Fall 2019 - IS 302 D100

Humanitarian Intervention: An Introduction (4)

Class Number: 7907

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 1:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    HCC 1800, Vancouver

  • Prerequisites:

    45 units.



Explores how international actors respond to humanitarian emergencies, such as famine, displacement, and genocide. Examines the political, legal, and ethical challenges of humanitarian action by focusing on contemporary cases and on key types of response, from the delivery of aid to sanctions and the use of military force. Breadth-Humanities/Social Sciences.


This course explores how international actors respond to humanitarian emergencies, focusing in particular on emergencies caused by armed conflict and political violence. The course is divided into two sections.

In the first section, we trace the development of humanitarian norms and outline the key features of the humanitarian system. We also examine the core legal and ethical principles that govern humanitarian action. In their effort to save lives and relieve suffering, humanitarian actors sometimes confront dilemmas that seem to undermine the core principles of humanitarianism itself. By analyzing specific cases and examples, we explore these dilemmas and assess how humanitarian organizations have responded to them.

The second part of the course focuses on the use of military force to stop mass atrocities, such as ethnic cleansing and genocide. We assess the legality of military intervention; and, we examine debates about the impact and future of the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect”. We then explore a range of important ethical and political issues: How do states’ interests shape decisions about intervention? Should interveners focus narrowly on protecting civilians from immediate danger? Or, can the broader goals of regime change and nation-building be justified on humanitarian grounds as well? Do interveners have a “responsibility to rebuild” in the wake of military interventions? If so, what is the scope of this obligation? According to critics, humanitarian intervention often amounts to a disguised form of imperialism. How have advocates of intervention responded to this concern; and, are their responses convincing?

To gain a better understanding of these issues, we will study the role that international actors have played in a range of important cases, including Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, Libya, and Mali.


  • Essay 30%
  • Midterm 25%
  • Case project* 15%
  • Final Exam (take-home) 30%


*Note: The case project will involve collaboration with other students; but, each student will be required to complete an individual written component for this assignment and the grades will be based on this individual component.)

Students will be required to submit their written assignments to Turnitin.com in order to receive credit for the assignments and for the course.

The School for International Studies strictly enforces the University's policies regarding plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. Information about these policies can be found at: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/teaching.html.



Required readings will be available electronically online or via Canvas.

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html