Humanitarian Hubris and the Politics of Violence
By: Tom Richardson July 1, 2011
At first appearances the proclaimed motivation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervention to protect civilians in Libya is admirable. However, a closer inspection suggests that the justification for the bombing campaign reflects a broader misappropriation of the humanitarian ethic in the 21st century. Violent conflicts are singularly the most bitter of political contests; for a intervening third party to expect to rise above the fray as a matter of virtue is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. Using fighter jets to destroy the ground forces of an international pariah is a political action. Distributing food aid in an area under the control of a warlord is a political action. Building a water sanitation system for a contested government is a political action. Although not an invested ‘party’ to a conflict in the traditional sense, through their interventions third parties become a part of the political landscape that defines the conflict. Without considering the possible impacts of intervention in a wider context, third party expectations of the perceived impartiality of their actions and the neutrality of their identity are a self-created fantasy. The politics of violent conflict are an inescapable, omnipresent reality third parties ignore at their peril and to the detriment of others.