For its annual lecture, the Holocaust and Genocide Studies honor society Zeta Chi Rho (ZXP) hosted a presentation that struck at the heart of the issue of humanitarian intervention in other countries.
Discussing what he sees as the dilemmas and possible solutions to humanitarian intervention, Benjamin Valentino, associate professor of Government at Dartmouth College, presented information all revolving around the question so many ask everyday, “What can we really do?”
One of the first dilemmas Valentino discussed was the issue with trying administer aid or training to those in need, but instead giving it to wrongful people who represented them.
[singlepic id=1195 w=320 h=240 float=right]
“While humanitarianism is intended to save the lives of purely defenseless men, women, and children, in fact it turned out to be nearly impossible for the West to intervene to help those people without simultaneously providing direct or indirect support to armed groups who were claiming at least to represent these victims,” Valentino said.
He used the example of the U.S. trying to train rebel groups in Bosnia in the 1990s, when in fact those same groups were part of the effort to try and ethnically cleanse the country and ultimately kill thousands of innocent lives.
Valentino also mentioned that when the U.S. government intervenes and uses military forces, you cannot avoid the killing of many innocent civilians amongst bombs and fire power.
Another dilemma he discussed addressed the issue of the U.S. expecting that we can easily afford to intervene and help people in other countries.
He said the U.S. wants a low cost of intervention, but that is not an inexpensive thing to do.
To put the cost of humanitarian intervention into perspective, Valentino said for one tomahawk missile used in the Libya intervention in March of this year, it cost the U.S. around $1.4 million to make it. In that intervention the U.S. launched 200 missiles, costing around $280 million.
The third dilemma Valentino discussed was that interventions can make things worse for people a country is trying to help. He said empowering victims can make it easier for perpetrators to find and target people to kill.
He also said that sometimes when other countries know a country is coming to help, it may make the victims want to rise up and fight back against that aid.
“You never know what will be enough to end a genocide,” Valentino added.
In his conclusion, Valentino said that for these dilemmas, some possible solutions would include using simple interventions over larger ones involving military force.
These would be less expensive and would take place earlier than when normal military interventions have taken place in the past. Another idea was to be more involved in helping the public health of a country or area in need.
He especially talked about the amount of money and lives that could be saved if we could administer more vaccinations and other medical aid to more places.
A final solution idea suggested that a country work more towards helping people in danger escape an area instead of trying to administer help to people in that area.
One audience member, KSC senior Cassie Orr said that she views humble humanitarianism as a suggestion and not necessarily the complete solution.
Orr said that humanitarian aid along with help from the military is necessary to really help a country in need.
ZXP President senior Matthew Parks said that Valentino’s presentation was an excellent representation of what they study as Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors.
Parks said he realizes that there is no clear solution to what to do when there’s killing or autocracies happening in other countries.
“It’s important to recognize when they [conflicts] happen, and know when we stop the problem,” Parks added.
Lindsey Arceci can be contacted at