Should Humanitarian Intervention be used in Afghanistan?

You’ll have probably seen on the news recently the unfolding situation in Afghanistan. As a result of Western withdrawal from the country, the Taliban, a religious organisation, has taken control. This has led to a massive migration of citizens out of Afghanistan. However, with emerging news of callous crimes against Afghan people, is it now time for humanitarian intervention to take place? This article aims to address the theories that give some background for use in A Level Politics essays.

What is humanitarian intervention?

Humanitarian intervention is the intervention in a state by another state or group of states. It aims to take decisive actions where there is a risk of crimes against humanity, including genocide. It has been used previously in Yugoslavia after a genocide in Bosnia in 1995.

When discussing global human rights, there are many issues to consider, which we will go through in this article.

Just War Theory

Thomas Aquinas popularised Just War Theory in the 13th century, despite it emerging as far back as Ancient Egypt. It aims to answer the following questions:

  • When should wars be fought?
  • How should they be fought?
  • On what grounds can they start?

There must be a justified reason as to why a war starts. This is to prevent evil, such as genocide or removal of universal human rights. With regard to Afghanistan, emerging stories of murder of innocent people could be a justification for humanitarian intervention.

Impact of humanitarian intervention on state sovereignty

Afghanistan is a sovereign state, meaning is has control of what occurs in its borders. When looking at state sovereignty, foreign interference is the most controversial of issues, as it violates the principle. So why do states sign up to agreements and organisations that seek to break this in certain circumstances? For the greater good, the benefit of all humanity.

While Afghanistan is a sovereign state, it is going through turbulent political change as the Taliban take control. This has led to many Western states discussing whether to recognise the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan. Humanitarian intervention builds on this by looking to protect human rights without regard for state sovereignty. Therefore, whilst it may be controversial theoretically, the counter-argument in this case is the fighting for the greater good of humanity.

Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

After a genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the International Committee on Intervention and State Sovereignty was established. This committee came up with the idea of Responsibility to Protect, or R2P. The 2005 UN Summit later authorised these principles.

There are three main elements to R2P:

  1. Overriding state sovereignty: sovereignty implies that the state is responsible for the protection of its population. When this fails, state sovereignty gives way to intervention which helps to protect the people.
  2. Justification because either:
    • Loss of life has occurred/will occur without intervention.
    • Ethnic cleansing has occurred/will occur without intervention.
  3. Precautions:
    • Intervention must be a last resort and have a reasonable chance of success.
    • The UN Security Council must authorise the intervention.

R2P forms the foundation of humanitarian intervention, and therefore a strong reasoning as to why intervention should occur.


When the USA entered Afghanistan in 2001, it toppled the Taliban government in retaliation to the event on 11th September 2001. A democratic government took control and quality of life in Afghanistan increased in the following years.

With the Taliban back in power, there are many debates about the impact of the American invasion. Should Afghanistan see further humanitarian intervention, and what should be done differently in the future?

You can find out more about humanitarian intervention as part of our resources for A Level Politics. The Taliban’s journey to power is a great case study to use in essays about human rights for Edexcel Paper 3B.

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Humanitarian Intervention Afghanistan

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