Does Humanitarian Intervention Do More Harm Than Good?

Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the U.S./NATO war against Serbia and in the decade since then, conventional wisdom is that such militarized humanitarian intervention is often necessary and successful.

In his new book, "First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia" (Vanderbilt University Press, June 2009), David N. Gibbs argues that not only is humanitarian intervention not very successful in ending ethnic strife, but that intervention in Yugoslavia contributed to the initial breakup of the country, and then helped spread the violence and destruction.

Gibbs, an associate professor of history and political science at The University of Arizona, also presents a forceful critique of Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

"Government documents, transcripts of international war crimes trials and memoirs of the time, they all show that far from solving the humanitarian emergency, intervention worsened the problem," Gibbs said. "Nonmilitary methods of addressing ethnic violence and oppression are more effective in the long term than military force."

"First Do No Harm" argues for a U.S. policy that engages international humanitarian issues, but resists intervention. University of California historian Chalmers Johnson termed the book "a pioneering study...a powerful new interpretation of the Balkan wars of the 1990s."