A Project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research in Cooperation with the Einstein Forum, Potsdam

Berliner Colloquien zur Zeitgeschichte

Berliner Colloquienzur Zeitgeschichte

Humanitarian Wars: Principles, Objectives, RisksHosted by Gerd Hankel

30 September and 1 October 2011

The events unfolding in Libya on 2011 and the conflict in Ivory Coast are only the most recent examples of how sovereign states fail to prevent mass violence against their own people. In such cases, the UN principle of responsibility to protect stipulates that the international community must be prepared to use military force—to wage so-called humanitarian war—against the perpetrators.

Many see this newly minted principle as a sign of civilization’s progress, and there are many good reasons to do so. Yet actually following through on it is, at any rate, a risky undertaking. Humanitarian forces can kill innocent civilians, conflicts can escalate wildly, and permanent protection of the civilian population is all but impossible without military backing. As in past interventions, even the motivations for military measures can be nebulous, drifting between moral concerns and political or economic exigency. 

Any serious consideration of the so-called humanitarian war must keep in mind these problems along with many others, from determining legality and identifying scope to defining strategy. Because a single academic field alone would be unable to tackle difficulties as far-reaching as these, the Berlin Colloquia is taking a decidedly interdisciplinary approach, inviting experts from a variety of fields. 

Conference language was English.



Interview with Gerd Hankel