on 14 May 2004
The subject of humanitarian intervention, and whether it has become a legitimate practice amongst the society of states, has been one of the defining debates in international relations in the 1990's. Dr Wheeler's book on this incredibly complex moral question is of the very highest calibre in terms of its scope and definition. One of its key strengths as a text lies in its suitability for both those who are new to the subject matter, especially in its discussion of the case studies, and for the more experienced reader in terms of the theoretical basis of Wheeler's position on how one can judge the success or otherwise of humanitarian intervention.
The book's overall objective is to trace the development of humanitarian intervention over the last thirty years. The case studies include interventions in the 1970's by India, Vietnam and Tanzania, all of which are extremely well presented and well structured. Whilst it is difficult to argue that these cases constituted what we would now term "humanitarian intervention", their inclusion in this book is very important as they mirror many of the concerns felt in the 1990's about the dilemma of pursuing humanitarian justice, whilst preserving the balance of global order, a key debate in not only humanitarian intervention, but in international relations as a whole.
The 1990's case studies are undoubtedly the core strength of the text, and are extremely well presented. The cases featured include the Iraq "no-Fly Zones", the U.S intervention in Somalia, the Rwandan Genocide, and the related cases of Bosnia and Kosovo. Presented in chronological order, they chart the history of action and inaction of the international community to incidents of humanitarian emergency over the course of the 1990's. As with the 70's cases, all the key facts and events are covered here, and are easily accessible to both the expert and the novice.
Perhaps the most intriguing and compelling aspect of the book is Wheeler's theoretical position on the subject of what constitutes a legitimate and successful humanitarian intervention. Anyone who has read the theories of humanitarian intervention expressed by other experts in the field will find this book makes a convincing and challenging contribution to existing debate. Wheeler somewhat controversially challenges many other thinkers on this subject by focussing on the outcome of an intervention as opposed to the motives of the interveners. Whilst Wheeler makes a good case for this approach in terms of his use of the case studies, his overall normative theoretical position taken from English School thinkers such as R. J Vincent and Headley Bull, demands by its very nature a central focus on the motives of the actor, and leaves a paradox at the heart of his theory which he never really manages to overcome. However, it is fair to say that this paradox is one that makes the book even more compelling, as one gets the feeling that if Wheeler could only have pulled off this trick, he would have created a theory of the most robust kind.
Overall, Saving Strangers is a must -read book on a subject close to the consciences of all engaged in both the study and practice of international affairs, and is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how the international community has dealt with humanitarian disaster, and how it should do so in the future.
on 20 May 2007
Humanitarian Intervention has been a touchy topic in the world politics arena ever since the term was coined. N. Wheeler explores this topic in a wonderfully organised and objective manner. Looking into intervention in the 1970s, and the response of the world and mainly the United Nations Wheeler puts forward and interesting and easy to understand view of both the physical and theoretical world of Humanitarian intervention.
Using compelling case studies presented in an immaculate way Wheeler points out the pros and cons of humanitarian intervention, the total lack of understanding or desire to help by certain strong nations in the world, and the legal difficulties in international law and international relations regarding the act of intervening in the business of sovereign states.
The book is ideal for first year students of international relations, helping them to understand the theoretical and legal aspect of a very big issue within the field. However it is also helpful to more experienced readers as a point of references and a well structured point of view.
I would recommend this book very highly to anyone who is interested in the subject matter.