The principle of ‘first do no harm’

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1 Scopus citations


Since the ending of the Cold War, military intervention has been seen in a far more positive light. Increasingly, interventionist actions by the United States and its allies have been viewed as altruistic acts that aim to prevent or curtail genocide, and such associated atrocities as ethnic cleansing, torture and rape. In general, it is the reluctance to intervene that is seen as cynical and immoral. The most prominent exposition of this new pro-interventionist position is Samantha Power’s 2002 book ‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide, which strongly condemned past instances where the US or other states failed to intervene against purported acts of genocide. Power (2002) emphasized the moral duty of states to use military force to protect innocent victims and punish the perpetrators of atrocities. While non-military means were also mentioned by Power, it was clearly military force that was most emphasized. This new prointerventionist position, most clearly enunciated by Power, has also produced a large body of writings by academics, journalists and policymakers, especially in the US and Europe, which demands increased interventionist actions with a humanitarian purpose. The idea of humanitarian intervention has profoundly influenced international relations, and has become enshrined in the concept of ‘Responsibility to Protect’, passed by the UN General Assembly, which contains a strongly pro-interventionist tone (Evans 2008).2 Power herself has become a major figure in the policymaking of the Obama administration, and at the time of writing is serving as US Ambassador to the United Nations. The idea of humanitarian intervention has influenced a generation of idealistic college students; one of the most influential political movements on campuses in the United States has focused on the need for more, not less, US intervention overseas, most strikingly with regard to the recent ‘Save Darfur’ movement (see Mamdani 2010).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781135013936
ISBN (Print)9780415844420
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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