Spring 2023 - IS 302 D100

Humanitarian Intervention: An Introduction (4)

Class Number: 4988

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Thu, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 24, 2023
    Mon, 12:00–3:00 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 25%
  • Case report (team project) 30%
  • Final Exam 30%
  • Participation 15%


* The group project will involve collaboration with other students and it will also include an individually written component. Half of the grade for the group project (15%) will be based on the individually written component and the other half will be based on the collaborative 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.



Thomas G. Weiss, Humanitarian Intervention, 3rd edition. Polity Press, 2016. Available through the bookstore or VitalSource.

Other required readings will be available electronically online or via Canvas.


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.

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