hand, is a part of the Wilsonian tradition of aid and is related to the perpetual peace project. It is motivated by a concern for national security and the desire to prevent any threat from causing suffering at home. I will argue that political humanitarian groups that incorporate human rights into their mandates are also a part of this tradition and act as force multipliers of state action. Humanitarian intervention is not sustainable. It has not been successful in achieving its stated goals of protecting civilians, nor of achieving an alleviation of suffering, and is, therefore, losing supporters. Furthermore, the conflation of humanitarianism with humanitarian intervention has served to endanger humanitarian workers and clients.
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