In March 1999, the United States led NATO air strikes over Yugoslavia. In May 2000, 500 UN peacekeepers were taken hostage in Sierra Leone. These are two of the most recent cases that have reignited the debate on whether and if so, how, outside powers should intervene in humanitarian crises.
In this paper, Chantal de Jonge Oudraat looks at some of the legal, political and operational stumbling blocks to intervention. The current system, whereby the UN Security Council determines whether a situation warrants military intervention, is an insufficient guarantee that the United Nations will intervene when the next atrocity occurs. De Jonge Oudraat argues for the development of a legal framework, which would regulate unilateral interventions for humanitarian purposes.
Intervention has also been constrained by domestic and international political factors. For example, while public opinion will often call upon governments to do "something" when faced with humanitarian atrocities, policy makers-US policy makers in particular-will often be wary to send troops abroad. They fear backlash when the first body bags come in. These conflicting domestic pressures will push policy makers to adopt half measures.
Finally, de Jonge Oudraat argues that for interventions to be effective, six conditions need to be fulfilled, including the need for widespread international support and for clear objectives on goals and targets.
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About the Author
Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, a specialist on security and peacekeeping issues, is an associate with the Carnegie Endowment's Managing Global Issues Project. She is finalizing a book on the United Nations and the use of force and economic sanctions.