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First Do No Harm

Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia

David N. Gibbs

Publication Year: 2009

In First Do No Harm, David Gibbs raises basic questions about the humanitarian interventions that have played a key role in U.S. foreign policy for the past twenty years. Using a wide range of sources, including government documents, transcripts of international war crimes trials, and memoirs, Gibbs shows how these interventions often heightened violence and increased human suffering. The book focuses on the 1991—99 breakup of Yugoslavia, which helped forge the idea that the United States and its allies could stage humanitarian interventions that would end ethnic strife. It is widely believed that NATO bombing campaigns in Bosnia and Kosovo played a vital role in stopping Serb-directed aggression, and thus resolving the conflict. Gibbs challenges this view, offering an extended critique of Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. He shows that intervention contributed to the initial breakup of Yugoslavia, and then helped spread the violence and destruction. Gibbs also explains how the motives for U.S. intervention were rooted in its struggle for continued hegemony in Europe. First Do No Harm argues for a new, noninterventionist model for U.S. foreign policy, one that deploys nonmilitary methods for addressing ethnic violence.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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Table of Contents

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book is the product of my long-standing interest in foreign intervention. As I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s, the unfolding disaster of US intervention in Vietnam sparked my interest in this topic. I remember well when I heard in 1969 the first details of the My Lai massacre and was disturbed ...

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1. The Rise of Humanitarian Intervention

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pp. 1-15

The period following the end of the Cold War proved less stable and potentially less benign than many had hoped. Conflicts in Haiti, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and several regions of sub-Saharan Africa suggested that civil wars and ethno-religious hatreds had replaced East-West tensions as the principal...

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2. US Predominance and the Logic of Interventionism

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pp. 16-44

One of the main functions of this book is to refute the notion that US and Western intervention in the Yugoslavia conflict was not based on any concrete interests or considerations of realpolitik. On the contrary, external intervention in Yugoslavia was based on traditional considerations of national...

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3. Origins of the Yugoslav Conflict

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pp. 45-75

Before we discuss in detail the international politics of the Yugoslav conflict, we will assess its origins at the domestic level. This chapter accomplishes two goals. First, it debunks several myths about how the conflict started. Most assessments of the Yugoslav wars overemphasize the salience of Serb aggressiveness....

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4. Germany Drops a Match

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pp. 76-105

The Yugoslav conflict began in 1991, a year when US policy makers were, to say the least, distracted. The year had begun with the Persian Gulf War— the largest use of US military force since Vietnam—and ended with the final breakup of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, Yugoslavia was one conflict...

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5. The War Spreads to Bosnia-Herzegovina

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pp. 106-140

The breakup of the Yugoslav federation was a gradual event that occurred in distinct phases. The secessions of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 represented the first phase of the breakup, which encouraged further acts of secession by the remaining republics. The trend toward secession then established a ...

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6. Only the Weak Rely on Diplomacy: The Clinton Administration Faces Bosnia

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pp. 141-170

When the Democratic administration headed by President Bill Clinton was inaugurated in January 1993, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was immediately recognized as a major challenge. Shortly before the inauguration, an analysis by Richard Holbrooke set the tone: “Bosnia will be the key test of...

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7. Kosovo and the Reaffirmation of American Power

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pp. 171-204

From 1991 to 1999, the international response to the Yugoslavia case evolved considerably. In the early phases, during 1991–1992, the world community opposed the use of violence to resolve conflict and condemned the Yugoslav military for its very modest use of force to stop secession in Slovenia. Both...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 205-222

The concept of humanitarian interventionism has recently endured new challenges as a result of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Presented as a straightforward case of humanitarian intervention, the invasion was intended to “liberate the people of Iraq from a cruel and violent dictator,” in the words of President George W. Bush.1 Indeed, Bush’s speeches during the lead-up to...


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pp. 223-308


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pp. 309-334


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pp. 335-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780826516459
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516435
Print-ISBN-10: 0826516432

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 468787278
MUSE Marc Record: Download for First Do No Harm

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Humanitarian intervention -- Serbia -- Kosovo.
  • Yugoslav War, 1991-1995 -- Participation, Foreign.
  • United States -- Foreign relations -- Yugoslavia.
  • Humanitarian intervention -- Bosnia and Hercegovina.
  • Yugoslavia -- Foreign relations -- United States.
  • Kosovo War, 1998-1999 -- Participation, Foreign.
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