Failure to protect. The Path to and Consequences of Humanitarian Interventionism

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This book investigates the reasons and consequences of military operations by Western powers. It focuses on interventions aimed at protecting civilians from terror, dictators and criminals in fragile states. By doing that it contributes to the cosmopolitan, feminist and post-colonial literature on interventions.
By studying the 12 cases of protective interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Yemen, Mauritania, Libya, Mali and Syria, and by comparing developments in these conflicts with conflicts in fragile states, which have not been intervened by great powers, the book reveals that
1. The interventionist era after 1999 has been associated with an increase in conflict fatalities, while the non-interventionist era 1989-1999 was associated with declining conflict violence. States continued to strengthen their control over violence all though both periods.
2. States that experienced humanitarian interventions generally became more fragile and violent than before the intervention. On average their state fragility deteriorated. Fragile conflict states that were not intervened by protective great powers tended to strengthen their control over violence and their conflict violence developed more favourably and conflicts ended, on average, in a shorter time than in the case of protected fragile states.
3. Intrastate conflicts in fragile states that were intervened were escalated more than conflicts that were not intervened.
The book also traces the discursive path to such failure by analysing quantitatively and qualitatively the interactive discourses of the proponents and opponents of humanitarian protection in these 12 cases. This analysis revealed that there were three main reasons why Western protection escalated conflicts.
1. The lack of strong global agency in the protection lead to the need to justify operations for national constituencies in a way that made operations look selfish in fragile states. The terrorist strike on 11 September 2001 dramatically deteriorated this problem as the victimhood of the US meant that discourse on protection had to assume even more nationalistic tones.
2. The willingness to conduct operations outside the UN mandate and global agency lead to view in the target countries that protection was really motivated by a hidden geopolitical agenda. The confusion of the UN role in the first protective operations created a precedence of unilateralist operations and this escalated conflicts.
3. Finally, there was a political need to signal strength and determination against violent impunity in fragile states, and this led to militaristic strategies of protection. Such strategies created a situation where proponents and opponents of protection justified their own violence by references to the violence of their opponent.
The book concludes that the cosmopolitan protection is political and therefore it requires representative global agency and institutions to be legitimate and to avoid accusations of partisanship. Furthermore, the book concludes that protection is marred by militaristic stereotypical masculinity and power bias. There is a need to reveal the masculine gender bias in protection and to denaturalize the militaristic biases in protection. To avoid escalation, cosmopolitan protection requires what the book calls “democratic matriotism”: an approach that emphasizes local ownership and feminine experience in dealing with violence.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd
Number of pages256
ISBN (Print)978-1-78811-100-3
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2019


  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Intervention
  • anarchy
  • fragile states

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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