Humanitarian Intervention

Confronting the Contradictions

April 2009 9781850659747 256pp


If a state carryies out or sanctions atrocities on a mass scale within its borders, is there an international right, or even duty, to intervene in support of the victims? Or does this notion undermine state sovereignty at the expense of weaker states? These are key questions in the debate on humanitarian intervention, which has become increasingly polarised in the twenty-first century. Many now view this as little more than a rationale for Western neo-imperialism, while others uphold it as a crusade for liberal democracy and individual rights. This book seeks to establish an alternative position. It critiques current international policies by examining their impact on developing and transitional countries, and it also argues that military interventions have had limited success in building sustainable peace. But it endorses the notion of a ‘responsibility to protect’, suggesting that a more progressive future would be possible if this were interpreted radically and combined with an enlarged conception of ‘humanitarianism’ that addressed issues of global inequality and poverty. This work will have particular resonance for those who have opposed recent Anglo-American policy, but have simultaneously believed that ‘something must be done’ to save those threatened with genocide or other atrocities. Drawing on a range of disciplines and offering a distinct approach, it is aimed at all those who wish to understand a complex issue of contemporary importance. It will be particularly useful for students of international relations, contemporary history, peace and conflict studies, international law, politics, and development studies, and those working in NGOs.


‘A masterly summation and analysis. Michael Newman has an uncanny gift for bringing clarity to complexity, for doing justice to every nuance while reaching firm conclusions based on a thorough and fair examination on the evidence. He writes, as he often reminds us, from what he calls a left-liberal or left-wing position, but he is equally critical of the facile economic dogmas and military adventures of liberal interventionists and of critics who unconditionally reject humanitarian intervention as thinly disguised imperialism or as contrary to political realism.’ — Survival

‘Against rising scepticism in the wake of imperial wars waged in the name of humanitarianism, Michael Newman’s Humanitarian Intervention offers a principled position for leftists who oppose military crusades waged by the West, but who still wish to argue that there are circumstances in which military intervention is justifiable on humanitarian groundS. It furthermore shines a spotlight on the role of rich countries in contributing to conflict in poorer ones via neo-liberal policies. … Newman’s case is persuasively supported by a detailed analysis of conflict zones from the past twenty years. His analysis takes into account both historical events and the theoretical evolution of humanitarianism. … An important contribution to the debate.’ — Political Studies Review

‘Michael Newman addresses the vexed moral and legal issues surrounding intervention with a scrupulous seriousness. Seeking out the complexities and ambiguities inherent in practice and scholarship, Newman impressively and effectively deploys his research in support of his arguments.’ — Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College, University of London

Humanitarian Intervention unpacks the contradictions of this controversial topic in ways that are both scholarly and accessible to those who might be unfamiliar with relevant literature. A range of examples engage as well as inform the reader by relating the arguments to specific cases in point.’ — Marjorie Mayo, author of Global Citizens: Social Movements and the Challenge of Globalization


Michael Newman is Emeritus Professor of Politics at London Metropolitan University and now teaches at New York University in London. His previous books include Humanitarian Intervention: Confronting the Contradictions (2009), Socialism: A Very Short Introduction (2005), Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left (2002), and Democracy, Sovereignty and the European Union (1996).

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