Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education
SPICE Publications


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Introduction to Humanitarian Intervention

Full Unit

Published
2004 (86 pages)

For Secondary - Community College students.

Softcover - $39.95
includes Curriculum Guide / 2 CD-ROMs with 5 lectures


This unit introduces students to the complex topic of humanitarian intervention. As they examine case studies from the recent past and grapple with policy options, students will form their own opinions about the value of intervening in humanitarian crises. Beyond learning about humanitarian intervention, students will also become more aware of the plight of war-torn nations, from which many refugees have sought asylum in the United States. Some of them may even be their own classmates and peers. Furthermore, the skills students hone in evaluating ethical dilemmas and policy trade-offs will be useful to them as future voters in a democratic state.

Lesson One sets the context for the unit by introducing students to the challenges policymakers and analysts must face when confronted with a humanitarian crisis in a sovereign state. Some of the questions explored are: Who is responsible for implementing humanitarian intervention, and how does this affect which cases are chosen? If humanitarian intervention cannot be implemented universally, should it be done at all? What are the risks involved in intervening in the affairs of another country? Familiarity with the challenges of intervention will prepare students to re-examine three cases of humanitarian intervention failures in the next lesson.

Lesson Two gives students the opportunity to assume the role of United Nations policymakers as they study one of the three case studies-Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda-in greater depth. With the background knowledge of humanitarian intervention acquired from Lesson One, students will consider the positives and negatives of four possible policy options before deciding upon a plan of action and synthesizing their results in a group presentation. In addition to grappling with the specific circumstances of their own crisis, students will learn about the other case studies by listening to their classmates' presentations and watching video lectures.

Lesson Three takes a closer look at NATO's intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Not only will students study the debate surrounding the decision to intervene in Kosovo, but they will also look at the implications of NATO's war on future humanitarian interventions. In this lesson, emphasis is placed on analyzing and interpreting primary source materials, including political cartoons, newspaper editorials, and political speeches.

The five lectures included with this unit were originally presented through a course offered in 2003 by the Initiative on Distance Learning, Stanford Institute for International Studies, Stanford University. The course, taught by Professor Stephen J. Stedman, was called "Major Issues in International Conflict Management" and consisted of 18 lectures. It explored issues such as mediation, conflict prevention, humanitarian intervention, and implementation of peace agreements. The course combined theories of conflict resolution and international relations with case studies of recent conflicts.

Unit Goals

The lessons in this unit have specific learning objectives listed. The following are larger goals for the curriculum unit as a whole. Students will

  • learn about international conflicts and crises from the recent past and recognize the importance of studying them;
  • appreciate the complexity of world events and the challenges of addressing them;
  • critically evaluate priorities and trade-offs before coming to a conclusion about policy decisions;
  • work cooperatively with others in a small group; and
  • be able to apply acquired skills to other world events and conflicts.