RIP, The Doctrine of Humanitarian Intervention?
It might be premature to declare the death of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention under international law, but there is no doubt that doctrine suffered a massive blow when the British Parliament voted against a preliminary motion in favor of military strikes on Syria. To be sure, humanitarian intervention was not directly before the Parliament, but the UK government’s international law justification for the Syria strikes without UN Security Council authorization was almost wholly based on a version of the humanitarian intervention doctrine. And since the UK government’s motion would have only supported strikes after a report from UN inspectors confirming the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, I don’t think doubts about the use of the weapons were the top reason the motion failed.
More likely, the MPs voted against the motion on the theory that even if the Syrian government’s responsibility for the use of chemical weapons was established, the UK should not launch strikes. To be sure, I doubt many MPs voted no just because they didn’t accept the government’s legal justification, but it obviously didn’t gain a majority support.
Since the UK is one of the few states to openly adhere to the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, and this vote casts doubt on the UK’s future commitment to this doctrine, I would not be optimistic about the future acceptance of this doctrine by other states. Of course, there is one state out there that might jump on the humanitarian intervention bandwagon, even at this late hour. But it has not done so yet.