Over recent years the idea of humanitarian intervention has never been far from media attention. On one hand the so-called ‘CNN effect’ has put pressure on – often reluctant – governments to ‘do something’ when graphic accounts of violence across the world are projected into their voters’ living rooms.
On the other, less reputable hand, governments themselves have found it useful to claim the status of humanitarian intervention for military actions with suspect motives. If Kosovo and Libya were humanitarian interventions, what about Afghanistan – or even Iraq? Perhaps all interventions are driven ultimately by self-interest?
It’s no surprise then that it’s often not clear exactly what ‘proper’ humanitarian intervention is – nor whether it serves any useful purpose. In short, before we can say whether it works, we need to know what ‘it’ is. And, of course, we need to know what we mean by ‘works’.