Discussion: Was Iraq War a legitimate humanitarian intervention?

The idea of Humanitarian Intervention

Since 9/11, Western states have expressed humanitarian sentiments in relation to many different types of war. Humanitarian intervention poses a hard test for an international society built on idea of sovereignty, non-intervention, and the non-use of force. The society of states established law forbidding the mistreatment of civilians and recognizing basic human rights. However, these principles often conflict with non-intervention. Sovereign states are expected to act as guardians of their citizens’ security. If such state act as criminals towards their own people, should tyrannical states be recognized as legitimate members of international society?

The Legal Argument

Some authority argues that human rights are just as important as peace and security in the UN Charter. The Charter’s preamble and Articles 1(3), 55, and 56 all highlight the importance of human rights. In Articles 1(3), it identifies the protection of human rights as one of the basic principle in the UN system.

In 1985, Michael Reisman argued that given the human rights principles in the Charter, the UNSC should have take armed action during the cold war against states which committed genocide and mass murder. The ongoing failure of the UNSC to fulfill this legal responsibility led him to assert that a legal exception to the ban on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the Charter should be created that would permit individual states to use force on humanitarian grounds.

Similarly, some lawyers argued that humanitarian intervention did not breach Article 2(4) because the article only prohibits the use of force against the independence in a political way.

Some people believes that there is no legal for unilateral humanitarian intervention in the UN Charter. At the same time, they argue that it is permitted by customary international law. For a rule to count as customary international law, states must engage in the practice that is claimed to have the status of law, and they must do so because they believe that the law permits this (opinio juris). For example, British and French referred to customary international law to justify the creation of safe havens in Iraq in 1991. However, the Iraq War after 9/11 was a bit different.

Saddam Hussin’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

After 9/11, the use of humanitarian arguments by the US, UK and Australia to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq posed a crucial challenge to the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention in international society. The war was justified as one necessitated by the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. However, as the offending weapons became more elusive, those justifying the use of the force to remove Saddam’s power relied on humanitarian rationales.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair frequently retorted that regardless of weapons of mass destruction, the war was justified because Iraq should be better place without Saddam. However, was the Iraq a legitimate humanitarian intervention?

In the liberal case, the Iraq war was a legitimate humanitarian intervention. In 2005, Fernando Teson claimed that the invasion of Iraq had some major function to end the tyranny. Although the US-led coalition was not motivated by humanitarian impulses, it still had humanitarian intentions because only removing tyranny and installing democracy would the threat posed by Iraq be removed. Teson also insisted that the abuse of civilians by the Iraqi government was severe enough to warrant intervention, given that it makes no sense to argue that intervention should be reserved for ongoing mass killing because that rule would have prohibited the removal of Hitler after the Holocaust. On the other hand, the majority of Iraqis looked for the intervention from other states, as providing an important source of legitimacy.

Although many liberialists believed that the war in Iraq was legitimate humanitarian intervention, some people disagreed. Terry Nardin saw Teson’s arguments as involving significant revision of the traditional doctrine of humanitarian intervention. According to the traditional doctrine, humanitarian intervention is permitted only by the commission of certain crimes, such as mass killing not by the character of the regime. Nardin argued that “humanitarian intervention aims to rescue the potential victims of massacre or some other crime against humanity by thwarting the violence against them”. Nardin also believed that Teson overlooked international society’s strong predisposition towards non-intervention. He also claims that humanitarian intervention could be justified if it was calculated to cause more good than harm. The war in Iraq was basically foreseen that Saddam was harmful to Iraq.

There was a major debate about whether or not the Iraq war could be justified as a legitimate humanitarian intervention. While some people believed that it was legitimate based on liberal idea, some other believed that it was not legitimate because the war could not be justified by foreseeable assumption, i.e. Iraq would be better without Saddam. Yet, the debate provided the important idea that humanitarian intervention posed a hard time to international society.

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One thought on “Discussion: Was Iraq War a legitimate humanitarian intervention?

  1. Pingback: Humanitarian Intervention and War on Terror after 9/11 | Legal Elite

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