Bookmark and share

Follow us

Humanitarian Military Intervention: The Conditions for Success and Failure
by Taylor B. Seybolt
ISBN 978-0-19-925243-5 (hardback) 978-0-19-955105-7 (paperback)

Click to enlarge
Order this book
Read about this book
View the contents
Read about the author
Read the preface
Download the complete book

Humanitarian military intervention is not an oxymoron but a central policy challenge of our times. What are the conditions for success and failure? Taylor Seybolt’s thoroughly documented and rigorously argued cases provide specific answers about when, where and how we should rescue war victims with military force.

Thomas G. Weiss
Presidential Professor of Political Science, City University of New York

Taylor Seybolt’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in humanitarian intervention. It is the leading study on when humanitarian intervention will produce humanitarian results, and when it will only make things worse.

Stephen Van Evera
Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Moving beyond debates about legality and legitimacy, this work is a systematic attempt to apply measures of success to humanitarian interventions. The difficulties of this analysis are fully acknowledged—and fully engaged. The result is a carefully argued, richly detailed study, an original and important contribution to the literature.

Jim Whitman
Co-editor, Journal of Humanitarian Assistance

Back to top

Military intervention in a conflict without a reasonable prospect of success is unjustifiable, especially when it is done in the name of humanity. Couched in the debate on the responsibility to protect civilians from violence and drawing on traditional ‘just war’ principles, the central premise of this book is that humanitarian military intervention can be justified as a policy option only if decision makers can be reasonably sure that intervention will do more good than harm.

This book asks, ‘Have past humanitarian military interventions been successful?’ It defines success as saving lives and sets out a methodology for estimating the number of lives saved by a particular military intervention. Analysis of 17 military operations in six conflict areas that were the defining cases of the 1990s—northern Iraq after the Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Kosovo and East Timor—shows that the majority were successful by this measure.

In every conflict studied, however, some military interventions succeeded while others failed, raising the question, ‘Why have some past interventions been more successful than others?’ This book argues that the central factors determining whether a humanitarian intervention succeeds are the objectives of the intervention and the military strategy employed by the intervening states. Four types of humanitarian military intervention are offered: helping to deliver emergency aid, protecting aid operations, saving the victims of violence and defeating the perpetrators of violence. The focus on strategy within these four types allows an exploration of the political and military dimensions of humanitarian intervention and highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each of the four types.

Humanitarian military intervention is controversial. Scepticism is always in order about the need to use military force because the consequences can be so dire. Yet it has become equally controversial not to intervene when a government subjects its citizens to massive violation of their basic human rights. This book recognizes the limits of humanitarian intervention but does not shy away from suggesting how military force can save lives in extreme circumstances.

Back to top

Download the complete book

1. Controversies about humanitarian military intervention
2. Judging success and failure
3. Humanitarian military interventions in the 1990s
4. Helping to deliver emergency aid
5. Protecting humanitarian aid operations
6. Saving the victims of violence
7. Defeating the perpetrators of violence
8. The prospects for success and the limits of humanitarian intervention

Back to top

About the author

Dr Taylor B. Seybolt (United States) is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. He was previously a Senior Program Officer at the United States Institute of Peace and Leader of the SIPRI Conflicts and Peace Enforcement Project. His publications include ‘The Darfur Atrocities Documentation Project: a perspective from Washington, DC’, in Genocide in Darfur: Investigating the Atrocities in Sudan (Routledge, 2006, edited by S. Totten and E. Markuson); ‘Humanitarian intervention and communal civil wars: problems and alternative approaches’, Security Studies (2003, with Daniel Byman); and a number of contributions to the SIPRI Yearbook in 2000–2002. He received his PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Back to top

Preface to the paperback edition

It is with great pleasure that SIPRI reissues this excellent volume in a paperback edition. Since Humanitarian Military Intervention was first published the issues it addresses have only become more timely and the book continues to speak to critical policy questions.

While it is still true that national or state security remains the dominant paradigm, the idea of human security has proven powerful enough to influence major policy decisions, as shown by the repeated practice of humanitarian military intervention. Today, the ‘responsibility to protect’, with its emphasis on protecting civilian populations from state predation, stands in stark contrast to the ‘global war on terrorism’, with its emphasis on protecting states from non-state actors. Advocates for each perspective arrive at very different conclusions about when, why and how to use military force.

This book weighs in on the use of force debate, arguing that protecting and assisting civilians who are caught up in violent conflicts—saving strangers—is a legitimate purpose for military intervention. At the same time, this book recognizes that hard-nosed considerations of strategy, power and risk are as important for the success of humanitarian intervention as they are for more traditional national security purposes, and that intervention for humanitarian ends is just as likely as traditional intervention to go wrong.

In the context of the human security–national security debate, the humanitarian aid community is undergoing significant change and collective soul searching. Taylor Seybolt challenges the core humanitarian concepts of political neutrality and duty-based, or deontological, ethics. Integrating just war reasoning and deterrence theory with comprehensive empirical analysis of landmark cases, he argues that humanitarian intervention is inherently a political act that must be judged by its consequences, not its motivation.

This book makes an important contribution to policy debates and should be seen as a valuable text in graduate and advanced undergraduate courses on foreign policy, humanitarian affairs and military intervention. SIPRI is pleased to offer this book in a paperback edition that is more accessible for use in the classroom.

Humanitarian Military Intervention ties into contemporary policy debates, is methodologically innovative and is written with clarity. In short, the work will continue to be valuable reading for practitioners, policy analysts and students concerned with making our world a more stable and safe place for the most vulnerable people in regions around the globe.

Dr Bates Gill
Director, SIPRI
Stockholm, May 2008

Back to top

Ordering details

Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN 978-0-19-925243-5 hardback, 2007
ISBN 978-0-19-955105-7 paperback, 2008
pp. 294

This book can be ordered from all good bookshops and online booksellers or directly from OUP

OUP in the UK:
http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199252435 (hardback) http://www.oup.com/uk/catalogue/?ci=9780199551057 (paperback)

OUP in the USA:
http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/?view=usa&ci=9780199252435 (hardback) http://www.us.oup.com/us/catalog/general/?view=usa&ci=9780199551057 (paperback)


Recent and forthcoming

Full list of publications

Permission requests

How to obtain SIPRI publications


Armed conflict and conflict management

Global and regional security

Military expenditure

Arms production

Arms transfers

Military technology

Chemical and biological weapons

Arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament


SIPRI Yearbook

SIPRI monographs

SIPRI Research Reports

Chemical & Biological Warfare Studies

SIPRI Policy Papers

SIPRI Insights on Peace and Security

SIPRI Fact Sheets, Background Papers and Policy Briefs

EU Non-proliferation Papers

Other publications