Justifying War and the Limits of Humanitarianism

92 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2015

See all articles by Mohamed Helal

Mohamed Helal

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: June 8, 2015


To some scholars, the armed intervention to protect civilians in Libya, the uproar over the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, the adoption of the Responsibility to Protect to guide international efforts to prevent mass atrocities, and the many interventions in situations of civil strife that occurred during the past twenty years are manifestations of an increasingly powerful global concern for the security, safety, and fate of human beings everywhere. These, and many other developments, are argued to be reflective of an ongoing humanization of international law, which is laying the ground for the transformation of world politics from an anarchic state system to a global community of humankind.

One field of international law, indeed a pivotal field, that is said to have been impacted by this shift from state-centrism to a focus on the fate of the individual is jus ad bellum. In this paper, I argue that jjus ad bellum is not experiencing a paradigm shift towards humanitarianism. The rules governing the use of force by states continue to reflect statist – not humanitarian – values, and the overarching purpose of this field of law remains the protection of the security, territorial integrity, and independence of states. I make this point by showing that by adopting the Responsibility to Protect in the 2005 UN World Summit, the international community purposively rejected an entire range of proposals that emerged in the aftermath of the 1999 Kosovo War, and which would have significantly altered the normative content and institutional architecture of jus ad bellum to bring it closer to a putatively emergent humanitarianism.

This challenges contentions that jus ad bellum is progressively prioritizing human security and values over state security and interests, partially accounts for the nature of international responses to conflicts such as the Syrian civil war, and, more broadly, casts doubts over claims that the international legal order is moving towards a post-national global community of humankind predicated on shared human values.

Keywords: International Law, jus ad bellum, Responsibility to Protect, humanitarian intervention, human rights, UN Security Council

Suggested Citation

Helal, Mohamed, Justifying War and the Limits of Humanitarianism (June 8, 2015). Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 37 , No. 3, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2616112

Mohamed Helal (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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