Syria Teaches us Little about Questions of Military Intervention

Freedom House

Author/s (editor/s):

Luke Glanville

Publication year:


Publication type:

Journal article

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E-International Relations: Edited Collections

Luke Glanville, ‘Syria Teaches us Little about Questions of Military Intervention’, E-International Relations: Edited Collections, Into the Eleventh Hour: R2P, Syria and Humanitarianism in Crisis, 7 February 2014.

The lack of military intervention in response to the ongoing crisis in Syria has been taken by some commentators as evidence that the supposed norm of intervention for the protection of populations has no meaningful impact on the actual behavior of states. These commentators insist that the absence of intervention in Syria demonstrates that the intervention in Libya in 2011 was an aberration and that the notion that a norm has emerged that permits and perhaps even requires military intervention in response to mass atrocities is incorrect. This reasoning is fundamentally flawed. The lack of intervention in Syria teaches us little about the intervention norm for two reasons. First, few observers have argued that military intervention would be a just and prudent means of protecting the Syrian population. If military intervention is not considered the appropriate response to a crisis, it makes little sense to cast the absence of intervention as a failure and to suggest that it demonstrates the weakness of the norm. Second, even if military intervention was warranted in Syria, the fact that Russia would have likely prevented the passage of any Security Council resolution authorizing the intervention would not have spelled the death of the intervention norm. Norms matter, but so do the material and strategic interests of great powers, and a norm is not rendered meaningless by the fact that it is sometimes trumped by interests.

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