To Russia with Love: How Moral Arguments for a Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Opened the Door for an Invasion of the Ukraine

Shane R. Reeves
United States Military Academy
April 29, 2014

Michigan State International Law Review Volume 22, Issue 1 (Fall 2014 Forthcoming)

Abstract:

The United Nations has been incapable of authorizing an international response to stop the mass atrocities taking place in the Syrian Civil War. This has led some concerned nations to argue for a unilateral military operation based upon the controversial international legal concept titled humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian intervention provides a distinct legal basis for the use of force when there is a moral obligation to protect victims of war crimes, genocide, or other crimes against humanity. This is in contrast to the more conservative approach known as the Responsibility to Protect. Despite the obvious appeal of invoking a progressive use of force doctrine in Syria, relying on moral authority to authorize military action raises a particularly troubling international law question: What keeps an aggressive state from invading another nation under the pretext of stopping a "humanitarian crisis"? The legal justifications for the recent military acts by the Russian Federation in the Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula starkly illustrate the impossibility of objectively answering this question. The Ukrainian crisis has instead demonstrated that determining when a humanitarian intervention is necessitated is a subjective and political decision. It is this subjectivity which underscores the logic of the post-World War II jus contra bellum prohibition on acts of aggression and is why using a moral argument to legally justify the use of military force dramatically increases the potential for a new age of nation-state warfare.

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