While the current debate over the international community’s ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians in cases of mass human rights abuses and/or genocide is of great importance, it assumes that the international community is capable of mounting successful humanitarian interventions. This article analyzes the track record of humanitarian intervention in order to determine whether members of the international community can undertake successful military action in response to humanitarian crisis, and if so how. The first section establishes several criteria for measuring the success of such operations and identifies two successful missions in recent history: INTERFET in East Timor and Operation Palliser in Sierra Leone. Based upon these two successful operations, the second section argues that the ability of a humanitarian intervention to succeed hinges upon four vital factors: the intervener’s willingness to take sides in the conflict, the intervener’s willingness and ability to use robust force, the willingness of a lead state (or NATO) to head the mission, and the intervener’s long-term commitment to helping foster a lasting peace. Learning from the rare successful cases of humanitarian intervention is necessary to help ensure that when it is determined that the international community should intervene, it has the tools, means, and strategies so that it can do so successfully.
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