For and Against: Analysing the Determinants of Humanitarian Intervention. Libya (2011) and Syria (2011–2013) Compared

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Abstract

While the normative and legal aspects of humanitarian intervention have been explored in great detail, scholars have usually overlooked the more practical question of when military humanitarian action can be undertaken. To shed light on this question, the first section of the article investigates the conditions and circumstances that should be taken into consideration by the potential interveners. The conditions and circumstances are mostly external in nature which means that the interveners capabilities are important but not a fundamental issue. One of the crucial conditions, often neglected, seems to be clear political situation in the state that is the object of intervention. Preventing or stopping mass killings as a desired outcome is dependent on generating political will that is interlocked with the prospect of success. In the next section, itemised conditions and circumstances are examined in the context of a revolution in Libya in 2011 and of the early years (2011–2013) of the civil war in Syria. It appears that, in the case of Libya, the internal and international situation was definitely to the interveners’ favour. By contrast, the risk of failure in Syria was perceived as very high. A humanitarian intervention in Syria for Western powers could have led to sticking in the quagmire and would have in fact served the interests of local players. The conclusion is if certain conditions and circumstances are absent, the interveners refrain from taking action. Subsequently, humanitarian intervention is more likely to take place when the potential interveners see a higher chance of achieving their operational and political goals by using military force.

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