Interventionism From The Perspective Of Realism Vs. Case Study

¶ … interventionism from the perspective of realism vs. idealism. Realism is defined in relationship to states' national interests whereas idealism is defined in relation to the UN's Responsibility to Protect doctrine -- a doctrine heavily influenced by Western rhetoric over the past decade. By addressing the question of interventionism from this standpoint, by way of a case study of Libya and Syria, a picture of the realistic implications of "humanitarian intervention" becomes clear. Idealistically, humanitarian interventionism is a process that stops atrocities and establishes peace and prosperity. Realistically, interventionism allows Western businesses to reap the spoils of destabilization -- as has been seen in Libya with the Libyan oil fields being claimed by Western oil companies -- and as is being seen in Syria, with the threat of invasion bound to have detrimental effects on the construction of a new pipeline that bypasses the Turkey-Israel pipeline. Syria also presents itself as the last bastion for Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean, a role that Russia is not likely to see Syria yield up, and which poses significant problems to the West as it readies itself for a possible strike on Syria. This paper asks: What are the Western states' national interests in humanitarian intervention in Libya and Syria? It examines the need for intervention, discusses the evidence of atrocities, and concludes that even when evidence is apparent there is no consistency in terms of Western response. Only when Western powers see an opportunity to secure their national self-interests does intervention become an imperative. This study concludes that humanitarian intervention is at best an idealistic notion that the UN supports and at worst it is an oxymoron, a glossy facade that allows Western powers to raid countries from which it has something to gain. Interventionism -- Locating the Line between Humanitarian Ideals and States' Realistic National Interests: a Case Study of Libya and Syria.


Over the past 300 years humanitarian interventions have not had a consistent enough basis to determine a framework in international law (Evans 2008). What is the essence of the humanitarian intervention? What is its aim, its objective? Because every country-state and every contextual situation is different, it is likely that every aim will be different. But a general understanding of the objective of humanitarian interventionism should be clear in a geopolitical landscape filled in recent times with rumors war and/or intervention.

This study proposes that the popular framework for debating interventionism is flawed by an idealistic approach. It argues that governments like that of the U.S. are, historically speaking, not nearly as idealistic in their reasons for intervention as statesmen like McCain, Kerry and Biden and the popular press make them seem to be. This study asserts that the reality of interventionism is based more on states' national self-interest than on a desire to administer humanitarian aid (Evans 2008).

This study approaches the issue of interventionism from a case study perspective. By immersing himself in the situational context of interventionism in both Libya and Syria, the researcher is able to observe in a qualitative way the actual reality of interventionism -- as it is conceived, developed, administered, and concluded -- in the cases of Libya and Syria. The situational context of interventionism is observed by gathering a multitude of perspectives from varying sides of the interventionism/anti-interventionism debate, including that of Western powers (NATO), forces within Libya and Syria, and opposing voices (Russia, China). The researcher focuses on issues of legality, right, will, intent, consequence, and achievement in order to determine the reality of interventionism.

The relevancy of this study should readily be apparent to everyone from investors on Wall Street to humanitarian watchdog groups. On 27 August 2013, both the Nasdaq and the DOW dropped significantly as news of U.S. intervention in Syria spread across the Internet (Berman 2013). The effect of interventionism is not lost on the financiers of the world -- and it is surely felt by all members of society, whether in fluctuating prices of oil, gold, or non-essentials, or in the cost of lives, time, material, and/or the mental/social/spiritual stability of members of all societies.

This study is also extremely timely and relevant. The Benghazi assault in 2012 brought the issue of the consequences of interventionism to the forefront in both popular and alternative media (Chivvis 2012; Lobe 2013; Campbell 2013). And the current geopolitical climate surrounding Syria is bringing the issue of interventionism to the forefront once more (nearly one year later). The politics of intervention raises questions regarding the "obligation" of offering humanitarian aid to countries...


As NATO countries prepare a military strike on Syria, voters and representatives in those countries should be aware of the moral hazard, the geopolitical hazard, and the economic hazard of engaging in foreign intervention. When the question of interventionism is approached realistically rather than idealistically, a new picture emerges -- one that is characterized by a policy of national self-interest on the part of the intervening countries. The question is: What do these intervening countries stand to gain from humanitarian intervention? How is their national interest served?
Historically speaking, the policy of Western interventionism has been likened by Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler to racketeering. Upon his retirement after 33 years in the Marine Corps, Butler toured the U.S. giving a speech regarding the state of American foreign policy and the military's role in that policy. Butler's assessment of foreign intervention is worth quoting in full, but a brief quote about his role in active duty service will suffice to make the point: "I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism" (Butler 1933). Butler's words, as colorful as they are, impressed many at the time, but they have since failed to make a significant impression on American foreign policy. That policy, rather, has continued to be formulated by men Butler describes as "finger men' to point out enemies, & #8230;'muscle men' to destroy enemies, & #8230;'brain men' to plan war preparations, and a 'Big Boss' Super-Nationalistic-Capitalism" (Butler 1933). Scott (2007) has identified them as the insider members of what he calls "deep politics" -- the inner core of government, the layers of which are so complex that it is difficult to factually discern who is doing what, why, and how. The "deep politics" of Western governments only serves to cloud the issue of humanitarian interventionism. Dispelling that cloud is imperative to this study.

Researchers who are aware of Butler's assertions and the findings of the Nye Committee upon which they were partly-based have taken issue with the modern-day system of politics (Stone, Kuznick 2012), disputing its worth, its transparency, and its "humanitarian" objectives. Others who reject Butler's characterization of interventionism see NATO countries' interventions as necessary maneuvers in a world slowly but surely progressing towards a global embracement of democratic ideals (Bellamy 2010).

Thus, implicit in the politics of intervention is the dispute between two worldviews, one which is fundamentally rooted in realism and one which is fundamentally rooted in idealism. The realistic view tends to promote a foreign policy guided by national interests. The idealistic view tends to promote a foreign policy guided by a vision of international democracy and liberal culture/values. The former suggests a Machiavellian outlook. The latter suggests a Progressivist outlook. In the politics of intervention, while there may appear to be a Progressive, idealistic reason for military intervention in countries like Libya and Syria, there are always those who point towards a more realistic, Machiavellian interpretation of such acts of military intervention.

This paper will approach the problem of realism vs. idealism in the question of interventionism by adopting a qualitative case study analysis. It will assess whether military interventions promote humanitarianism or whether they promote states' national interests. The recent interventions in Libya and Syria will be used as case studies.

What exactly does military interventionism intend to achieve? What have been the results in Libya? How does it find a context in today's Syrian affair? These questions serve as the framework for the focus of this study.

Statement of Problem

The problem addressed in this study is the role of the great Western Powers' national interest in foreign interventions. It adopts a realistic point-of-view in challenging the idealistic, status quo perspective which asserts that the West (NATO) has a duty and a right to interfere in nations where governments exercise inhumane dictatorships. If, indeed, NATO is primarily concerned with curbing mass killings, unlawful immigration, genocide, abuses against human and women's rights, etc. -- why has it done so little in regions like Darfur or Iran? -- and why does it support the erection of one nation (Israel) while causing the displacement of another (Arab)? Studies have shown that the principal Western Powers have a political, geopolitical, and economical reason for intervening or not intervening in foreign affairs (Perkins 2004; Scott 2007; Stone, Kuznick 2012). These studies serve…

Sources Used in Documents:

'Violent chaos': Libya in deep crisis 2 years since rebels took over', 2013, RT, 26 Aug.

Available from <>. [24 Aug 2013].

Weiner, T 2008, Legacy of Ashes, Anchor Books, NY.

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