9
Humanitarian Issues and
Agencies as Triggers for
International Military Action
Adam Roberts
In crises and conflicts since the end of the cold war, considerations specifically identified as “humanitarian” have been repeatedly designated by states and international bodies as grounds for threatening, and embarking on, international military action. Such considerations have been given greater prominence in international decisionmaking than in previous eras. Since 1990, in one episode after another in which international bodies have sought to stop terrible excesses in crisis-torn regions, three main types of humanitarian issues have been cited, for example in UN Security Council resolutions, as grounds for international concern:
Murder and deliberate infliction of suffering on civilians, prisoners, and others;
Refusal of parties to a conflict to allow or assist humanitarian relief activities; and
Violence and threats of violence against humanitarian workers.

In a few cases these types of humanitarian issues have been raised not in the context of an armed conflict but as a result of tyrannical government or a state of uncontrolled violence. However, in most cases these issues have arisen during armed conflicts (whether international or internal, or with elements of both). Thus they necessarily relate directly to the law of war. Security Council resolutions have in fact repeatedly condemned such actions by parties to conflicts as violations of international humanitarian law. In many cases the Security Council, or certain of its leading members, has then gone on to authorize or initiate the use of force in order to end a pattern of violations. In short, the law of war is acquiring a role as a trigger for military action.

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