Fall 2023 - IS 302 E100

Humanitarian Intervention: An Introduction (4)

Class Number: 4535

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Thu, 5:30–8:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 8, 2023
    Fri, 9:00–9:00 p.m.

  • 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 examines the political, ethical, and legal dimensions of humanitarian intervention, which involves the use of force to protect civilians from large-scale forms of violence (such as ethnic cleansing and genocide).

We will explore the following questions: When does the international community have a responsibility to use coercive measures in order to protect people from violence? Under what conditions is it justifiable to use military force for humanitarian purposes; and, what are the dangers or risks in doing so? In what ways have such interventions failed in the past; and, what are the conditions under which they are more likely to succeed? How do states’ interests shape decisions about humanitarian intervention? Should interveners focus narrowly on protecting civilians from immediate danger? Or, can the broader goal of regime change 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? In addressing these questions, we will give particular attention to the doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect”, and to debates about its impact and future.

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 discuss the role that international actors have played in a range of important cases, including Iraq, Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Libya.


  • Essay 30%
  • Case Report (group project) 30%
  • Final Exam 30%
  • Participation 10%



Thomas G. Weiss, Humanitarian Intervention, 3rd edition. Polity Press, 2016


Rajan Menon, The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention (Oxford, 2018).*

Nicholas Wheeler, Saving Strangers (Oxford, 2002).*

*Note: We’ll read multiple chapters from each of these books (by Menon and Wheeler). They are available electronically in the library’s collection. However, the number of pages you’re allowed to make copies of from the e-books is limited and does not cover all of the assigned chapters. If you prefer to have your own copy, rather than reading some of the chapters online, you can purchase these books.  


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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.

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Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.