Humanitarian Intervention in Libya and Rwanda Research Paper: Question 1

International Relations

Course Aim Humanitarian Intervention course > this course aims to help students justify their arguments for or against using force for humanitarian purposes through class discussions and advance their critical analysis and research skills by working on case studies. Choose between questions 1 or 2 for the research paper (5000 words).1- theoretical approaches to Humanitarian […]

Humanitarian Intervention in Libya and Rwanda

Humanitarian intervention involves using force or non–violent means by a state or League of Nations to end human rights violations or alleviate mass suffering within another sovereign border. In theory, Intervention among nations involves the threat and usage of military intervention or interference with another country’s internal affairs by sending the military to the sovereign state without the country having performed an act of aggression towards another state, with the purpose of the campaign being a response towards mass human rights violation (Frye & Gelb, 2000). However, the motivations behind humanitarian interventions, especially to individual countries and body of alliances such as NATO, can be explained by examining how a country’s politics, law, and economics interconnects with others globally, commonly known as international relations. When the superficial narrative of “helping” citizens of the afflicted states due to human rights violation are stripped away, the incentive for the intervening country to involve itself with other states’ affairs is attributed to neorealism or neoliberal institutionalism. In examining the influence of neorealism and neoliberal theories, a discussion on how they contributed to Libya’s intervention and Rwanda’s non-intervention while making a case on their relevance in the grander scheme of humanitarian intervention.

Neorealism and Neoliberalism

Neorealism is an international relation theory that states that power is the most compelling factor in interactions between states. In this system, every sovereign state is equal and acts in its interest while resisting subordinating its authority to other countries (Mearsheimer, 2014). When a country wants to gain an advantage over others, it will increase its offensive military, thus ensuring they have superiority in a foreign interventionism scenario; additionally, it can never be sure of other nations’ game plan in the struggle for dominance. Arguably, the race to supremacy and power leads to a security dilemma whereby other countries heighten their security measures to counter the new threat (Mearsheimer, 2014). To counter threats to a single state by other emerging powers, an incentive towards creating defensive coalitions like NATO to gain tactical advantages and neutralize the risk leads to a balance of power in the global scene (Mearsheimer, 2010). Neorealism theory in humanitarian intervention suggests that national interest and implementation of imperial projects are the primary motivation when it comes to intervening in other countries due to human rights violations (Girard, n.d.). Therefore, legitimate humanitarian intervention cannot go against national interests, and helping other states with their mass aggression towards human rights occurs only when there is gain achieved from the operation.

On the other hand, Neoliberalism tends towards the cooperation of states due to the mutual wins that individual nations will gain from the coalition. The theory derives its model from the game theory through rational decision interactions between its members. It also depends on the tenets of maximizing its gains irrespective of other states while also encouraging cooperation between institutions and nations with the aim of benefiting both (Dixon, 2013). The end game for Neoliberalism is not the idealistic or morality motivations but long-term interests that may boost the state’s power-maximizing capabilities when compared to other states (Dixon, 2013). Therefore, Neoliberalism concerns itself with a nation’s self-interest and position in the international community in absolute terms, irrespective of other countries.

The implications of the theories a state decides to adopt are diversely noticeable. Strong states adhere to action against humanitarian efforts because norms prescribe actions that they are destined to take, while weak states comply to avoid sanctions that would result from their failure in Neorealism theory (Dixon, 2013). However, in Neoliberalism, the gain from such a venture is considered, and a significant and enduring influence is the motivating factor in forming alliances (Dixon, 2013). Therefore, the benefits of the humanitarian intervention have to outweigh the costs by calculating the risk and gains accrued from such a venture for a state that considers Neoliberalism theory. However, both Neoliberalism and Neorealism stress the self-interest and survival of a country; be it through absolute or relative gains, welfare or power, both theories’ endgame is self-preservation in the long run.

Rwanda and Libya Interventions Case Study

Neoliberalism Viewpoint the Libyan Intervention

There is still much contention on the reason for the uprising and, subsequently, the conflict that led to the fall of Libya. The intervention by NATO was spurred by Gaddafi’s promise to stamp out the rebellion from house to house and bomb Benghazi. The deed prompted NATO to perform humanitarian intervention through the Responsibility to Protect act (R2P) (Dunne & Gifkins, 2011). However, as the missiles rained down on Libya, there was criticism from state leaders claiming that the operation did not in any way resemble humanitarian protection (Dunne & Gifkins, 2011).

Given the neoliberalism doctrine, there are only two claims that would address issues of Libyan humanitarian intervention. Firstly, R2P was not followed through, meaning that this was not the official reason NATO went to war in Libya. As Russia argued, the heavy weaponry used by the UN helicopters exceeded the mandate of Resolution 1975, mainly because the citizens were not protected (Bellamy & Williams, 2011). Additionally, of the fifteen countries that deliberated on the issue, only Colombia and France referred to R2P as the reason why Libya should face invasion, and even less mention was made in the ten publicly recorded meetings discussing the situation in Libya (Morris, 2013). Consequently, it proves that in deliberating Resolution 1973, R2P was the least of concerns in the council’s mind, and other reasons prompted the attacks (Bajoria, 2011). A look at US politics at the time shows that there was no debate amongst the Obama administration on the Libyan intervention. However, when the president addressed the nation, he did it in a manner that strongly suggested that the decision was driven primarily by R2P issues and that it was the corrective decision by the administration, made to serve the country’s interest (Morris, 2013). Earlier examples show that R2P was either not in their minds while discussing the issues, or more pressing problems heavily outweighed it, and its prevalence later could be attributed to the concept being a later one than the US administration would have the people believe.

On the other hand, a concept known as punitive war denotes compelling the abandonment of another rival country’s claim by securing allegiance to their citizens by subjecting them to a colonial order (Schwartz, 2011). These wars occur under questionable military actions, and their aims are extending sovereignty to other independent yet non-allegiant countries (Schwartz, 2011). Arguably, the statements are similar to the Libyan case, with the interventions by the NATO countries pointing to the gains the interceding states stood to acquire; these include both political and economic influence on emergent Libya. It should be noted that Gaddafi controlled about 8.3% of the oil reserve available in the world (Girard, n.d.). Another point to the fact is that there was no military intervention after the Egyptian and Tunisian crises; although R2P was applicable in how these governments treated their citizens, it is highly doubtful that the military action in Libya occurred due to humanitarian intervention. Arguably, these scenarios show that there is selectivity in how various NATO countries carry out its mandate in protecting citizens from other nations, and it is based on the economic and political significance of the state. Neoliberalism theory states that a country’s primary factor in international relations efforts is the state’s ability to gain from the effort. Although it is worth mentioning that although the value attached to human rights protection is undeniable in international relations, its priority is reduced to rhetorical admonitions, in contrast to the leverage neoliberal acquires in such a crisis as the Libyan liberation.

Neorealist Viewpoint the Libyan Intervention

The game of power and its distribution is one of the factors that many nations go out of their way to influence other states beyond their borders. The government with greater influence determines how world politics will be played, with more powerful countries like the US and its allies engaging in power and security competitions to avoid being overthrown. In an anarchic world, the most secure nations seek to dethrone emerging powers lest they face the risk of extinction and loss of sovereignty and autonomy. These attributes can be extended to international institutions.

The struggle towards strategic influence is seen early on when the US and the UK tried to have Libya sanctioned due to terrorist activities. The latter challenges the legitimacy of the Security Council, thereby lifting the sanctions (Hurd, 2005). These challenges put into question the validity of the US as the arbitrator of world peace, with more problems in recent years spurred by incidences similar to Libya’s earlier attempt at scoring a victory over the US and UK sanctions attempt (Hoffman, 1995). The real reason for attacking Gaddafi’s regime was later unveiled after his dethronement, and it was now clear why NATO overstepped its mandate and pursued regime change rather than protecting Libyan civilians (Thakur, 2013). Then, the world realized that the R2P was just a ruse meant to marshal the military power towards hanging a regime that defied the NATO powers. The non-NATO members, most notably China and Russia, also accused NATO of overstepping the mandate attributed to R2P and, rather than protecting civilians as they should have, sought to change the regime as fast as possible (Shestakov, 2011).

Further, the challenge to the Security Council’s legitimacy contributed to Libya’s demise. It is in the interest of nations to uphold the legality of international organizations’ decisions, and undermining the Security Council also affects the United Nations as a whole (Hurd, 2005; Evans,2008). The danger posed to the sitting member nations of the UN Security would take this as a direct challenge towards an established power structure, contributing to the Neorealist viewpoint of the decision made. In examining the influence of Neorealism in the Libyan intervention case, there is a justifiable argument for the impact of Neorealism in the decision to liberate Libya from dictatorship. The humanitarian intervention was a failure as the NATO forces concentrated on regime change, and in this case, the usage of invasion was not necessary as the goal of R2P was not achieved.

Rwanda Genocide

On April 6, 1994, a plane that carried the Rwandese president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down above Kigali airport. Within hours of the incident, violence began spreading from the capital city toward the country, instigated mostly by the Tutsis toward the Hutus. Readers of the opposition party were murdered, with organized gangs of militias and government soldiers hacking their way into the Tutsis population; by the end of it, more than five million Tutsis lay dead.

Response by the International Community

To understand how the neoliberalism theory affects the world’s reaction to Rwandese killings, the attitude toward the world’s humanitarian efforts following the genocide needs to be analyzed. The international community stood aside as Tutsis were massacred, interventions were delayed, and the violence had already died out by the time they decided to act. The United States, in particular, was equivocal in denial that what was happening in Rwanda was genocide, although the systematic murders fit the official legal definition of targeting an ethnic group with the victims belonging either to a national, racial, religious, or ethnical group (Heinze, 2007). The Clinton administration ignored reports from the NGOs, popular press, UN peacekeepers in Rwanda, and popular press that termed the killings genocide (Heinze, 2007). The reason for this vehement denial of a genocide occurring in Rwanda occurred due to the United States government’s reluctance to admit the fact to the public, which could have swayed the public opinion, influencing them to intervene (Heinze, 2007)

The reaction of the UN towards the genocide has been criticized by most; additionally, it begs the question of the necessity of UN peacekeepers if they can’t keep the peace. Two weeks before the violence escalated, the head of the United Nations in Rwanda, Jacques-Roger, sent a message to the UN headquarters that hinted the country’s situation was spiraling out of control toward genocide (Pelz & Corbett, 2009). Additionally, the UN decided to reduce the peacekeeping forces from 2100 to 270 in Rwanda, just as widespread reports about a genocide happening in Rwanda from several reliable sources.

Neoliberalism Viewpoint in the Rwanda non-Intervention

The response to the Rwanda genocide can be understood through neoliberalism. Civil strife instigated the internal strive, and no financial or strategic gain could have been made by sending troops to Rwanda. A good example is when the Belgian government pleaded with the UK and US at the United Nations to act on the threat through peacekeeping efforts, and they refused, citing inadequacy due to financial constraints (Pelz & Corbett, 2009). States follow their self-interest, and no matter how much they were grieved by the genocide that was happening in Rwanda, no one was willing to commit workforce and money to interests outside their spheres (Barnett, 1997). Conclusively, human rights have not made much of a difference to outweigh the neoliberalism stance made by most countries when contemplating whether humanitarian intervention is beneficial to them regarding monetary payback.

Neorealism Viewpoint in the Rwanda non-Intervention

The states contain boundaries which are the symbolic markers of the members and non-members of its society, and also the extent to which internal power lies. To these members of the state, any government needs to satisfy before even venturing into the international arena. Under Clinton’s leadership, the United States was in a precarious state when faced with this dilemma. The Clinton administration’s decision to avoid involvement was spurred by trying to protect himself from the UN, a hostile US Congress, and backlash by the public back home, considering that the humanitarian effort in Somalia had been a failure not long ago. (Heinze, 2007; Barnett, 1997). The protection of the administration in the home ground was one of the most influential decisive factors that contributed to the U.S. not sending troops to Rwanda.

Similarly, the United Nations determines which members belong to the international community and also applies to the community’s rights selectively amongst its members while protecting its vested interests and reputation. Additionally, it evokes strategic discourse, with its membership limited to states and not individual citizens (Barnett, 1997). The representatives of these states have to represent their national interests in an international community, and if these states’ interests clash with the latter’s convenience, then they are more apt to choose the national interests over the International ones. After all, they would like to maintain the power structures in their countries by maximizing the gains outside the national boulders. As a consequence, the member states did not volunteer their troops as it was considered a dangerous venture.

The need for the UN to protect itself from the consequences of a fatal failure also prompted the failure to intervene in the genocide. The United States pointed out that the UN should withdraw the UNAMIR’s troops, claiming that the overriding responsibility was to its peacekeepers (Barnett, 1997). Other state members pointed out that this in no way constituted a threat to international security since Rwanda’s internal conflict was considered just internal rather than a global one. (Barnett, 1997). The bid for the United Nations and the Security Council to avoid situations that could unbalance its power and protect its reputation led to the decision by the UN to reduce the number of troops in Rwanda. Therefore, it can be seen that every member of the state and even the UN itself felt immobilized when faced with a choice between declining in power, and stopping mass murder, although the mandate lay in its scope of responsibilities.


The humanitarian interventions that have happened in recent history have posed severe problems like their interests, with the neediest parts receiving none and places that don’t need intervention receiving UN-sanctioned regime changes. In all the cases examined here, humanitarianism took a back seat as neorealism and neoliberal played a significant role in determining the level of attention each state would receive. Two examples were presented for scrutiny, namely Rwanda and Libya, in deciding how neorealism and neoliberal play a role in determining whether a country should receive a humanitarian intervention or not.

In Libya, the effects of neoliberalism in the intervention efforts are seen when NATO used R2P to justify protecting Libyan citizens, only to initiate regime change in what most saw as punitive wars. However, when Egypt and Tunisia face a worse uprising, there is no intervention, although these events occur nearly simultaneously. Evidence of neorealism is observed through the NATO targeted regime change; this is attributed to the US sanctions through the Security Council earlier being challenged by Libya, leading to other nations questioning the validity of the United States to resolve conflict in the world arena. Additionally, the Security Council members felt that the International organization’s power was under threat due to the challenge.

In Rwanda’s non-responsiveness in humanitarian intervention cases, the two theories can be seen as the influencing factors behind other states’ reluctance and watching as Rwanda spiraled out of control. The effects of neoliberalism are observed when the member state representatives in the UN refuse to send in troops to end the massacre, and even the United States of America claims that it did not have enough money for the operation. Evidence of neorealism is shown through Clinton’s lack of support just because the power dynamics back home would have subsided while Congress would give him a hard time. On the other hand, the US cautioned the UN of dire circumstances if they could not handle the situation and the troops were defeated.

Although the two cases are different in their occurrences, the reaction towards the humanitarian intervention in neorealism and neoliberal inspiration comes from the gains the intervening country will get for the former case and the power dynamics in the latter case. These findings show the reason why the international community may react fast to curb human rights violations while waiting for others to wipe themselves out before intervening. These examples control the narrative and mainstream position and have proved inadequate in facing the reality of how much damage has been done locally and globally in the name of human equality.



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