Ethics & International Affairs

Intervention after Iraq

Responsibility to Protect or Trojan Horse? The Crisis in Darfur and Humanitarian Intervention after Iraq

Alex J. Bellamy*


What does the world's engagement with the unfolding crisis in Darfur tell us about the impact of the Iraq war on the norm of humanitarian intervention? Is a global consensus about a “responsibility to protect” more or less likely? There are at least three potential answers to these questions. Some argue that the merging of strategic interests and humanitarian goods amplified by the intervention in Afghanistan makes it more likely that the world's most powerful states will act to prevent or halt humanitarian crises. Others insist that the widespread perception that the United States and its allies “abused” humanitarian justifications to legitimate its invasion of Iraq has set back efforts to build a global consensus about humanitarian action. A third group argues that the “responsibility to protect” inhibits the potential for abuse and, as a result, consensus is likely to strengthen post-Iraq for precisely this reason. Through a detailed study of the international engagement with Darfur, I suggest that the latter two arguments have merit but need to be adjusted. I argue that the humanitarian intervention norm has changed in two subtle ways. First, while the strength of the norm itself has not changed, the credibility of the United States and U.K. as “norm carriers” has been significantly undermined. Second, while the “responsibility to protect” has been invoked to support international activism, it has also re-legitimated anti-interventionist arguments.

Alex J. Bellamy is Senior Lecturer in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland. His books include Kosovo and International Society (2002), Understanding Peacekeeping (2004), coauthored with Paul Williams and Stuart Griffin, and the edited volume International Society and Its Critics (2005). He is currently completing books entitled Just Wars (forthcoming, 2006) and The Ethics of Terrorism (forthcoming). His articles have appeared in International Security, Review of International Studies, International Affairs, and Journal of Peace Research.


* I would like to thank Paige Arthur, Mark Beeson, Ian Clark, Nicholas J. Wheeler, Paul D. Williams, Ramesh Thakur, the two anonymous reviewers, and especially Sara Davies for their help and advice on this article.