The Clinton Doctrine of Humanitarian Interventions

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Saturday, December 02, 2000

Shortly after the Kosovo crisis ended, the Clinton Administration came out with the “Clinton doctrine.” This doctrine basically stated that the United States would forcefully intervene to prevent human rights abuses when it can do so without suffering substantial casualties, without the authority of the UN Security Council.

“Tony Blair is a young man I like very much,” Mr [Nelson] Mandela said. “But I am resentful about the type of thing that America and Britain are doing. They want now to be the policemen of the world and I'm sorry that Britain has joined the US in this regard.

“It's a totally wrong attitude. They must persuade those countries like China or Russia who threaten to veto their decisions at the UN. They must sit down and talk to them. They can't just ignore them and start their own actions.”

Anthony Sampson, Mandela accuses “policeman” Britain, the Guardian, April 5, 2000.

This is a pretty serious precedent for a powerful country to set as it in effect undermines international law and treaty obligations. The US has in the past been extremely selective in the determination of where humanitarian intervention (or even just concern) is needed. Allies of the US have often been gross human rights violators, but those abuses have been conveniently ignored by the US to be able to pursue its national interests (i.e. economic liberalization of other nations, ensuring resources that the US needs remain as cheap as practically possible and so on). In some regions, the US continues to provide arms to allies that use them to commit gross violations of human rights (and that in effect, helps the US pursue its national interests. After all, why else would they knowingly support human rights violators?).

“Without the authority of the UN Security Council” basically implies another step to undermine the UN. It should be noted that the UN does have its flaws which need to be addressed (for example, the U.N. Security Council, plus the idea of 5 permanent (nuclear) members of the Council, is not exactly very democratic). However, it also is the main international body set up to promote universal human rights.

The US was key in helping set it up shortly after the second World War. Various UN treaties and charters, one of which is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the US has signed, form parts of international law which all member states are bound to. So, to “prevent human rights abuses” by by-passing the United Nations suggests that the definition of human rights which the US wishes to uphold is different to what they helped create and sign. It also suggests that the US has other motives when it will choose to intervene.

See Humanitarian Military Intervention, Vol 5, Number 1, 2000 from Foreign Policy in Focus, for additional information. As it suggests, the US “should not employ military force for alleged humanitarian reasons without the explicit approval of the Security Council” and “should end military support of nations committing serious human rights violations” as well as “strengthen its own participation in international human rights agreements.”

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Monday, July 20, 1998
  • Last Updated: Saturday, December 02, 2000

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