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Book Review Thomas G. Weiss, Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007. Pp. 176, paper. $19.95 US. Reviewed by Christopher J. Saladino, L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond The end of the Cold War opened the door for states to cooperate on behalf of peoples in need around the world. The creation of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the promulgation of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s ‘‘Agenda for Peace’’ pushed states, including the great powers, to fund and participate in a new kind of international relations: institutionalized, multilateral humanitarian intervention. While the actions taken were not without some historical precedent, the nearly euphoric period of dramatic expansion of peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention of the early to mid-1990s seemed to promise that the world would not collectively stand by and watch people suffer and die simply because they were across a sovereign border. That euphoria faded quickly with the disconnection of the great powers, particularly the United States, following the development of strong perceptions of mission failures, rising costs, and increasing disagreement among the powers and international institutions on how and where to intervene. Regardless of this estrangement, the need for humanitarian intervention did not fade away with the reluctance to intervene. In fact, events in the late 1990s and on into the twenty-first century have proved time and again that the need to intervene may never dissipate. Political unrest, military conflict, economic crises, and health and environmental disasters all continue to constitute a clear and present danger to millions of the people of the world, and, in most of these cases, the only hope is multilateral humanitarian intervention. Thomas Weiss captures this historical progression in Humanitarian Intervention, and his analysis is honest and sober: there is a persistent and significant need to use military force to protect the lives of millions of people around the world, and this need runs counter to many of the rules, norms, and concepts that continue to shape international relations. Weiss provides a remarkable depth of analysis while offering a terse, lucid, and succinct overview of the key concepts, cases, and challenges to upholding what has come to be known as the ‘‘responsibility to protect’’ (100). What is most difficult but also most realistic about his study is that it avoids both gratuitous cheerleading and overly sour deconstruction. The result is a hopeful, but barely, consideration of why intervention is necessary and how difficult it will continue to be to realize effective intervention. Beyond how to make it happen, what drives Humanitarian Intervention is the more important variable of need. Perhaps the strongest reassessment Weiss delivers comes in the form of an explanation of conceptual building blocks. Intervention literature tends to be polarized between the realist camp of political science and the more normative ideas of humanrights scholars and practitioners. At times Weiss can be clearly understood as espousing neither and both of these oppositional paradigms. By clearly operationalizing the key concepts of international politics, his analysis portrays the pragmatic and prudent view of international relations that realists demand. States do have strong Christopher J. Saladino, review of Humanitarian Intervention by Thomas G. Weiss. Genocide Studies and Prevention 3, 2 (August 2008): 269–270. ß 2008 Genocide Studies and Prevention. doi:10.3138/gsp.3.2.269 ideas about sovereignty, reciprocity, and national interest in terms of their relative positions in the system. State leaders are wary about violating these norms; in particular, states fear reciprocal action resulting in a loss of relative power. But Weiss goes against the strict grain of prudent realism by describing states and the state system in dynamic and transformative terms. In this same world of relative selfinterest , there is change, there is cooperation, and there is a strong normative consensus that human suffering can and should be stopped. The world is not black and white, and the rules can and do change . . . but slowly, and in small increments. By accepting the persistence of the strong preventive norms of international politics, Weiss acknowledges that these are difficult barriers to the cooperative use of military force to mitigate human suffering. But by concurrently accepting the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-9933
Print ISSN
1911-0359
Pages
pp. 269-270
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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