Humanitarian Intervention: International Law or International Vigilantism?

Although this article was originally written in response to moves by Western Governments to find ‘justification’ to overthrow the Assad government in Syria under the guise of ‘humanitarian intervention’, the general arguments set out in the article apply to the concept of Humanitarian Intervention in general.

The ‘doctrine (or duty, or responsibility) of Humanitarian Intervention’, as construed by Western powers, notably the United States, Britain and France, as justification for military intervention in Syria, is a most curious doctrine indeed.

An analogy in Domestic (National) Law would be this: If I take a grievance to court, and I lose my case because the court doesn’t believe my ‘evidence’, then I acquire a sort of secondary legal right to take the law into my own hands. And that right extends to me gathering a group of friends to assist me exact the ‘justice’ I believe I was denied by the court.

That is nothing more than vigilantism. It is peculiar that countries which proclaim their belief in ‘law and order’ should be advocating anarchy.

The countries most vocal in proclaiming this curious doctrine also appear to do so for slightly different reasons. The United States claims that a breach of an international treaty gives it the right. The British claim that it is a breach of humanitarian law, even though some 100,000 civilians are said to have died before they discovered that they had this ‘right’. And the French – well, who knows?

In support of this right, these countries also claim that not resorting to this kind of international vigilantism threatens their ‘national interests’. It seems that Western powers today have difficulty distinguishing between their ‘interests’, and what they are interested in. If any country has national interests at stake in Syria, it is clearly Russia, not the West.

But worse, the doctrine the West is advocating can only threaten their national interests. If the rest of the world adopted the same approach to resolving disputes where the Security Council could not agree, International Law would amount to nothing more than International Vigilantism.

So, for example, if a country sought a Security Council resolution requiring Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and the United States or Britain vetoed the resolution, other countries would acquire a right to attack Israel to drive it out of the occupied lands.

The same case could be made for almost every dispute between countries, of which there are many. Even if the doctrine were strictly applied to humanitarian issues, it would not be hard to invoke it in a great number of instances around the world.

If this is the kind of International Law the West considers is in its interests, then it would be considerably preferable, and much cheaper, to scrap the United Nations, and revert to the age-old practice of simply requiring a country to declare war on another country in order to give its actions, even its aggressions, some kind of legitimacy.

Should the United States, along with France and such other compliant ‘allies’ America can muster, resort to this kind of International Vigilantism, in the face of overwhelming opposition from the international community and their own people, Obama’s legacy to the world will be an ugly International Tyranny under which the weak will be subverted to the will of the strong. And International Tyranny will inevitably lead to national tyranny in Western countries as the people are told that they have to sacrifice what freedoms and privacy they have left, so that their governments can protect them from the inevitable blowback caused by imposing tyranny on the rest of the world through sheer aggression.

By Joseph BH McMillan

Copyright © Joseph BH McMillan All Rights Reserved

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